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The Sacral in the Rialto Bridge of Venice

Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

Ponte di Rialto, Rialto Bridge Venice


The Rialto Bridge that crosses the Grand Canal in Venice is a naturally delicate arched structure. The bridge is covered to protect those crossing it from the rain. But this functional idea was transcended in such a way that no one even thinks about that in face of the delicacy of its successive arches and the ascending movement of the two sides, which end in a monarchical central point that vaguely gives the idea of a niche or an arch of triumph.

The functional aspect was so surpassed by the architectural aspect, by the artistic part, that normally speaking a person looking at the Rialto Bridge only considers the beauty of the bridge: He has the impression that the cover was placed there just as an artistic effect.

The effect the bridge causes is a mixture of delicacy and seriousness. The seriousness is revealed in its rational spirit: there is thinking, proportion and a desire of perfection in everything. It demanded a great application of mind. On the other hand, that effort is so disguised that a viewer is led to say that the artist conceived this bridge in a few minutes and ordered it made without any effort.

I call your attention to the finishing touches. You note how beautiful the stair rail is, how the large arch under the bridge has a delicate shape itself. Passing under it are the prestigious waters of Venice, which seem to carry in themselves the beauty of all the palaces that they move among.

A gondola travels the canals of Venice
Here you can see one gondola and other gondolas in the background; they are commercial gondolas, very pretty and black, that are for rent in Venice. One observes that they are very refined and vigorously affirm the superiority of the spirit over matter, of art over functionality, of the noble over the vulgar. There is nothing of the vulgar here.

The gondolier is a man of the people, but one notes the elegance of his movement, of his position. He is wearing simple everyday clothing; were he walking in the street he would look like any other man. But look at the beauty of his position, the nobility and elegance with which he handles the long oar. He is using force, but he does not give the least idea of a vulgar force. One could almost say that he is posing to look elegant for the photographer. There is something sacral in all this.

In what sense is the Rialto Bridge sacral? It is sacral in the sense that it has a hierarchy of values. It presents a hierarchy of values that leads to the sacral, that prepares for the sacral, even though one cannot directly affirm that it has an intensely sacral note. Seriousness leads to the sacral. A thing that is aristocratic has in itself something of the sacral, and this bridge is clearly aristocratic.

The predominance of aesthetics over utility also has something of the sacral, because it is a form of the predominance of spirit over matter. There is something sacral in that monarchical central point of the bridge. One could imagine a statue placed on each one of the arches and also in the central part. One sees, therefore, that it has an affinity with the religious sphere. The ambience formed by the bridge has something of the sacral.

Now, what is not sacral? You see that there is no religious symbol in the Rialto Bridge, not one single religious sign. The influence of the Renaissance, which is seen here, left almost no reminder of the Middle Ages, where religious symbols were everywhere. The only thing that is not Renaissance is a vague memento of gothic architecture in the general line of the bridge. The rest is strongly influenced by the Renaissance. And if it is true that religious statues would fit well on the Rialto Bridge, it is also true that it could equally well accommodate busts of the great men of Florence or men of antiquity.

In any of these arches one could place a statue of St. John the Evangelist or St. John the Baptist just as well as one of Pythagoras or a Greek god. The atmosphere of the Renaissance is already found in this bridge. Everything is very beautiful, very noble, but it has something of being turned toward itself, something that was not made for contemplation, but for enjoying life, for pleasure. And, with this, it opens the doors for worse things.

These are some commentaries about the Rialto Bridge that I make to attend your request to analyze this picture.

Translated from the transcript of a tape by TIA desk
Posted June 27, 2011


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