Italian Architecture during the XVIth Century: Andrea Palladio and the “Palladianism”

Andrea di Pietro della Gondola, called Palladio (November 30, 1508 – August 19, 1580) was both an industrious and revolutionary genius, a studious observer of everything ancient and modern, and at the same time an artist full of faith in his own convictions, which he developed with boundless audacity. He went to Rome and drew its ruins in large sketches, which have been preserved, and measured and compared them with the Vitruvian canon (De Architectura, 30-15 BC). With all this knowledge he had gained, Palladio returned to his homeland and produced his own and very original body of work. He worked mainly in Vicenza, where he lived, and filled the city with grandiose monuments. Today, Palladio’s architectural works in Vicenza (23 buildings) and his other 24 villas of the Veneto are part of a World Heritage Site listed by UNESCO as the “City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto”.

Andrea was born in Padua. He began his work as a builder at an early age. Between the age of 13 and 19, his father placed him as an apprentice stonecutter. He moved permanently to Vicenza in 1524, where he resided for most of his life. Once there, he became an assistant to a prominent stonecutter and stonemason, which allowed him to join the guild of stonemasons and bricklayers. In 1538, at the age of 30, he was employed by the humanist poet and scholar Gian Giorgio Trissino to rebuild his residence, the Villa Trissino at Cricoli. Trissino was an avid scholar of ancient Roman architecture, particularly the work of Vitruvius (De Architectura, “On Architecture”, 30-15 BC). In 1540, Andrea was received as a formal architect, and the following year along with his patron Trissino, he made his first trip to Rome to see and study classical monuments first-hand. Once in the Eternal City, Trissino exposed Andrea to the history and arts of Rome, which would inspire his future works. In 1554 Andrea published guides to Rome’s ancient monuments and churches. By this time, Trissino gave him the name by which he became known, Palladio, as an allusion to the Greek goddess of wisdom Pallas Athena and also to a character in a play by Trissino himself. The word Palladio means “wise one”.


Basilica Palladiana, by Andrea Palladio, 1549-1614 (Piazza dei Signori, Vicenza, Veneto, Italy). Palladio (by then 40 years old) received his first public commission from the town of Vicenza in 1548: the reconstruction of the original loggia (which collapsed in 1496) surrounding the medieval town hall (Palazzo della Ragione). Palladio’s solution for the new loggia was to used it as an architectural screen to conceal the irregularities of the inner structure, particularly the different widths of the bays, by using his own “Serlian” openings which gave the building a harmonious general appearance. This idea of a double loggia derived from the structure of ancient Roman theatre walls, the vertical axes of which are articulated by equal-sized openings on the different floors and by engaged columns set in front of the walls. The medieval roof is still visible, but Palladio’s arcades are placed so that the old walls are invisible, and the roof seems almost like a tent. The columns of the lower floor loggias were Doric, supporting an entablature with a frieze including alternating metopes (decorated with dishes and bucrania) and triglyphs. The columns of the upper-floor loggias, by contrast, are Ionic, supporting a continuous frieze entablature. The parapet crowning the loggias has statues by Giovanni Battista Albanese, Grazioli and Lorenzo Rubini. Palladio himself called this building Basilica, justifying the term by the structure’s use as a law court, the original function of the ancient Roman basilicas.
Detail of a Serlian motif in the upper loggia of the Basilica Palladiana, by Andrea Palladio, 1549-1614 (Piazza dei Signori, Vicenza, Veneto, Italy). For the loggia openings, Palladio used the motif know today as the “Palladian or Serlian motif or window”. The Serlian consists in a central arched opening supported by columns on the sides and flanked by narrow rectangular openings or compartments, in turn crowned by circular openings called oculi. This motif of the arch flanked by lintels was first used by Bramante and was popularized in the architect Sebastiano Serlio’s book Tutte l’opere d’architettura et prospetiva (“All the Works of Architecture and Perspective”, first published in 1537). In the Serlian motifs for the Basilica Palladiana, the rectangular openings are of different size in order to match the variable size of the internal bays. The serliana was already used before in the Veneto by Jacopo Sansovino for his Biblioteca Marciana (1537).


Palladio’s early works include a number of villas around Vicenza. But his best-known work during his early Vicenza period is the restored Municipal Palace, a 13th-century Gothic building that Palladio surrounded, beginning in 1549 until his death, with grandiose porticoes on three sides. On the façade of this palace called the Basilica Palladiana or Palazzo della Ragione, he applied the ingenious system of combining two types of columns of the same order, some higher which support the crowning frieze, and other smaller ones interspersed, which give the larger columns an air of grandeur. This is what has been called the gigantic order, due to Palladio. In the façades of the palaces he designed, Palladio also used this gigantic order, which sometimes embraces the entire height of the façade, and combined the various column levels with other minor interspersed entablatures. In the courtyards, tall columns reach the uppermost cornice, and the different roofs of the floors rest freely at different heights on the columns. The design of the Basilica Palladiana exerted great influence across Europe, from Portugal to Germany. A characteristic of Palladio’s buildings are the superimposed loggias: those on the ground floor and those of the first floor. This system, in which arches play a fundamental role like in the Basilica Palladiana, was also used employing rectilinear lintels in the Palazzo Chiericati in Vicenza, and it always seems to develop from the desire (typical of the 16th century) to open the building’s surfaces to the light and the outdoor environment. The Serlian window*, also known as Venetian window or as a Palladian window, was another common feature of his style. It consists of an arched window flanked by two smaller square windows, divided by two columns or pilasters and often topped by a small entablature and by a small circular window or hole (an oculus). He took inspiration for these particular forms from the triumphal arches of Rome, though they were also used in the Renaissance by Bramante. Palladio used them in novel ways, particularly in the façade of the Basilica Palladiana and in the Villa Pojana. Over the years, this style of windows became popular in Palladian-style buildings in England and elsewhere in Europe and America. Another characteristic of Palladio’s architecture was that it didn’t heavily depend on the use of expensive materials, a clear advantage for some of his clients. Many of Palladio’s creations are of brick covered with stucco.


Palazzo Chiericati, by Andrea Palladio, begun 1550 – completed ca. 1680 (Piazza Matteotti, Vicenza, Veneto, Italy). Perhaps one of the most original of Palladio’s private residences is the Palazzo Chiericati commissioned by Count Girolamo Chiericati. The main axis of this palace runs parallel to the street and its façade also incorporates a loggia. The loggia looks out on a large open piazza. The tripartite division of the two-story façade, with the solid middle section of the upper floor (accommodating a large salon built right over the colonnade of the ground floor) flanked by open loggias, is a typical example of the importance the central part of a building had in Palladio’s work, in this building emphasized by the groups of four free-standing columns placed at the corners. The columns of the ground-floor are Tuscan and those of the upper floor are Ionic, a combination that Palladio used in other of his buildings of this period, and the rhythm of the colonnade of the ground floor is repeated in the wall of the solid middle section of the upper floor with the use of engaged columns. On the top of the building, there’s an alternation of clustered statues with large, fantastic urns. Inside, Palladio’s characteristic principle of dividing up the space of a house was methodically followed.
Villa Pojana, by Andrea Palladio, 1548-1549 (Pojana Maggiore, Province of Vicenza, Veneto, Italy). This villa was built for Bonifacio Pojana, a member of the Pojana family, some local landowners. In this building, Palladio reflected Bonifacio’s military background in the severity and austere purity of the architecture and in the decorative programme in the interior. Here, Palladio was inspired by ancient Roman baths. The main floor has a large hall covered with a barrel vault. At each side of this central hall, secondary rooms extend, each featuring a different type of vault. We can see one of Palladio’s most creative work in the main feature on the façade, a serlian with five circular oculi, also inspired by ancient Roman models, yet a totally personal invention. Other notable elements of this villa are the broken pediment, stripped classical features, and statues that depict both military and agricultural deities.
A variation of the Serlian motif is here seen at the main entrance of Villa Pojana, by Andrea Palladio, 1548-1549 (Pojana Maggiore, Province of Vicenza, Veneto, Italy). We can see the central arch flanked by rectangular openings, but crowned with five round oculi following the curve of the opening arch. The bust of the villa’s owner, Bonifacio Pojana, looks down from over the main entrance, and above him are the family’s coat of arms and military trophies.


The success of the Basilica Palladiana turned Palladio into one of the best architects of Northern Italy. Immediately after his patron’s death in 1550, Palladio gained a new supporter, the powerful Venetian aristocrat Daniele Barbaro who helped him to get support from the major aristocratic families of Northern Italy. At this time, Palladio continued to construct magnificent villas and palaces in Vicenza in his new personal interpretation of the classical style, including the Palazzo Chiericati.

One member of these powerful Northern Italian families, Cardinal Barbaro, called Palladio to Rome and encouraged him to publish his studies of classical architecture. In 1554, Palladio published the first of a series of books, L’Antichida di Roma (“Antiquities of Rome”). Later, Palladio kept compiling and writing about his architectural studies, which were lavishly illustrated. They were finally published in Venice in 1570, the seminal I quattro libri dell’architettura (“The Four Books of Architecture”). These books reprinted in different languages and circulated widely in Europe, and secured Palladio’s reputation as the most influential architect of his time, a reputation that continued to grow even after his death.

In his treatise, Palladio wanted to encompass the vast body of human constructions, which he divided into four groups: public buildings, houses, recreational villas, and churches. The first book includes studies of decorative styles, classical orders, and materials. The second book includes Palladio’s town and country house designs and classical reconstructions. The third book includes bridge and basilica designs, city planning designs, and classical halls. The fourth book includes information on the reconstruction of ancient Roman temples. It is noteworthy that the rural houses or recreational villas represented a separate category for Palladio, which he tried to justify with the most delightful figure of the “country gentleman” that he described in his writings as this: “…Although it is very convenient for a gentleman to have a house in the city, where he will have to go from time to time, either because he has a position in the government, or to attend to his private affairs, in any case the greatest productivity and pleasure will be provided by his country house, where he will enjoy seeing the land increasing his wealth or exercising in walks on foot or on horseback, and where he will keep his body strong and healthy, and his mind will rest from the fatigues of the city by quietly applying himself to study, contemplating Nature.” Palladio, after this exordium, described the ideal country house, settled away from swamps and annex rural dependencies.


Palazzo Valmarana, by Andrea Palladio, 1565-1571 (Vicenza, Veneto, Italy). In 1565 Palladio was commissioned by Isabella Nogarola Valmarana, from the Valmarana family, to design the Palazzo Valmarana (now known as Palazzo Braga). Only the front part of of the building was executed following the original Palladio’s design. For the general design of this building, Palladio was inspired in Michelangelo’s plans for the buildings of the Piazza del Campidoglio. Of particular importance is its street façade, which makes it one of Palladio’s most interesting buildings. The giant order of 6 composite* pilasters, the first time Palladio used them in a secular building, gives the palace a monumentality that must have had an oppressive effect in the narrow street setting in which the building is located. Inscribed within this giant order is a smaller order with Corinthian pilasters extending the full width of the façade at the lower level, a device possibly inspired by Michelangelo’s plan for St. Peter’s in Rome. The rhythmical articulation of the façade nevertheless results from Palladio’s ingenious idea of lining the end bays not with giant pilasters but with a bas-relief of a warrior who bears the Valmarana coat of arms placed above the smaller pilasters, thus providing a sense of compression towards the center of the façade, which in turn gives additional emphasis to the centrally located entrance, a feature typical of Palladio’s buildings.
Villa Serego, by Andrea Palladio, ca. 1560-1570 (Santa Sofia di PedemonteSan Pietro in Cariano, province of Verona, Italy). Built for the Venetian aristocrat  Marcantonio Sarego, from the Sarego family, this villa is distinctive between Palladio’s creations for its use of rusticated Ionic columns. Villa Serego was built around a courtyard inspired in the atrium of ancient Roman villas. The colossal Ionic columns of the courtyard were executed in a rough aesthetic, almost rusticated. Although the columns are inspired from ancient Roman buildings, they are reminiscent of the Mannerist style in vogue at the time in Verona.


Fortune gave Palladio the opportunity to fully develop this ideal for a rustic house several times during his life, like the Villas Valmarana, Serego and Pojana, but his best known suburban villa is the so-called La Rotonda (Villa Capra “La Rotonda”), built in 1567 on a small wooded hilltop near Vicenza with views of the countryside in all directions, an ideal setting which Palladio himself described with enthusiasm. The Rotonda was a mansion built for Count Paolo Almerico, who after having served as canon of Popes Pius IV and Pius V, returned to Vicenza loaded with money. This villa was built on a high base; in the basements are the kitchens and the administration. On the main floor, which is reached by four monumental stairs oriented to each of the four cardinal points, rises the square mansion; the bedrooms are located in the corners, and in the center there is a large circular room covered by a cupola. The four stairways and the corresponding colonnades that support their triangular pediments were evidently and directly inspired by Roman temples; but the intimate relationship of this villa with the surrounding landscape, its cubic volume and the rigorous symmetry shown both by its external appearance and its floor plan, are typical of Palladio’s style and of his genius. “La Rotonda” was particularly influential in England and the United States, where it inspired “Neo-Palladianist” buildings such as Mereworth Castle (1724) in Kent and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Virginia (1772).


Villa Capra “La Rotonda”, by Andrea Palladio, 1567 (Vicenza, Italy). The Villa Almerico Capra Valmarana, popularly known as La Rotonda, was built primarily as a suburban retreat for the church dignitary and humanist Paolo Almerico. The villa’s name Capra derives from the Capra brothers, who completed the building after it was ceded to them in 1592, while its appellative of La Rotonda refers to the central circular hall with its dome. This is Palladio’s most influential building in the history of domestic architecture. Its placement atop a small hill surrounded by countryside, made Palladio build this villa with a centralized plan but with a pedimented loggia on each one of its sides to contemplate the surrounding landscape. Each one of these porticoes is approached by a broad staircase. On the corners of the walls and on each pediment, statues extend the axis of the villa. The used of simple and well proportionate forms (square, rectangle, and triangle) culminates in a shallow dome at the top which forms a surrogate crest to the hill, uniting the building and the landscape upon which it rests. The entire building, including the porticos, is in the shape of a Greek cross, and the villa itself was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. In order for each room to have sun, Palladio rotated the building 45 degrees from each cardinal point of the compass. The principal rooms were located on the second floor (piano nobile). Palladio, and the owner, never saw the villa completed.
The main entrance portico of Villa Capra “La Rotonda”, by Andrea Palladio, 1567 (Vicenza, Italy). On each of the four pediments of the porticos Palladio placed statues of classical deities. The pediments were each supported by six Ionic columns and each portico was flanked by a single window. The Villa “La Rotonda” has had a lasting influence in the history of architecture: in England five houses have been built based on Palladio’s Villa Rotonda, also in the Palestinian Territories, some palaces in Poland, and in the United States for the design of the first President’s House in Washington, DC, Thomas Jefferson anonymously submitted a design that was a variation on the Rotonda, and his own home of Monticello in Virginia was based in Palladio’s design.


The Venetian aristocrat we mentioned before, Daniele Barbaro, along with his younger brother Marcantonio, introduced Palladio to Venice, where he had the opportunity to develop his own style of religious architecture. In Venice, Palladio built the churches of the Il Redentore (“The Redeemer”) and of San Giorgio Maggiore, always reflecting his great style of combining orders of different heights. San Giorgio Maggiore was begun in 1566 and the Redentore in 1577, although it was only finished after Palladio’s death. In both, Palladio created a type of anti-Michelangelesque façade surprising for its use of both, the gigantic order and the great central pediment risen on lower lateral semi-pediments. The Church of the Redeemer (Il Redentore), much admired by its contemporaries, has an almost triple façade determined by the large upper pediment and the small pediment of the door and the two side semi-pediments. San Giorgio Maggiore was later given a new façade by the architect Vincenzo Scamozzi (1610), which integrated it more closely into the Venetian skyline, though the rigorous, perfectly balanced interior is the original work of Palladio. In 1570, Palladio was formally named “Proto della Serenissima” (chief architect of the Republic of Venice), after Jacopo Sansovino. The last church built by Palladio, the Tempietto Barbaro, was built at the end of his life and is one of his most accomplished works. Begun in 1580 as an addition to the Villa Barbaro at Maser (Veneto), its design unites two classical forms, a circle and a Greek cross, and perfectly balances them with the horizontal and vertical elements, both on the façade and in the interior.


Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore (“Church of the Most Holy Redeemer”), by Andrea Palladio, begun in 1577 – consecrated in 1592 (Canale della Giudecca, Venice). As a thanksgiving to mark the end of a particularly virulent outbreak of the plague in the summer of 1576, the Senate of the Republic of Venice commissioned Palladio to build a church on the adjacent island of the Giudecca. Palladio’s design for Il Redentore gave great prominence to the façade. Raised on a podium and approached by a broad stairway, the façade includes a subtle arrangement of interlocking pediments, pilasters, and attached columns. This design provided an ingenious solution to the problem of adapting a Roman style temple front to the high nave and lower side aisles of the church (see interior below). For this, he combined two temple fronts: a tall, narrow one for the center unit fronting the nave with pilasters at either side and attached columns emphasizing the entrance, and a broad, lower one recessed behind the first for the aisles. For all its complexity, this design manages to convey an impression of serene simplicity. The attic story over the main pediment evokes associations with the Pantheon in Rome, while, rising triumphantly above these classical forms, the bulbous Venetian dome flanked by turrets and crowned by a statue of the Redeemer proudly proclaims the city’s Byzantine heritage. As in other of his works, Palladio applied here rigorous geometric proportions to the building’s façade: the overall height is four-fifths that of its overall width whilst the width of the central portion is five-sixths of its height.
Interior view of the Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore, by Andrea Palladio, begun in 1577 – consecrated in 1592 (Canale della Giudecca, Venice). Inside, the church has the appearance of a great hall since it lacks a real transept. The single barrel-vaulted nave, flanked by evenly spaced columns and with three chapels on either side, leads to the centrally planned presbytery, covered by a tambour and dome, and closed off at either side by almost semi-circular tribunes. Behind it is the monks’ choir, which is optically separated from the first two sections by means of an exedra. All these elements fit in with the longitudinal scheme of the church without losing their character of independent spaces. Palladio was here inspired by the ancient Roman baths of Diocletian and Titus for the design of the nave. Along the nave, the church is traversed rhythmically by slender Corinthian columns which support a sturdy architrave. The bright interior is illuminated by a series of great arched windows. In contrast to the richly articulated architectural details of the walls of the church, the great vaulted ceiling is plain white.
San Giorgio Maggiore, by Andrea Palladio, 1566-1610 (Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice). Here again Palladio presented a solution to the dilemma of devising a classical façade for the difficult shape of a Christian basilica. The church’s cruciform floor plan incorporates a spacious barrel-vaulted nave with a crossing topped by a dome, an enlarged transept and an elongated apsidal choir behind the presbytery. Palladio did not live to see the façade finished, which was erected following his designs by Simone Sorella. In San Giorgio Maggiore‘s façade, monumental Composite columns on high pedestals support a pediment crowning the nave; this is interlocked with a lower, horizontal temple front, which coincides with the aisles. Below this, single-story Corinthian pilasters frame triangular pedimented aedicules* containing sculptural decoration celebrating the history of the church: on either side of the central portal are statues of Saint George and of Saint Stephen, to whom the church is also dedicated.
Interior view of San Giorgio Maggiore, by Andrea Palladio, 1566-1610 (Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice). Here, in contrast to Il Redentore (see pictures before), Palladio included a long nave with ample transepts, giving a Latin cross plan crowned with a dome at its crossing. The nave has a rhythmic interplay of attached columns and pilasters, the design included a single giant order of engaged columns flanking arches supported in turn by a smaller order of pilasters, both raised on pedestals, carrying an imposing entablature, applied to a brick wall covered in white stucco and illuminated by windows. The imposing high altar, decorated with bronzes by Girolamo Campagna, divides the presbytery from the choir.
Tempietto Barbaro, by Andrea Palladio, ca. 1580 (Villa Barbaro, Maser, Veneto, Italy). This is the last church built by Palladio, a small temple that served both the Villa Barbaro (see pictures below) and the village of Maser. It was commissioned by Marcantonio Barbaro. For this church, Palladio designed a centralized building closely following classical models. The idea of a temple façade connected to a domed building refers to the Pantheon. The portico and the pediment lead to two small bell towers, which in turn draw the eye towards the dome. Inside, the circular plan is surrounded by eight half columns and niches with statues. An open balustrade runs around the top of the interior wall, concealing the base of the dome itself, making it appear that it’s suspended in the air. This idea would be adopted frequently in later Baroque churches. In this small church, Palladio achieved a perfect balance between the circle and the cross (two classical forms), and the horizontal and vertical elements, both on the façade and in the interior.
Villa Barbaro, by Andrea Palladio, ca. 1558 or ca. 1560-1570 (Maser, Veneto, Italy). This villa was commissioned by Daniele and Marcantonio Barbaro. The Villa Barbaro was the main building for a small working farm, and the way in which the flanking wings extend into the landscape has a practical rather than a theoretical basis. The main façade is based on one of an ancient temple; the arcaded wings to either side culminate in large sundials and structures that suggest dovecotes*. The plan of the ground floor is complex: rectangular with perpendicular rooms on a long axis, the central block projects and contains the principal reception room. As typical of Palladio, the façade was designed to resemble the portico of a Roman temple, with four Ionic columns, it was based on the Temple of Fortuna Virilis in Rome. The columns support a large pediment with heraldic symbols of the Barbaro family in relief. The two lateral and symmetrical wings have two floors and are fronted by an open arcade. The wings are terminated by pavilions crowned with large sundials set beneath a pediment. These pavilions were intended to house dovecotes on the upper floor, while the rooms below were for wine-making, stables and domestic use. The interior of the piano nobile is decorated with frescoes by Paolo Veronese.
Nymphaeum, by Andrea Palladio, ca. 1558 or ca. 1560-1570 (Villa Barbaro, Maser, Veneto, Italy). Palladio didn’t work particularly on details concerning the garden design of the villas he worked for. However, at Villa Barbaro he designed this nymphaeum. This arching structure frames a natural spring, and may be influenced by the nymphaeum of Villa Giulia. The arched structure includes seven statues placed inside niches and four nearly free-standing ones in groups of two, two framing the central portal and the other two at the extremes of the arch. These were probably carved by Marcantonio Barbaro himself. The spring forms a pool in front of the nymphaeum, which can be used for fishing. This water also flowed to the kitchen as well as was used to water the gardens.


Palladio’s final work is the famous theater he built on behalf of Vicenza’s Olympic Academy, of which he was a member. Begun in 1580, the same year of Palladio’s death, it was finished by Scamozzi and inaugurated in 1585, with a performance of the tragedy Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. In Italy, theater reached great importance from the middle of the 16th century, while in other European countries it became popular a century later.

The great writers of the time were dedicated to writing comedies imitating those by Plautus. As a consequence, buildings and decorations had to be made for the stage. At first they were permanent, and served for indoor and outdoor scenes. In the decoration of the Theater of Vicenza, Palladio used the artifice of setting a façade as a backdrop, that in consequence can be seen both as an outer wall of a palace or as the inner wall of a room. The Olympic Theater of Vicenza (Teatro Olimpico di Vicenza) is the culmination of Palladio’s architectural language, in which structure, decoration and scenography merge. During the 17th century the illusionistic perspectives of the stage were added and designed by Scamozzi following the Palladian project. Andrea Palladio died on 19 August 1580 at either Vicenza or Maser, and was buried in the church of Santa Corona in Vicenza.


Interior view towards the stage of the Teatro Olimpico, by Andrea Palladio, 1580-1583 (Vicenza, Veneto, Italy). The Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, the final design by Palladio, was commissioned by the Accademia Olimpica of Vicenza. Palladio was inspired by the ruins of the ancient Roman theater in Vicenza and other Roman theaters he had visited, as well as by his study of Vitruvius’s comments on ancient theaters. In 1579, the Accademia Olimpica was given the rights to build a permanent theatre in an old fortress by then in disuse: the Castello del Territorio. Palladio took the opportunity to use this space to recreate an academic reconstruction of a Roman theatre that he had so closely studied. Palladio died in August 1580, only six months after construction started, but work continued following Palladio’s sketches and drawings. Later, the prominent architect also from Vicenza, Vincenzo Scamozzi, completed the project. The Teatro Olimpico is, along with the Teatro all’antica in Sabbioneta and the Teatro Farnese in Parma, one of only three Renaissance theatres still in existence; the last two theatres were based, in large part, on the Teatro Olimpico.
Interior view towards the seating area of the Teatro Olimpico, by Andrea Palladio, 1580-1583 (Vicenza, Veneto, Italy). The Tempietto Barbaro (see pictures before) and the Teatro Olimpico were Palladio’s last works. The theatre was inaugurated on 3 March 1585 with a production of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, and it is still used today for plays and musical performances, but audience sizes are limited to 400, for conservation reasons. Palladio designed the Teatro Olimpico so that seats in all parts of the theatre were provided with at least one perspective view.


Although Palladio’s works are located in a relatively small area in Italy, the influence they exerted reached far beyond. They particularly inspired neoclassical architects in Britain and in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries. His most admired and copied designs were those for his villas and country houses. In England, Palladio’s villas were adapted for country houses. The first English architect to adapt Palladio’s work was Inigo Jones, who made a long trip to Vicenza and was heavily impressed by the work of Palladio. In the United States, Palladio’s interpretation of classical Roman architecture was adapted for the architecture of the then newly independent nation. Harvard Hall at Harvard University in Massachusetts was rebuilt in 1766 following Palladian styles. Palladio’s villas also inspired the residence of the third U.S. President, Thomas Jefferson, Monticello. The design of the first United States Capitol building was inspired in part by Palladio and his “La Rotonda”. Palladian styles can also be admired in the United States in plantation haciendas.


View of the Scaenae frons* of the Teatro Olimpico, by Vincenzi Scamozzi (Vicenza, Veneto, Italy). The full Roman-style scaenae frons back screen across the stage is made from wood and stucco imitating marble, and was designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi. It is based on the ancient Roman ‘scaenae frons‘. The three central openings lead into radiating streets that seems to terminate at a vast distance from the stage; this illusion is created by a rising pavement and the rapidly diminishing height of the buildings that line these imaginary avenues.
The porta regia or triumphal arch at the center of the scaenae frons of the Teatro Olimpico, by Vincenzi Scamozzi (Vicenza, Veneto, Italy). Remarkable trompe l’oeil perspectives are visible to the audience through the central archway (or porta regia) of the scaenae frons. This illusionistic onstage scenery was designed to give the appearance of long streets receding to a distant horizon, and was installed in 1585 for the first performance held in the theatre. Scamozzi’s stage set was the first practical introduction of perspective views into Renaissance theatre. It’s in fact the oldest surviving stage set still in existence. The illusionistic scenery consists of seven hallways decorated to create the illusion of looking down the streets of a city from classical antiquity, specifically ancient Thebes, that was to be the setting for the first play staged in the theatre. Scamozzi also designed the lighting that permitted the staged houses to be lit from within, completing the illusion that these were real streets.


At last, after two centuries of trial and error, attempts to imitate antiquity, and struggle with technology, we have reached these triumphant times: great men, great works… Bramante and Michelangelo, Sansovino and Palladio! The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Biblioteca Marciana of Venice, the Basilica Palladiana of Vicenza: this is the end point of so many efforts through time. We are again in one of those culminating moments on the scale of the human creative spirit. Completely self-confident, these men not only executed great works, but reasoned the laws of their own art. Their own writings propagated their ideas in printed form, thus we have the three great architects who spread the Italian Renaissance style throughout Western Europe: Serlio (Tutte l’opere d’architettura et prospetiva, “All the Works of Architecture and Perspective”, 1537-1575), Vignola (Regola delli cinque ordini d’architettura, “The Five Orders of Architecture”, 1562) and Palladio (I quattro libri dell’architettura, “The Four Books of Architecture”, 1570), who wrote treatises that were to facilitate the full application of the Italian Renaissance to the rest of Europe.

The establishment of the Renaissance (begun in Florence) in Rome during the heyday of the Popes produced a rather considerable change in ornamentation. So to speak, in the works of Florentine architects we find classical elements (palmettes, garlands and scrolls) somewhat flattened, soft and contained. All the architectural decoration of the quattrocento is almost flat and delicate. On entering the 16th century, however, it becomes robust and, above all, acquired relief and volume. The architecture moves slowly and surely towards the exuberance of the baroque style.


Aedicula: (diminutive for the Latin aedes, meaning a temple building, pl. aediculae). In ancient Rome, an aedicula was a small shrine, and in classical architecture it refers to a niche covered by a pediment or entablature supported by a pair of columns and typically framing a statue. Aediculae are also used in art as a form of ornamentation.

Dovecote: A structure intended to house pigeons or doves. Dovecotes were free-standing structures with a variety of shapes, or also were built into the end of a house or barn. They usually include pigeonholes for the birds to nest. Historically, pigeons and doves were an important food source in the Middle East and Europe and were kept for their eggs and dung.

Scaenae frons: The elaborately decorated permanent architectural background screen of an ancient Roman theatre stage. The design of the Scaenae frons probably intended to resemble the facades of imperial palaces. The Roman scaenae frons was used as both, the backdrop to the stage and a separation for the actors’ dressing area.

Serlian window: (Also known as Venetian window or Sarlian window). This motif consists in an arched window (or arch opening) flanked by two lower rectangular openings, a motif that first appeared in the triumphal arches of ancient Rome. Each rectangular opening is flanked by two columns or pilasters and topped by a small entablature. This type of window features widely in the work of the Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1508–1580), being almost a trademark of his career. The extensive use of the Serlian in the Veneto has given the window its alternative name of the “Venetian window”. Though extensively used by Palladio, this motif was first used by Donato Bramante and later mentioned by Serlio in his treatise of architecture Tutte l’opere d’architettura et prospetiva.

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