In every field there is at least one individual whose contributions far outweigh that of his predecessors and contemporaries. In architectural design those person is Andrea Palladio. A product of the High Renaissance, Palladio's villas are to architecture what Shakespeare's plays are to literature and Michelangelo's full-figure statues are to sculpture. Many would argue that his designs have been more influential than those of any other architect. While we know that's a strong statement, many architects have been using his work as a prototype for their own designs for the last four hundred and fifty years. That says a lot!
The majority of Palladio's villas still stand today and can be viewed, and in some cases toured, in his adopted city, Vicenza, as well as in Venice and on the mainland province around Venice. But his influence can be seen in the architecture throughout the world. For example, his double portico-loggia motif was employed in Jefferson's Monticello and became a recurrent feature in Georgian, Adam, and Colonial American architecture.
His work was central to the development of the American Southern style as well as the whole of American architecture, but his influence is not limited to America. His work also helped to shape Western architecture in the 17th and 18th century, and even today we see his influence in contemporary homes.
Palladio was born in Padua, a mainland possession of the island-based Republic of Venice, in the year 1508, and was first named Andrea di Pietro della Gondola. When he was thirteen years old, he had a short stint as an apprentice to a stonecutter, but after eighteen months, he broke his contract and moved to the nearby town of Vicenza, where he would remain for much of his life. There, he became an assistant in the workshops of stonecutters and masons. Then, at the age of 30, he formed the most important relationship of his career. He began working with Gian Giorgio Trissino, a highly respected scholar of the time. The two men worked together on adding new additions to Trissino's villa.
Trissino became a mentor to Palladio, instructing him on the principles of classical architecture and the other disciplines of Renaissance education. He also introduced his protege to a flourishing group of patrons in Vicenza, Padua, and Venice, many of whom he would later work for. Trissino also coined the name that the world would forever associate with the famous architect Palladio. During this period, as the designer developed his skills, he spent a great deal of time studying learning the principles of the classical Roman architect, Vitruvius, and the Renaissance architectural commentator, Leon Battista Alberti. Palladio also began to circulate in the community of architects in Vicenza.
The year 1538 was a highly productive point in Palladio's career. During this time, he began construction on Villa Godi, which was the first in a series of villas and urban palaces that he would design for the nobility of Vicenza. After a decade of successes, Palladio began receiving commissions for country villas from the nobility of Venice. The wealth of his clientele allowed the architect to experiment a great deal more than he previously had. As a result, this period of his career was marked by his innovative and distinctive creations, which elevated his status among his fellow architects. In time, the homes and buildings of the entire Western world would become inspired by Palladio's creations from this period.
Most notably, Palladio introduced the concept that a house should accommodate the individuals living in it. His designs of four-walled rooms and how the rooms in a house fit together have remained the prototype for contemporary homes. The fact that his influence is still felt today is testament to the reality that the needs of the individual four hundred and fifty years ago are, in many respects, the same as ours today.
Palladio ensured his prominence in the history of architecture by writing his highly revered treatise, The Four Books of Architecture. In the publication, he covers the principles of the field, and he also gives practical advice. It is still an important resource for architectural students today and has been translated into every European language.
At age seventy-two, Palladio died in his adopted town of Vicenza.
Students of design should study Palladio's work not only because he is a master in his field, but also because students will further understand the basic needs of human beings, upon which his work drew. To understand Palladio's work is to understand the marriage between people and architecture.
Resources: Palladio Museum, Great Buildings.com, Palladio's Italian Villas, ArchinForm.com
- Lauren Ragland
Copyright © 2002 Sheffield School of Interior Design