Art History Andrea Palladio
by
Bruce Boucher
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0016

Introduction

Andrea Palladio (b. 1508–d. 1580) is one of the most influential architects the Western world has produced. Over a career of five decades, he redefined the style and nature of the Renaissance villa, articulated a new design in church architecture reflecting his assimilation of ancient Roman buildings, and assured international fame for his creations through the publication of his treatise, the Quattro Libri dell’Architettura. His writings, works, and drawings have remained central to architectural theory since the 18th century. Palladio’s career was largely tied to the Veneto region of the northeastern Italy; born in Padua, he migrated to Vicenza in 1523; there he learned the elements of his trade in a stonemason’s workshop, specializing in architectural design. He also had the good fortune to attract the attention of a local Vicentine aristocrat and polymath, Giangiorgio Trissino, who helped the aspiring architect master the writings of the Roman architect Vitruvius and took him to Rome for the study of ancient architecture at first hand. This proved transformative, and Andrea—now called Palladio, thanks again to Trissino—began designing villas and palaces in the 1540s and also secured the commission as architect of the loggias of the Basilica, seat of the Vicentine government. Palladio won this conspicuous assignment over alternative proposals by older and more established architects, and it provided him with a secure if unspectacular income for the rest of his life. Palladio’s commissions grew in ever widening circles over the next decades as Venetian nobles began employing him to design their villas, and the patronage of two such figures, Daniele and Marc’antonio Barbaro, gave him entrée into ecclesiastical patronage in Venice itself, first with facades for two churches followed by the large monastic complex of San Giorgio Maggiore and state patronage with the votive church of the Redentore. Palladio also collaborated with Daniele on his illustrated translation and commentary on the treatise of the Roman architect Vitruvius (1556). He published his magnum opus, the Quattro Libri or Four Books of Architecture, in 1570, but the book had been in preparation since the 1550s. The date may have been prompted by the opportunity to succeed the elder Jacopo Sansovino (b. 1486–d. 1570) as architect of the influential Procurators of St. Mark’s Basilica. Although this did not happen, Palladio shifted his attention to Venice, where he served as consultant on the Doge’s Palace after two damaging fires and continued his private practice up to his death. This article addresses Palladio and his works, ranging from general studies and early sources to more specialist literature pertaining to categories such as building types, drawings, and Palladio’s own publications.

General Overviews

While there is an abundance of writings on Palladio, much of the earlier literature tends to be folded into later publications. Still, it was only in the 20th century that scholars began to examine the totality of Palladio’s production and not just the buildings or their illustrations in the Quattro Libri. Readers are now spoiled for choice in terms of variety, but the works indicated here offer either a monographic account of Palladio or a more general consideration of his place in the architecture of 16th-century Italy. Of the former, Ackerman 1991 and Tavernor 1991 provide concise introductions. Ackerman’s short book is a classic, although his emphasis upon harmonic proportions has been superseded by more specialist studies; Tavernor, on the other hand, gives equal weight to Palladio’s works and to the English Palladian architects inspired by him. The monograph Boucher 2007 has a more expanded view of the architectural career, including a chapter on Palladio’s bridge designs. The Beyer’s 1996 entry, Andrea Palladio in Oxford Art Online, has the merit of a bibliography that is continuously updated. The Burns 1975 catalogue marks a turning point in recent Palladian studies, particularly in its analysis of drawings and patronage. Lotz 1995 first appeared in the Pelican History of Art series and looks at Palladio in terms of stylistic evolution of Italian architecture across the century. The two volumes of Electa’s Storia dell’architettura italiana, Bruschi 2002 and Conforti and Tuttle 2001, give a more contemporary reading of the same period with emphasis upon the political dimension, patronage, and economic history.

  • Ackerman, James S. Andrea Palladio. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1991.

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    Arguably the most lucid and concise introduction to Palladio. It offers essential biographical data and chapters devoted to his villas, palaces and public architecture, ecclesiastical architecture, and principles. Some aspects have been superseded by more recent research. Ideal for general readers and undergraduates.

  • Beyer, Andreas, “Andrea Palladio.” In Grove Art Online: Oxford Art Online.

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    A succinct overview of Palladio’s career, with an up-to-date bibliography that follows standard categories. It is helpfully cross-referenced with articles about other architects, patrons, and individual buildings such as the Villa Rotonda. Originally published in The Grove Dictionary of Art, Vol. 23 (New York: Grove, 1996), pp. 861–872.

  • Boucher, Bruce. Andrea Palladio: The Architect in His Time. New York and London: Abbeville, 2007.

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    The approach is a synthesis of recent research, combining a chronological and typological treatment of the architecture. It attempts to define the architect’s style in terms of his older contemporaries and formative influences. The photographs were taken especially for the book and under the author’s direction.

  • Bruschi, Arnaldo, ed. Storia dell’architetura italiana: il primo cinquecento. Milan: Electa, 2002.

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    An important and recent survey of the first half of the 16th century, with a major study of the first, crucial decade of Palladio’s career (i.e., the 1540s) by Burns. To be read in tandem with the volume edited by Conforti and Tuttle, below.

  • Burns, Howard, ed. Andrea Palladio, 1508–1580: The Portico and the Farmyard. London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1975.

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    Drawing upon an earlier exhibition in Vicenza (1973), this catalogue situated the architect’s achievement within the culture of his time. Palladio’s graphic work is also read creatively for insights into his thinking, and there is an interpretation of Palladio’s architectural system, more Aristotelian than the Platonic interpretations inspired by the writings of Rudolph Wittkower.

  • Conforti, Claudia, and Richard J. Tuttle, eds. Storia dell’architettura italiana: il secondo cinquecento. Milan: Electa, 2001.

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    The articles by Calabi and Battilotti distill recent scholarship on Palladio, especially from the perspective of urbanism and the political importance of the architect’s manipulation of classical models as well as his impact on younger contemporaries like Vincenzo Scamozzi.

  • Lotz, Wolfgang. Architecture in Italy, 1500–1600. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1995.

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    Revised by Deborah Howard, Lotz’s volume is informed by style as an architectural determinant, a persistent vein of 20th-century scholarship. The analysis of Palladio’s architecture is somewhat abstract, but Howard adds an excellent overview of Lotz’s approach as well as new developments since the original publication in 1974.

  • Tavernor, Robert. Palladio and Palladianism. London: Thames & Hudson, 1991.

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    Tavernor’s book builds upon recent scholarship and is especially useful for its linkage between the architecture of Palladio and his British and American followers. The section on Palladio’s theory and practice of architecture is useful although, like Ackerman’s, it assumes a preoccupation with harmonic proportions on Palladio’s part that recent scholarship has found debatable.

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