The Zecca

 

Jacopo Sansovino, The Zecca, 1536-45, Venice (Photograph by Marjorie Och)

Jacopo Sansovino, The Zecca, 1536-45, Venice (Photograph by Marjorie Och)

 

 

        Sansovino’s first major commission in Venice was the new mint or Zecca.  In 1535 the Council of Ten agreed that a new mint was needed and initiated a competition  for the commission.  Sansovino was selected as the winner in 1536 and the project began, “without delay,” as the Council wished.[1]

        As the minting of coins was integral to the working and prosperity of the city it was an important and highly used building.  With the economic boom of the early 1530s the previous mint could not handle the newly necessary volume of production.  Their choice of siting reflected its financial nature.  Venetians traded around the Rialto but did much of their banking around the Piazza San Marco.[2]  Standing close to the city’s banking center and producing the city’s currency,  the Zecca came to symbolize the prosperity of Venice.  Although the myth would have been perpetuated by the building of new mint regardless, the details of Sansovino’s plan lend more meanings than wealth.  By displaying the new economic fortitude of Venice in a classical guise he presented the idea of the New Rome and the city’s unshakable wealth.

Sanmicheli, Fortezza di Sant’ Andrea, 1535-43, Venice (Photograph by Marjorie Och)

Sanmicheli, Fortezza di Sant’ Andrea, 1535-43, Venice (Photograph by Marjorie Och)

         In his Vitruvian classicism, Sansovino used the orders poignantly.  Like the contemporary Fortezza di Sant’ Andrea (1535-1543) by Sanmicheli he used a rusticated Doric style.  The stylistic similarity between the two buildings can be traced to the common messages both architects were trying to convey.  Both needed to design dense, fireproof buildings that appeared formidable.  To do this they shunned wood and used the rusticated Doric style.   Associated with virile strength, it portrayed military formidableness and the Venetians’ restored might on Sanmicheli’s fortress. When adapted to the mint, the style showed the vigor and stability of the Venetian economy.  Some of the more unique elements of the composition show that Sansovino consciously fostered its brawny feel.  Although he was forced to use large windows to maximize the efficiency of the cramped interiors, he mitigated their lightening effect on the facade with heavy lintels and ringed half columns.  Not only adding mass to the facade’s skeleton, they are also imposing when viewed from below.  In light of his original plan which only called for two stories, the lintels paired with the entablature would have made an intimidating roof line.

        The original plan of two stories only included the Doric order.  Without the enfeebling Ionic third story we can imagine the building as more of a fortress.  More than guarding the precious metals of the mint, the fortress image makes the Piazzetta appear more formidable from the sea.  Along with this imagining of the original there would have also been a stronger emphasis on the piano nobile where the actual mint was housed.  The lack of emphasis on the ground floor reflects its original role as stalls for cheese and salami shops.  Thus in its time the structure led the audience to see its function, strength, and grandeur from both the shore and sea.[3]

        The building must have been impressive to the Venetians of the time.  The precise Vitruvian architecture was exactly what they read of in the treatises preceding the construction.  Not only astonishing stylistically, the Zecca would have been stirring as one of the first large public projects the Venetians had seen in a generation.  The new fortress of the Venetian economy promised hope to the city as it looked to reclaim its prestige and supposed Roman legacy.  When viewed by foreigners it may have made the Venetian claim to Roman succession more palatable.  While Venice’s attempts at classicism had been mediocre, this Roman claim expertly articulated by Sansovino would have been more legible to the Western audience.  Unlike their earlier motifs borrowed from Byzantium and the Orient, this architecture used their symbols.  Looking out from the main entrance to the city, it prominently displayed the myth of Venice.


[1]  Deborah Howard, Jacopo Sansovino: Architecture and Patronage in Renaissance Venice, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975), 39.

[2]  Deborah Howard, The Architectural History of Venice, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), 169.

[3]  The original form of the building can be seen in prints from the time.  The anonymous Il Volo del Turco woodcut shows the two story Zecca.

 

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