Lanterns are not only lighting devices for use on boats, calle and signs, but architectural features that are utilized to economically bring natural light into an interior space.
Buildings may have windows – usually found in walls of building stories at or near viewing height, clerestories – high up in walls or in various “pop-out” devices in roofs such as dormers and gables, and skylights – glazed openings in roofs either constructed in the plane of the roof surface or elevated for form and drainage but still clearly part of the roof form.
Rarer are actual “lanterns”, and in Venice the lanterns are almost exclusively found in churches. More particularly, in many churches that have domes over the apse, transept, nave or chapels of the building.
Domes are found in a minority of the hundred or more churches of Venice. A few, like San Marco, have more than one. Rarer still are the seventeen churches with lantern-topped domes. Domes are difficult to support and build, immense structural masses rising far above the rest of a building, and also “budget busters” in most cases. Of the hundreds of buildings that I designed as an architect, only one dome survived the budget axe – and that was on a courthouse!
Many domes stand atop “drums”, cylindrical architectural devices often containing clerestory windows. Many of those still lack a lantern, often having finely frescoed plastered ceilings below (My courthouse design had a very short drum and no lantern – except that the entire dome was a very large glass skylight – that doesn’t count – and they did decline the green light = innocent, red light = guilty suggestion for the dome!).
You will find lanterns lighting the interior from far above the floor in San Giacomo dell’Orio, Santa Maria Miracoli, Salute, San Giorgio Maggiore, Gesuati, Redentore, Santa Maria Formosa, San Geremia, Santa Maria Maddalena, San Giorgio dei Greci, San Pietro in Castello, San Zaccaria, Zanipolo, San’Isepo, Le Zitelle, San Simeon Piccolo and Santa Maria Mater Domini. If you find another one or two, please let me know!
San Marco’s multitude of domes have vents under the much smaller domes atop each apex that appear to be lanterns, but none may light the interior, given the onion-like layers of construction beneath the domes that the public observes.
As you work and wander about La Serenissima, soaking up all of the magnificent sights, sounds , tastes and smells, remember to look up from time to time for more than altani, campanili, and attacking pigeons. Whether outside or inside, enjoy the artistry and the great light contributed to life by the fantastic Lanterns of Venice!