Andrea Palladio  

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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli
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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli
Palladian architecture, 16th century architecture, Renaissance architecture

Andrea Palladio (November 30, 1508August 19, 1580), was an Italian architect, widely considered the most influential person in the history of Western architecture. The Palladian style, named after him, adhered to classical Roman principles (Palladio knew relatively little about Greek architecture). The Palladian villa format was easily adapted for a democratic worldview, as can be seen at Thomas Jefferson's commissioned buildings.

Influence

Palladio's influence was far-reaching, although his buildings are all in a relatively small part of Italy. One factor in the spread of his influence was the publication in 1570 of his architectural treatise I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura (The Four Books of Architecture), which set out rules others could follow. Before this landmark publication, architectural drawings by Palladio had appeared in print as illustrations to Daniele Barbaro's "Commentary" on Vitruvius.

Interest in his style was renewed in later generations and became fashionable all over Europe, for example in parts of the Loire Valley of France. In Britain, Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren embraced the Palladian style. Another admirer was the architect Richard Boyle, 4th Earl of Cork, also known as Lord Burlington, who, with William Kent, designed Chiswick House. Exponents of Palladianism include the 18th century Venetian architect Giacomo Leoni who published an authoritative four-volume work on Palladio and his architectural concepts.

Post-Modern revival

postmodern architecture

Palladian motifs, particularly the window, made a comeback during the postmodern era. The architect Philip Johnson frequently used it as a doorway, as in his designs for the University of Houston School of Architecture building (1985), 500 Boylston Street (1989), Boston, Massachusetts and the Museum of Television and Radio building (1991), New York City. When asked about it, Johnson replied, "I think Palladian windows have a rather prettier shape. I wasn't trying to make any more important point than that." I.M. Pei was to use the design for the main entrance of his 1985 Bank of China building in Hong Kong.

Cultural context

Palladio's architecture was not dependent on expensive materials, which must have been an advantage to his more financially-pressed clients. Many of his buildings are of brick covered with stucco. In the later part of his career, Palladio was chosen by powerful members of Venetian society for numerous important commissions. His success as an architect is based not only on the beauty of his work, but also for its harmony with the culture of his time. His success and influence was a result of the integration of extraordinary aesthetic quality with expressive characteristics that resonated with his client's social aspirations. His buildings served to visually communicate their place in the social order of their culture. This powerful integration of beauty and the physical representation of social meanings is apparent in three major building types: the urban palazzo, the agricultural villa, and the church.

In his urban structures he developed a new improved version of the typical early renaissance palazzo (exemplified by the Palazzo Strozzi). Adapting a new urban palazzo type created by Bramante in the House of Raphael, Palladio found a powerful expression of the importance of the owner and his social position. The main living quarters of the owner on the second level are now clearly distinguished in importance by use of a pedimented classical portico, centered and raised above the subsidiary and utilitarian ground level (illustrated in the Palazzo da Porto Festa and the Palazzo Valmarana Braga). The tallness of the portico is achieved by incorporating the owner's sleeping quarters on the third level, within a giant two story classical colonnade, a motif adapted from Michelangelo's Capitoline buildings in Rome. The elevated main floor level became known as the "piano nobile", and is still referred to as the "first floor" in continental Europe.

Palladio also established an influential new building format for the agricultural villas of the Venetian aristocracy. He consolidated the various stand-alone farm outbuildings into a single impressive structure, arranged as a highly organized whole dominated by a strong center and symmetrical side wings, as illustrated at Villa Barbaro. The Palladian villa configuration often consists of a centralized block raised on an elevated podium, accessed by grand steps and flanked by lower service wings, as at Villa Foscari and Villa Badoer. This format, with the quarters of the owner at the elevated center of their own world, found resonance as a prototype for Italian villas and later for the country estates of the English nobility (such as Lord Burlington's Chiswick House, Vanbrugh's Blenheim, Walpole's Houghton Hall, and Adam's Kedleston Hall). The configuration was a perfect architectural expression of their worldview, clearly expressing their perceived position in the social order of the times. His influence was extended worldwide into the British colonies. The Palladian villa format was easily adapted for a democratic worldview, as can be seen at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello and his arrangement for the University of Virginia; and as recently as 1940 in Pope's National Gallery in Washington DC, where the public entry to the world of high culture occupies the exalted center position. The rustication of exposed basement walls of Victorian residences is a late remnant of the Palladian format, clearly expressed as a podium for the main living space for the family.

Similarly, Palladio created a new configuration for the design of Roman Catholic churches that established two interlocking architectural orders, each clearly articulated yet delineating a hierarchy of a larger order overriding a lesser order. This idea was in direct coincidence with the rising acceptance of the theological ideas of St. Thomas Aquinas, who postulated the notion of two worlds existing simultaneously: the divine world of faith and the earthly world of man. Palladio created an architecture which made a visual statement communicating the idea of two superimposed systems, as illustrated at San Francesco della Vigna. In a time when religious dominance in Western culture was threatened by the rising power of science and secular humanists, this architecture found great favor with the Church as a clear statement of the proper relationship of the earthly and the spiritual worlds.

Palladio died in Maser, near Treviso.




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