Sunday, July 29, 2012


Taylor Speer-Sims
July 18, 2012

Palladio’s Country Palaces

            Andrea Palladio learned the art of architecture from the ground up beginning his career as a stonemason. Here he learned how to stones were hewn to perfect right angles, which had been beneficial to him when he began building large villas and palazzos. Palladio studied ancient Roman architecture like no other architect had before him. He discovered that the art of versatility in design, formatting and use. There had been other brilliant architects during the Renaissance. However, none were able to design like Palladio. No other famous architect of the Renaissance had been able to change the design of the house to suit the property due to its environment.

Andrea Palladio was one of history’s most influential architects for the nobility of the west. Born in Padua in 1508 he had been named Andrea di Pietro della Gondola.  Palladio’s father, who had been a miller and had wanted more for his son, apprenticed him out as a stonemason.[1] Palladio broke his contract after only 18 months at thirteen years of age by running off to Vicenza to basically do the same thing.[2]  Palladio worked as a stonemason for the famous workshop of Pedimuro in Vicenza until he was thirty years old. Palladio created portals, funerary monuments and alters in the style of Sanmicheli. It is here where he, assumably, began to experiment in the profession of draughtsman.[3] 

At this time he became the assistant architect for the home of Gian Giorgio Trissino, who had been a leading humanist scholar of the time.[4] Here Palladio learned classical studies, including classical literature and architecture. Under Trissino, Palladio met many of the people that later became his patrons. Here, too, had been where he had received the name that has followed him throughout history. The name of the great architect became Andrea Palladio after a character in Trissino’s epic poem “L’Italia Liberata dai Goti”. [5] 

The heroic epics had been a fashion from antiquity that had found a new sense of being in the Renaissance. Trissino had been one very famous poet that brought the idea of heroic deeds to life through his words. The poem that Palladio had been named after had been a fitting because it described “a classicizing palatial courtyard, expatiating on the proportions and details of its classical columns.”[6] 6  Both Trissino and Palladio had both been interested in palazzos forms from ancient Rome, so to have been named such after a character that romped in such an ancient styled courtyard, had certainly been fitting.

Renaissance art had also found itself a new love in the ancient world of Rome. Humanist interest in the Greeks and Romans brought interest in education and moral responsibility. They also had a belief in individual potential and even encouraged individual achievement.[7]  The artist, whether painter or sculptor, had a concern with “developing perspectival systems and depicting anatomy accurately…”[8] Forms and formulations had begun to take hold to create the perfect balance. The Humanist artist brought the ancient art into the contemporary world because it had been lost somehow in the medieval period.[9]

Ancient Rome had plenty of villas and palaces for the Renaissance architects to study. Vitruvius described three fundamental constituents of all architecture from the antiquity that followed through the Middle Ages. This treatise stated that the colonnade originated from the columns from the wooden posts that held up the construction of the basic hut of primitive man. The Doric order imitated the “proportion of a man’s body, its strength and grace, the Ionic feminine slenderness, and the Corinthian the slight dimensions of a virgin girl.”[10]   Later the Tuscan order and Italian (also called Composite) came into use.[11]

The ideals of the styles of ancient architecture had been thought to have been relational to the structure from which it originated. Body types were represented by orders, and pagan gods.[12] Churches popped up everywhere in Italy after the year 1,000 AD. There had been no drastic style changes, even with this great building of new worship houses. Byzantine and Romanesque style had still been the popular building characteristics until the Gothic style came into vogue. This, however, had remained more popular in the north than in Polladio’s native Italy.[13]

Interestingly there had been slight changes to housing, some with severe exteriors, high gothic exteriors with fancy tracery and fortifications.[14] Palazzo Medici had been one palazzo that had been set in a pattern with rigidity and sobriety to create a sense of the forbidden.[15]  The Palazzo Loredan-Vendramin was created in an Italianate style, yet the top two floors had double-arched windows with a circle window sitting in the abutment. Small gothic tracery was set in the windows to resemble the quatrefoils of the Northern Gothic.[16] The Palazzo Venzia had been conceived for the Pope’s palace.[17] This was a veritable fortress style  palace that resembled an Italian castle of the Middle Ages. There had been no fear of attach from marauders, so there had been many more windows than the older citadels that had been actual strongholds. Towers had acquired an association with luxury during the Middle Ages, and this lasted into the Renaissance for many architects.[18]

Luxury was what all of the Renaissance architects had wanted for his wealthy clients. Bramante had not been an exception. He came to Rome at the when the Pope had plunged the papal state into the worst crises that it had gone through. He had commissions almost immediately to revitalize many of the churches. He also received a contract to reconstruct  the old Roman residence, for Aurelio Caprini, who had been a curial official. This was later to be named Palazzo Caprini. This was to have been a two-story palace due to the latest papal decree on ostentation. However, Bramante still added the third story to accommodate the Italianate trend of palaces. And, because his patron could not acquire the necessary property to create the full size, Bramante built the palazzo as a fragmentary piece.[19] Even though a master architect, Bramante tried to fulfill his original design, based on the old Roman palace without changing the size of the building even though there had been considerably less land to build on.

Raphael had also been interested in beautiful real estate. The son of the Duke of Urbino’s court painter, Giovanni Santi. Raphael grew up in Urbino’s court, and had unequivocal access to not only paintings, but also architectural drawings. Apprenticed to Perugino, Raphael became the prized student. Here he learned about to use halls with vaulted ceilings. And, he used the ducal palace of Urbino for his basis on loggias and upper stories of his creations.[20]

Michelangelo had been a force to be reckoned with when he decided to turn to architecture. The three palazzos, Palazzo dei Senatori, Palazzo dei Censervatori and the Piazza del Campidoglio were built within an old Roman square. The Piazza del Campidoglio had been in “dismal condition” when he received the commission.[21] The Palazzo dei Censervatori had fallen into ruins, yet he had been able to recreate the structure using “giant Corinthian Order[s]”.[22] He used his own signature systematic style of the flat roof for all three of the palazzos.[23]

Two examples of Michele Sanmicheli’s palazzos indicate that not even another great stonemason had the foresight to work out of the standardization practices. Just as Palladio, Sanmicheli had been a stonemason for many years before his foray into the architectural field. Palazzo Canossa followed the same interior layout as Palazzo Pucci. The sequence of vestibulum, atrium, peristylium, and cavaedium remained, along with the inclusion of the courtyard that extended to the riverbank.

This religious following of plans had been true to the point of detriment to the balance of symmetry to Palazzo Bevilacqua. The Palazzo’s designs had originally consisted of eleven bays with the entrance at the center of the building. However, for some unknown reason, the construction fell short, most probably due to patrician funding before construction began.[24] The palazzo had been completed with only seven bays, with the entrance door set in an unusually placed, almost far left with one bay to it’s side, and with five to its other. So, this author assumes that this idea of knowing before the construction began that there had not been enough money to complete as designed, was most probably due to the fact that besides the asymmetry, the palazzo had been finished off perfectly.

Symmetry had been one of the ideals of the Renaissance artist, including the architects. So had studying the ancient Roman villas and palaces. Trissino had even drawn designs of Vitruvius’s Roman house and also tried reconstruct it himself.[25] The Renaissance friendship ideals had been an obligation to elevate and assist the friend in all enterprises, whether for profit or not.[26] Therefore, Trissino not only wanted his friend Palladio to build his palazzo, he sent him to study Roman buildings.[27]

In 1538, after taking a tour to Rome for Ancient Roman and early Renaissance works, Palladio undertook his first formal commission. This had been as the principal architect at Villa Godi. Not until 1560 did the great architect received his first commission within Venice, even though he had been designing villas outside the area for the past decade.[28] He started by copying other people’s survey drawings of ancient Roman buildings, then redrew them to his specifications. He, like many others, believed that the Romans had superior architecture.[29]

Palladio also had his own drawings of Roman and Byzantine buildings that he used. He created Four Books on Architecture that included many, many illustrations of ancient works. He “began to measure all their parts minutely and with the greatest care” and included each detail within his books.[30] His copious notes had been fundamental to his success. But it was his ability to innovate his designs to match the local that had been his real genius.

Another brilliant point was that Palladio used the idea of orthogonal projection for his villas and palazzos. This idea of moving right angles into different positions created an easier way to transform the ideal Roman concrete into a building of bricks.[31] Indeed, this may have been what made Palladio into a god among amateurs. Perhaps the other architects were just not able to understand the idea of the orthographic. So, it was only Palladio that had been able to grasp the idea of symmetry by lessoning, which would have been a geometry equation. Being a stonemason and cutting right angles for many years, may have allowed Palladio the understanding that the other architects of his day, with the exception of Sanmicheli, could not.

            Another point that Palladio had noticed was that the Romans had been flexible. He noted in his books that they had different types of ornaments, variations in function, design, and scheme. He had been novel in this idea, in fact. Serlio and Vignola had noted that the Romans had rules for their architecture.[32] With his greater study of flexibility of the Roman architecture, Palladio would have had another added advantage in being able to transform palazzos and loggias from the original drawn design into a resembled reality because of its surroundings.

Loggias had been the direct descendents of the medieval castle but had little martial use by the sixteenth century.[33] Having prominent windows on the ground floor was one point that changed the ideal from warfare to sumptuousness. Palladio understood this when he designed Villa Trissino at Cricoli.[34] He designed a Roman townhouse in between two medieval building towers. He even used a medieval ruin as the base of one of his designs, Villa Badoer.[35] Both villas showed Palladios individual style and ability to progress through different location requirements.

Villa Pisani had its origins in two different Palladio designs. Also, the patron had decided to enlarge the palazzo after construction had begun. Palladio was able to change the design of the building without having to even create a new drawing. The loggia had been jettisoned, and the roofline was changed at a very late stage.[36] The other architects most probably would have added additions without enlarging the rooms, like Palladio had.

Also, the constructed villa had treated the house as a “nucleus” for the other buildings. Palladio used the streets to the benefit of the palazzo, which had never been done before. He created bridges over the streets to the servant’s wings in an aesthetically pleasing manner.[37] The villa had been built very close to the town moat to accommodate the house site. While this may at times not have had the best aroma, this site arrangement had certainly been accommodating to reaching the highest concession possible.[38] This author does not believe that any of the other architects would have had the insight to have been able to adjust their original plans to the degree that Palladio had.

Palladio had decades of experience as a stonemason. With this time he had working knowledge of right angles. This background was just one reason that he had surpassed the other architects of the Renaissance. He had been exposed to other learning through Trissino, and had studied Roman architecture to an extent that had not been seen before. Palladio discovered that the Romans had been very adaptable, while the other designers were not able to see that point. Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, and even Sanmicheli, were unable to change a design once it had been set to paper. It was only the great Palladio that had been able to change the building to suit the environment on which the great villa palazzos had stood.


 Boucher, Bruce. Andrea Palladio: The Architect in his Time. New York: Abbeville Press,


Frommel, Christoph Luitpold. The Architecture of the Italian Renaissance. London: Thames

& Hudson Ltd., 2007.

 Gable, C. I.  “Andrea Palladio [Andrea di Pietro della Gondola]”., 1999. (accessed June 15, 2012).

 Hines, Charles and Irena Murray. Palladio and his Legacy: A Transatlantic Journey.

Pittsburgh, PA: The Heinz Architectural Center, Carnegie Museum of Art, 2011.

 Honour, Hugh and John Fleming, The Visual Arts: A History, 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, New

Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1986

 Kent, Dale. Friendship, Love, and Trust in Renaissance Florence. (Cambridge: Harvard

University Press, 2009
Kleiner, Fred S. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: A Global History, Vol. 1, 13th Ed. Boston,

MA: Thomson Higher Education, 2009.
Palladio, Andrea. “The First Book on Architecture”  1570 quoted in Four Books on

Architecture. (Cambridge, MA: MIT University Press, 1997.), 5. (accessed July 22, 2012).
Petrarch, Francis. “To Posterity” Ca. 1371-1372. in “Familiar Letters” Hanover Historical

Texts Project. 2000. (accessed June 29, 2012).
Ruehring, Lauren Mitchell . “Michelangelo Buildings.” Howstuffworks. 2012. (accessed July 20, 2012).

Originally written for class at American Military University.

[1]Christoph Luitpold Frommel, The Architecture of the Italian Renaissance. (London: Thames
& Hudson Ltd., 2007). 201.
[2] C. I. Gable.  “Andrea Palladio [Andrea di Pietro della Gondola]”., 1999. (accessed June 15, 2012).
[3]  Frommel.
[4] Gable. 
[5]  Frommel.
6. Ibid.
7. Vetruvius in Frommel.
8.Frommel, 9.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Fred S. Kleiner, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: A Global History, Vol. 1, 13th Ed. (Boston, MA: Thomson Higher Education, 2009.), 541.
[8] Ibid, 542.
[9] Gary Grimm. Personal communication with author. June 15, 2012. Forum reply to author  “Humanism According to Petrarch”.  June 14. 2012. American Military University. (accessed July 20, 2012).
[10] Vetruvius in Frommel.
[11] Frommel, 9.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Hugh Honour and John Fleming, The Visual Arts: A History, 2nd ed.. (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1986.), 288, 289, 333.
[14] Ibid, 343-344; Mark Girouard, Life in the English Country House. (London: Yale University Press, 1978), 68.
[15] Honour, 343.
[16] Frommel, 89.
[17] Ibid, 52.
[18] Girouard, 69.
[19] Frommel, 20.
[20] Ibid, 114-115.
[21] Lauren Mitchell Ruehring. “Michelangelo Buildings.” Howstuffworks. 2012. (accessed July 20, 2012).
[22] Ibid.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Frommel, 158-159.
[25] Ibid, 201.
[26]  Dale Kent. Friendship, Love, and Trust in Renaissance Florence. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.), 32.
[27] Charles Hines and Irena Murray. Palladio and his Legacy: A Transatlantic Journey.
(Pittsburgh, PA: The Heinz Architectural Center, Carnegie Museum of Art, 2011.), 11.
[28] Frommel, 9.
[29] Hines.
[30] Andrea Palladio. “The First Book on Architecture”  1570 quoted in Four Books on Architecture. (Cambridge, MA: MIT University Press, 1997.), 5. (accessed July 22, 2012).
[31] Hines.
[32] Ibid.
[33] Girouard.
[34] Bruce Boucher. Andrea Palladio: The Architect in his Time. (New York: Abbeville Press,
1998.), 19.
[35] Ibid, 127.
[36] Ibid, 76.
[37] Ibid, 117.
[38] Ibid, 118.

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