In the fifth centennial of the birth of Andrea Palladio (born in Padua on November 30, 1508, died in Maser on August 19, 1580), we present a brief summary of some of the more important works executed by this renowned architect and many finished according to his plans.
Andrea Palladio, pseudonym of Andrea di Pietro della Gondola, great architect and stage designer whose influence surpasses all limits of space and time.
He lends his name to a style that follows the principles of classical Rome, in contrast with the richly ornamental architecture of the Renaissance. Palladio designed numerous churches, villas and mansions, especially in Vicenza, where he was raised and educated, in Venice and in the surrounding areas.
He was the most important architect of the Republic of Venice.
He published the “Four Books of Architecture” (1570), a treatise whose models have had a profound influence on European architecture; the imitation of his style gave origin to a movement destined to last three centuries, Palladianism or Neo-Palladianism.
Andrea di Pietro della Gondola was born in Padua, then part of the Republic of Venice, to a family of humble origins. At the age of 13 he undertook an apprenticeship as a stonecutter in Padua, breaking his contract after only 18 months and moving to the nearby city of Vicenza. Here he worked as an assistant in the leading workshops of masons and sculptors. He frequented the workshop of Bartolomeo Cavazza, from whom he learned a few of his techniques. His talents were recognized by Count Gian Giorgio Trissino.
In 1554 Palladio collaborated with Daniele Barbaro in Rome in preparing the first critical edition of Vitruvius’ treaty, which was to be published in 1556.
In 1570 Palladio was nominated to the prestigious position of Proto della Serenissima (Chief Architect of the Republic of Venice), replacing Jacopo Sansovino. In the same year he published in Venice his “Four Books of Architecture,” the treaty on which he had worked since his youth and in which most of his works are illustrated.
Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza. One of his most important works is the charming Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, the artist’s last accomplishment: the steep cavea is expressed directly from the orchestra to culminate in a solemn trabeated colonnade. The slightly raised stage is defined by a fixed architectural background from which five roads (painted by Vincenzo Scamozzi, who completed the theatre after the death of the master) create the illusion of vast distance. Here the entire master’s experience triumphs in harmonious synthesis with the poetics of Vitruvius. The architecture and motifs of the historically open-air classical Roman theatre are brought into a closed space, but at the same time opened by deep perspective through grand portals, in a highly modern concept of spatial dynamism.
The Teatro Olimpico is generally considered to be the first example of a permanent covered theatre of the modern age. It was Andrea Palladio’s last project and is considered to be one of his greatest masterpieces, along with Villa Capra, also known as “la Rotonda,” the Basilica Palladiana and Palazzo Chiericati.
Construction of the theatre began in 1580, the year of Palladio’s death, but his son Silla followed his notes to continue construction, which was completed in 1584 limited to the cavea with loggia and proscenium. To achieve the perspective scenery, which had been planned from the beginning by the Accademia, the Vicenza architect Vincenzo Scamozzi was called, a student of Palladio who achieved great effects in illusions of perspective with designs executed especially for the inaugural performance, bringing a few adaptations to Palladio’s design.
The theatre was inaugurated on March 3, 1585 with a performance of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and the choruses of Andrea Gabrieli (resumed in 1997 for the Accademia Olimpica di Vicenza and directed by Gianfranco De Bosio). In this and other rare occasions the scenes (which represent the seven roads of the city of Thebes) were illuminated with an original and complex artificial lighting system conceived by Scamozzi himself.
The scenes, though made in wood and stucco for temporary use, were never removed and in spite of threats of fire and wartime bombing have been miraculously preserved to this day. The Teatro Olimpico is today the venue of performances and concerts and has been included on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, along with Vicenza’s other Palladian architecture.
Basilica Palladiana. The building that overlooks Piazza dei Signori in Vicenza by Andrea Palladio, who re-designed it, adding the famous white marble loggias with Serlian windows to a pre-existing gothic construction.
Palladio’s next intervention would be on the Palazzo della Ragione, built according to the design of Domenico da Venezia, which in its turn integrated two pre-existing public buildings, an important road which connected the town centre, Borgo di Berga and Campo Marzo. To the left of the building the tower which today is known as “Torre dei Bissari” (12th century) still stands at 82m, and whose pinnacle dates to 1444.
Built with a reminiscently Gothic design in the middle of the 15th century, the Palazzo della Ragione includes a top floor occupied entirely by an enormous hall with no structural columns, the Consiglio dei Quattrocento (“Council of the Four Hundred”). The ambitious ship’s hull ceiling structure, covered with copper sheets, partially supported by large archivolts, was inspired by the one built in 1306 for the Palazzo della Ragione in Padua. The covering of the Gothic façade was made with classical forms in pink and yellow Verona marble and is still visible behind the Palladio addition.
After the completion of the Palazzo della Ragione, the architect Tommaso Formenton was commissioned to build loggias in order to enclose the entire building, but this project was subject to numerous structural complications, in part due to the unreliability of the foundations, and had to be suspended several times.
At the start of the 16th century the double array of porticos and loggias, partially incomplete, collapsed, spurring the Council to summon many of the age’s greatest architects over the next few years for consultation on the difficult problem of reconstruction. Among these were Jacopo Sansovino in 1538, Sebastiano Serlio in 1539 and Giulio Romano (who also devised a hypothetical design for the façade). Following a contest, the project was commissioned by the Council of One Hundred in 1549 to the forty year-old Andrea Palladio (1508-1580), who had proposed his own idea in since 1545: its construction engaged the architect for the rest of his life. Construction was complete in 1614, 34 years after his death.
With his classically inspired loggias Palladio resolved difficult static issues, and the use of the Serlian window represented an ingenious stratagem for concealing the varying distances between pilasters inherited from previous constructions, maintaining unaltered the dimensions of the arch and varying those of the lateral openings. The balustrades were adorned with statues by Albanese, Grazioli and Rubini.
The building thus “rebuilt” was called basilica by Palladio himself because it was reminiscent of the civil basilica of classical Rome. And so it was to be remembered as Basilica Palladiana, referring to the architect’s name, and after numerous restorations, it still preserves the appearance of Palladio’s 16th century design. Under the Republic of Venice the structure represented the heart of political (city council, court) as well as economic life.
Today the Basilica Palladiana, with three independent exhibition areas, hosts world-famous art and architecture exhibitions.
Palazzo del Capitaniato. The Palazzo del Capitaniato, also known as loggia del Capitanio or loggia Bernarda, is a building by Andrea Palladio which overlooks the central Piazza dei Signori in Vicenza, across from the Basilica Palladiana. Decorated by Lorenzo Rubini and with paintings by Giovanni Antonio Fasolo inside. The building was planned in 1565 and built from 1571 to 1572.
In 1565 the city of Vicenza asked Andrea Palladio to construct a building for the capitanio, the representative to the city for the Republic of Venice, from which the structure took its name. The edifice was to replace an existing late-medieval construction, already used as the capitanio’s residence, which overlooked the Piazza dei Signori. Thus Palladio found himself engaged on two sides of the same city square, since construction of the Basilica Palladiana, on which the architect had been engaged since the 1540s was still unfinished.
And so Palladio had to compete against himself, in the same piazza, over the course of twenty years. In the Palazzo del Capitanio he was able to exploit the architectural and stylistic skills acquired in the meantime, attaining with this piece one of the great masterpieces of his career. Like many projects undertaken by the architect, the edifice remained partially incomplete: construction was stopped in 1572 even though the building was not finished, and only three bays were made, rather than the five or seven originally planned.
On the ground floor there is a vast loggia, covered by large vaults, that supports a noble floor with a large hall (the “Bernarda hall”). The façade alternated by four giant brick semi-columns and three large arches. The decorations are in Istria stone and stuccoes. The columns were designed by Palladio in order to be covered with white plaster, which is visible only at the base of the Corinthian capitals. Palladio decided to play with contrast by using red bricks with no plaster which stand out both on the white of the stuccoes and against the white stone of the Basilica Palladiana which dominates the view across the way.
Over the arches are balconies which in turn support a balconied attic. The materials used for this construction, the exposed bricks and the stone, create a unique colour scheme. The three imposing arches of the portico are surmounted by large columns that rise up to the just beneath balustrade of the attic. On the main façade some decorations depicting figures pouring water that symbolize the rivers. The inscription “JO. BAPTISTAE BERNARDO PRAEFECTO” in the trabeation commemorates the capitanio Bernardo, who commissioned the project.
The loggia on the ground floor, enclosed by a high wrought iron gate, is a harmonious space of niches and columns; it houses some tablets commemorating fallen soldiers. The noble floor is occupied by the Sala Bernarda, a large hall rich with 16th century frescoes in which Vicenza’s city council continues to meet to this day.
Palazzo Chiericati. Since the 19th century Palazzo Chiericati has housed the civic museum and civil gallery, which includes collections of prints, drawings, stamps and coins and medieval and modern statuary, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The building was commissioned to Palladio by Count Girolamo Chiericati in 1550. In 1551 Palladio began construction which drew out to 1557, when the patron’s death halted further progress; his son Valerio Chiericati limited himself to having the interiors frescoed, engaging an impressive team of artists. The building was to remain unfinished for more than a century, stopping abruptly at the fourth bay, to be completed only in 1680 (100th anniversary of Palladio’s death) following the architect’s designs as illustrated in the “Four Books of Architecture.”
This rather large building was constructed over a large space rather undefined with respect to the city plan, which was often referred to as the “piazza of the island” (today Piazza Matteotti) due to its peculiar position: it appeared as an island surrounded by the converging rivers Retrone and Bacchiglione.
Historically the island served as a river port, and the timber and livestock markets were located in the piazza.
In order to protect the structure from frequent flooding caused by its location (and the traffic of livestock), Palladio decided to design it to be raised above ground level, and the building is accessible by way of a large frontal stairway and two smaller ones of the sides, of classical inspiration.
The building of made up of a central body with two symmetrical wings that recede slightly enclosed in impressive loggias on the level of the noble floor.
The harmonious façade is structured in two interlocking orders, a solution never before used for a private urban residence, with a crowning of statues.
In designing the rooms, the architect introduced an original stratagem, reviving classical elements in an innovative way: each room is rectangular in golden section and that immediately adjacent has its base greater in length equal to the shorter base of that before.
La Rotonda. Renowned and referenced to all over the world, Villa Almerico-Capra, better known as “la Rotonda:” the plan is square divided symmetrically into rooms grouped around a central circular hall covered by a cupola.
Each of the four facades incorporates a classical pronao (portico) with Ionic columns and denticulate tympanum.
It was conceived as a place for entertaining guests, on the Roman model, not as a centre of production like other Palladian villas.
The central cupola (11 meter span), which in Palladio’s original design was to be hemispheric, was built after his death on different model inspired by the Roman pantheon.