December 20, 1577, a large fire devastated the southern part of the Doge's palace1. Instantaneously, the question rised what to do with the remains of the Palazzo Pubblico. The soon established commission of noblemen for the rebuilding ordered expertises from several contemporary architects. In these expertises, the whole spectrum of possibilities from a total rebuilding to a repair of the damaged parts gets evident. Christoforo Sorte demanded a fully new palace. Other architects suggested the insertion of contemporary renaissance style elements especially in the ground and upper floor not only to stabilize the building, but also in order to modernize the palace. Apart from Paolo da Ponte, also Andrea Palladio, wo never built a palace in Venice, denied the artistic value of the gothic Doge's palace. Though, the damages were not as severe as Palladio had previously emphasized.
Francesco Sansovino, son of Jacopo Sansovino, lauded the old architecture and pleaded for a reconstruction not only for esthetic, but also for idelogical reasons: when the palace had been built, the Venetian Republic had been
da quel tempo in quà è sempre cresciuta in potenza et grandezza, et fattasi la prima del mondo: mi parebbe assai ale il lasciarlo, essendovi genio per loro forunato e felice. Here, a symbolic value is attributed to the edifice. In fact, this is most probably the main reason for the following reconstruction of the medieval parts. The damaged traceries in the windows of the Sala del Maggior Consiglio were removed though.
In 1483, the eastern wing of the Doge's palace burnt down. The question who erected the eastern wing, totally incrustated with istrian limestone, was not fully answered until today. While the older literature attributes the architecture to
proto Antonio Rizzo, T. Hirthe meant in an essay from 1982 due to a exact differentiation of the word
proto together with a stylistic analysis, that Mauro Codussi was responsible for the design.2. Especially when comparing the building with Codussi's façade of the Palazzo Zorzi (e.g. the tondi and the strong horizontalism), Hirthe's argumentation is quite strong. Partially, remains of a former golden polychromy remain. The new façade towards the courtyard respected, according to the commissioners' wishes, the arcades of the gothic palace. The architect of the upper floors remains unknown, but Antonio Rizzo's authorship for the
Scala dei Giganti, a monumental stairway with two sculptures large sculptures of Neptune and Mars, has been proved.
Scala dei Giganti with Sansovino's sculptures
1 cf. Wolters, Wolfgang: Überlegungen zum Wiederaufbau stark zerstörter Gebäude im Cinquecento : die Gutachten nach dem Brand des Dogenpalasts vom 20. Dezember 1577, in: von Flemming, Victoria (ed.): Ars naturam adiuvans, Mainz 1996, pp. 327-333
2 Hirthe, Thomas: Mauro Codussi als Architekt des Dogenpalastes, in: Arte Veneta XXXVI.1982, pp. 31-44. Hirthe's opinion is not generally accepted.