Palladio, Andrea 1508–1580 Italian Architect

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Palladio, Andrea
1508–1580
Italian architect

Andrea Palladio (Andrea di Pietro della Gondola) was the most influential architect of the Renaissance. Famous for his use of classical* elements, he designed many villas (country homes) and public buildings in the region of northern Italy around Venice and Vicenza. Hundreds of years after his death, modern architects still find inspiration in Palladio's work.


Early Life and Career. Born in the city of Padua, the young Palladio served as apprentice* to a local stonemason. He later moved to the town of Vicenza to join a workshop that specialized in architecture. By his late 20s, Palladio had attracted the attention of Gian Giorgio Trissino, a humanist* and former diplomat who had retired to Vicenza. Under Trissino's influence, Palladio was introduced to humanist ideas, discovered the writings of the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius, and made contacts in intellectual circles of northern Italy.

Palladio designed his first villas in the late 1530s and early 1540s, but these works show few signs of his mature style. His first real breakthrough came when he was asked to design a facade* for the Basilica, Vicenza's public palace. This complex of medieval* buildings had been reorganized into a single structure in the 1400s. Palladio's design incorporates the classical orders (styles of columns) he had studied on trips to Rome. It also employs simple decoration, rather than the complicated ornaments found on many buildings of the time.

Later Works. Although Palladio died before work on the Basilica was complete, the project gained him a solid reputation and important contacts. During the 1550s, he developed a villa design that was typical of his work. This design features a central hall with a high ceiling and a row of rooms on each side. The facades of the villas resemble Greek and Roman porticoes (columned porches).

Most of Palladio's projects from this period were located in the countryside, but by the mid-1560s he was again working on public buildings and palaces in Vicenza. His urban works displayed a new boldness that included the use of the colossal order, in which columns and other elements extend through two or more stories of a building. His most famous country house, the Villa Rotonda (near Vicenza), dates from this time. It features a circular central hall covered by a dome, with large rooms in the corners and identical porticoes on four sides.

Palladio's friend and patron* Trissino died in 1550, but the architect kept close contact with humanists in Vicenza and nearby Padua. He was particularly close to Daniele Barbaro, a prominent writer and patron of the arts. Barbaro introduced Palladio to clients in Venice and asked the architect to prepare illustrations for his Italian translation of the works of Vitruvius. Palladio also designed a villa for Barbaro and his brother. However, the house is not typical of Palladio's work and clashes with the decorations commissioned for it, suggesting that the brothers played a major role in the design process.

In the 1560s Palladio began to work on buildings for religious institutions. In his plans for the San Francesco della Vigna church in Venice, he solved the longstanding problem of combining the classical orders with the uneven ceiling heights used in Christian churches. Palladio's solution was adopted by many later architects.

In 1570 Jacopo Sansovino—architectural adviser to the Venetian Republic—died, and Andrea Palladio was appointed to replace him. Palladio devoted the last ten years of his life to the service of Venice. He worked on the building of the grand church of Redentore and acted as a consultant to other projects, including the restoration of the duke's palace. Palladio also designed buildings in other towns, such as churches in Bologna and a theater in Vicenza.


Influence. Palladio's buildings were widely copied and his unique solutions to design problems became common techniques. He wrote several texts on architecture, including The Churches of Rome and Roman Antiquities (both published in 1554) and his major work, Four Books on Architecture (1570). In the 1600s his ideas spread across northern Europe, thanks in part to the efforts of the English architect Inigo Jones.

(See alsoArchitecture. )

* classical

in the tradition of ancient Greece and Rome

* apprentice

person bound by legal agreement to work for another for a specified period of time in return for instruction in a trade or craft

* humanist

Renaissance expert in the humanities (the languages, literature, history, and speech and writing techniques of ancient Greece and Rome)

* facade

front of a building; outward appearance

* medieval

referring to the Middle Ages, a period that began around a.d. 400 and ended around 1400 in Italy and 1500 in the rest of Europe

* patron

supporter or financial sponsor of an artist or writer

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Palladio, Andrea 1508–1580 Italian Architect

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