Storia dell’Arte 111, Maggio – Agosto 2005
Eunice D. Howe
The Authority of Tradition. Palladio and the Altar of the Hospital of Santo Spirito
Around 1649, the English traveler John Evelyn stopped by the Hospital of Santo Spirito and remarked on a tall altar and tabernacle in view of the sick: “In the middle is a stately Cupola, under which an altar decked with divers marble statues, all in sight of the sick, who may both see, and hear Masse as they lye in their beds. The Organs are very fine, & frequently play’d on to recreate the people in paine”.
Although a viewer like Evelyn showed no interest in the name of the architect, he could admire the design and function of the structure that sheltered the celebration of the holy sacrament. The ciborium, sometimes referred to as a tribune or baldachin, was the visual centerpiece of the sick ward, and it framed institutional rituals to the musical accompaniment of organs and a choir. A work in dialogue with its surroundings, the present ciborium evolved in three stages–successive waves of alteration that marked it as critical to the hospital’s mission