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Summary Article: Palladio, Andrea
From The Classical Tradition

Italian Renaissance architect (1508-1580). Thanks to his own study of Roman antiquities, Palladio achieved a profound understanding of the legacy of the classical tradition, which he transmitted to future architects through his highly influential treatise as well as his own buildings.

Born in Padua, Palladio was apprenticed to a stonemason's workshop in Vicenza. His real name was Andrea di Pietro della Gondola, but he was given the classical name Palladio by the Vicentine Humanist Gian Giorgio Trissino, who took him to Rome for the first time, probably in 1541. Vicenza was to prove the ideal center in which the young architect could develop his talents. Although a subject city of the Venetian Republic, the town was administered by a fiercely independent local elite, proud of its strong cultural identity.

Palladio made a total of five visits to Rome during his career. A profusion of surviving drawings demonstrate how carefully he observed and measured the remains of Roman antiquity. Although he had learned of the theory of the orders in classical architecture from the writings of Vitruvius and Alberti, he sought to penetrate the underlying principles of ancient design through discriminating firsthand observation of Roman archaeological sites. His drawings show how he often reconstructed ruined buildings graphically, seeking a regularity and harmony of proportion that was not always present in the original. In 1554 he published his own guidebook to the antiquities of Rome, as well as a pilgrim's guide to the Holy City. Two years later, he provided illustrations for Daniele Barbaro's authoritative translation and commentary on Vitruvius.

In his built architecture, Palladio began to develop his own system of design, emulating what he felt to be the true spirit of ancient Rome. He eschewed pedantic antiquarianism in favor of a distillation of the essence of the remains he had observed. For example, his Basilica, an arcaded structure, begun in 1549, surrounding the medieval communal palace of Vicenza, achieves its grandeur through the simplicity and proportion of its superimposed Doric and Ionic orders. In his designs for Vicentine palaces and country villas, Palladio tried to recreate the character of the ancient Roman domus. Later in his life he turned to religious architecture, obtaining a series of prominent commissions in Venice, notably the monastery of the Lateran canons known as the Convento della Carità, the facade of the Church of San Francesco della Vigna, and the churches San Giorgio Maggiore and Il Redentore. The unprecedented monumentality of these later works was to transform Venetian architectural tradition.

Palladio's treatise on architecture, I quattro libri dell'architettura, published in Venice in 1570, presented his principles of design to the public across Europe. The text, written in Italian and illustrated by woodcut plates, is both lucid and practical. The four books discuss, respectively, the classical orders of architecture, domestic building, public building, and temples. Whereas the last two books concentrate on known Roman antiquities, the second book focuses on Palladio's own designs for villas and palaces. In 1574-1575 he published a translation of Caesar's Commentaries with illustrations by his sons, both recently deceased. This enterprise reflected his lifelong interest in ancient Roman fortification, and especially in the castramentatio of Polybius.

Over the five centuries since his birth, Palladio has had many followers and imitators, from Vincenzo Scamozzi onward. The English architect Inigo Jones used Palladio's Quattro libri as his principal guide to the antiquities of Rome. In the 18th century a more dogmatic form of Palladianism flourished in England, where Whig aristocrats modeled their country houses on Palladio's villas. The classical authority of the Palladian villa has proved an enduring symbol of landownership, as is also evident in the houses of plantation owners in America and the West Indies. The interpretation of Palladio's use of harmonic proportion in Rudolf Wittkower's Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism (1949) influenced many postwar Modernist architects, though some Postmodernists have emulated the more superficial elements of Palladian classicism.

  • Ackerman, James S., Palladio (Harmondsworth1966).
  • Boucher, Bruce, Andrea Palladio (New York1994).
  • Burns, Howard et al., Andrea Palladio 1508--1580: The Portico and the Farmyard (London1973).
  • Chastel, André and Cevese, Renato, eds., Andrea Palladio: Nuovi contributi (Milan1988).
  • Palladio, Andrea, I quattro libri dell'architettura (Venice1570) and The Four Books on Architecture trans. Tavernor, Robert and Schofield, Richard (Cambridge, Mass.1997).
  • Puppi, Lionello, Andrea Palladio: Complete Works (London1989).
  • Zorzi, Giangiorgio, I disegni delle antichità di Andrea Palladio (Venice1959).
D. H.
© 2010 Harvard University Press (cloth) © 2013 Harvard University Press

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