Andrea Palladio

The buildings of the Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) were the most refined of the Renaissance period. Through them and his book on architectural theory he became the most influential architect in the history of Western art.

Roman architecture of the early 16th century had developed a mature classicism in the work of Donato Bramante and his followers. With the sack of Rome in 1527 young architects, such as Michele Sanmicheli and Jacopo Sansovino, brought the style to northern Italy. Andrea Palladio with further study of ancient Roman architecture, refined the classical mode to produce an elegant architecture befitting the opulent culture of the Veneto in the third quarter of the century. The aristocratic, mercantile society of Venice desired a splendid and sumptuous art to express pride in its accomplishments.

Andrea di Pietro dalla Gondola, called Andrea Palladio, was born in Padua on Nov. 30, 1508. In 1521 he was apprenticed for 6 years to a local stonecutter; 3 years later he broke the contract and moved to Vicenza, where he was immediately enrolled in the guild of masons and stonecutters. His first opportunity came about 1538 while he was working as a stone carver on the reconstruction of the Villa Cricoli, near Vicenza, owned by the local humanist Giangiorgio Trissino, who had a classical school for young Vicenzan nobility. Trissino recognized Andrea's ability and took him into his home and educated him. Trissino gave Andrea his humanist name Palladio as a reference to the wisdom of the Greek goddess Pallas Athene.

Early Architecture

Probably Palladio's first independent design was the Villa Godi (ca. 1538-1542) at Lonedo. Its simplified, stripped-down style reveals very little influence of ancient architecture, but its emphasis on clean-cut cubical masses foreshadows his mature style. The Casa Civena (1540-1546) in Vicenza, with its paired Corinthian pilasters above the ground-floor arcade, is more in the Roman High Renaissance manner, perhaps inspired by the publications of Sebastiano Serlio.

In 1541 Trissino took Palladio to Rome to study the ancient monuments. At this time Palladio began a magnificent series of drawings of ancient buildings. The incomplete Palazzo Thiene (commissioned 1542, constructed ca. 1545-1550) in Vicenza is in the style of Giulio Romano, particularly in its heavy rustication of the ground floor and the massive stone blocks superimposed on the window frames of the main story. As Giulio Romano was in Vicenza in 1542, it is possible that he contributed to the design, since Palladio was still designated as a mason in the contract. The grandiose project, never completed, for the Villa Thiene (before 1550) at Quinto was influenced by Palladio's study of ancient Roman sanctuaries and baths. The only completed pavilion has a temple front facade, his first use of a temple front to decorate a villa, which became a hallmark of his style.

For many years the city of Vicenza had been considering how to refurbish its Gothic law court, the Palazzo della Ragione. In 1546 Palladio's project to surround the old building with loggias was approved, and he was commissioned to erect one bay in wood as a model. In 1547 and 1549 Palladio made further trips to Rome. In 1549 he began to construct two superimposed, arcaded loggias around the Palazzo della Ragione (completed 1617), known ever since as the Basilica Palladiana. Each bay of the loggias is composed of an arch flanked by lintels supported by columns. The motif of the arch flanked by lintels, although it was first used by Bramante and was popularized in Serlio's book, has been called in English the Palladian motif since Palladio used it on the Basilica.

Mature Style

Palladio created on the mainland around Venice a magnificent series of villas for the Venetian and Vicenzan nobility. The most renowned is the Villa Capra, or the Rotonda (1550-1551, with later revisions), near Vicenza. It is a simplified, cubelike mass capped by a dome over the central, round salon and has identical temple front porches on the four sides of the block. The absolute symmetry of the design was unusual in Palladian villas; the architect explained that it permitted equal views over the countryside around the hill on which the villa sits.

The city of Vicenza was almost completely rebuilt with edifices after Palladio's designs. The Palazzo Chiericati (now the Museo Civico) is a two-story structure facing on the square with a continuous Doric colonnade on the ground floor after the idea of an ancient Roman forum; the walled and fenestrated central section of the upper floor is flanked by Ionic colonnades. The facade of the Palazzo Iseppo Porto (ca. 1550-1552) is based on Bramante's Palazzo Caprini in Rome, but the plan is Palladio's version of an ancient Roman house with an entrance atrium and a large peristyle, or court, on the central axis behind the building block.

In 1554 Palladio made his last trip to Rome and in the same year published a fine guidebook to the antiquities of Rome, Le antichità di Roma. During the next year a group of Vicenzans, including Palladio, founded the Accademia Olimpica for the furthering of arts and sciences. In 1556 Daniele Barbaro, a Venetian humanist, published a commentary on the architectural treatise of the ancient Roman writer Vitruvius for which Palladio made the illustrations. At the same time Palladio designed for Barbaro and his brother at Maser (ca. 1555-1559) one of the loveliest of all villas. The Villa Barbaro (now Volpi) is set into a gentle hillside. The central, two-storied casino with a temple front of Ionic half-columns and pediment is flanked by single-story arcades connecting it to the service buildings, for the villa also served as a farm. In the 16th century the nobility of the Veneto attempted to improve the agricultural productivity of the land, and their villas served as residences during the periods when they supervised the farming.

Palladio's first architecture in the city of Venice was the commencement of the monastery of S. Giorgio Maggiore, whose refectory he completed (1560-1562). This was followed by the church of S. Giorgio Maggiore (1565-1610), which has a basilical plan with apsidal transept arms and a deep choir. The facade (designed 1565, executed 1607-1610), with its temple front on four giant half columns flanked by two half temple fronts on smaller pilasters, is Palladio's solution to the translation of a Christian church design into the classical mode. He applied a similar facade to the older church of S. Francesco della Vigna (ca. 1565). The Palazzo Valmarana (1565-1566) in Vicenza uses giant Corinthian pilasters, except at the ends, to emphasize the planar aspect of the facade adapted to its urban location.

Late Style

Palladio's treatise on architecture, I quattro libri dell' architettura (1570), consists of four books. The first is devoted to technical questions and the classical orders, the second to domestic architecture, the third to civic architecture, and the fourth to ecclesiastical architecture. It is illustrated by ancient architecture and the works of Bramante and Palladio himself.

The truncated Loggia del Capitaniato (1571-1572) in Vicenza has giant half columns with an arcaded loggia below. In many of its details this design reveals an unclassical spirit. The short side, however, is modeled on an ancient triumphal arch and commemorates the victory of Lepanto in October 1571, which occurred while the loggia was being executed. As the chief architect of Venice, Palladio designed the festival triumphal arch and the decorations to welcome the entry of King Henry III of France to Venice in July 1574.

To fulfill a vow of salvation from the disastrous plague of 1575-1576 the Venetian Senate commissioned Palladio to build the Church of the Redentore (1576-1592). Perhaps influenced by the Church of the Gesù in Rome, it is a wide basilica with side chapels and a trilobed crossing with deep choir. The facade, approached by monumental stairs, is a more unified version of his earlier church facades. For the Villa Barbaro at Maser he designed a separate chapel, the Tempietto (1579-1580), modeled on the ancient Roman Pantheon.

Palladio executed a theater, the Teatro Olimpico (1580), in Vicenza for the Accademia Olimpica. Based on the design of an ancient Roman theater, the auditorium is segmental in plan, facing a stage modeled on a Roman scaenae frons. The perspective stage scenery in wood and stucco was added by Vincenzo Scamozzi after Palladio's design. On Aug. 19, 1580, Palladio died in Vicenza.

His Influence

Through his treatise Palladio exerted a dominant influence on architecture for over 2 centuries, particularly in northern Europe. There were two major periods of Palladianism in England. In the first half of the 17th century Inigo Jones converted English architecture to the Italianate Renaissance by introducing Palladio's style, seen best in the Banqueting Hall, Whitehall, London, and the Queen's House, Greenwich. The second wave of Palladianism was fostered in the early 18th century by the Earl of Burlington. Palladio's treatise was published in 1715 in an English translation by Giacomo Leoni. American architecture felt the impact in the late 18th and early 19th century, as seen in Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.

Further Reading on Andrea Palladio

An excellent study of Palladio in English is James S. Ackerman, Palladio (1966). For a discussion of the villas see Ackerman's Palladio's Villas (1967). The fundamental study of Palladio's theory and its relation to his practice is in parts 3 and 4 in Rudolf Wittkower, Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism (1949; 3d ed. rev. 1962). The Centro Internazionale di Storia dell'Architettura in Vicenza is sponsoring in English a Corpus Palladianum of about 30 volumes, the first of which is Camilo Semenzato, The Rotonda of Andrea Palladio (trans. 1968).

Additional Biography Sources

Puppi, Lionello, Andrea Palladio, Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1975, 1973.