Baldassare Longhena was the only architect of the Venetian Baroque to create a style comparable in quality to the great Baroque architecture of Rome. Trained by the neo-Palladian Vincenzo Scamozzi, he quickly moved to a style more or less antithetical to that of his master; but the influence of Sansovino and of Palladio himself is ever present in his buildings, and it was to this specifically Venetian tradition that he gave Baroque expression.
Thus the sumptuous plastic richness of his palace facades on the Grand Canal (Ca' Pesaro and Ca' Rezzonico, both begun in the 1630s) comes from a magnificent marriage between the rather flat, three-tiered facade of Sansovino's already monumental Palazzo Corner Ca' Grande and the same architect's deeply cut, sculpturally enriched Library. From the Library, Longhena learned the importance of light as a means of giving substance and warmth to architecture. By means of ever richer variations of texture (including colossal rustication) and a vigorous profusion of forcefully carved sculptural detail, he intensified the chiaroscuro effects of Sansovino's building. Interacting with the changing light and the reflections from the Canal, his facades thus became full of movement and drama.
Longhena's main monument is the church of S. Maria della Salute (begun 1631), which was commissioned by the State as an ex voto offering for deliverance from the plague. The church is now so essential a feature of Venice that it is almost impossible to imagine the entrance to the Grand Canal without it; Longhena's domed octagonal structure perfectly fits its triangular site, spreading outwards by means of a patterned pavement to the very steps of the canal.
The plan of the church has been brilliantly analyzed as a fusion between the centralized, geometric plans of the Renaissance and the progressive scenographic space of the Baroque. Longhena's design owes something both to the Baroque theater and to Palladio's Redentore.
Theatrical too is the use of sculpture. Giant figures of Apostles placed above the columns enliven the space of the central octagon. On the exterior the volutes, which make the dynamic transition between the octagon and the dome, are topped by statues who ride above them as on the crest of a wave and seem about to bowl outwards into space.
The greater exuberance of Longhena's architecture as a whole shows the increasing tendency towards display in both public and private patronage in Venice from 1600: a grandiloquence that is perhaps a symptom of a city in decline.