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Monday, May 20, 2013

Andrea Palladio

Villa Rotonda, 1570, Veneto, Italy, Andrea Palladio
Portrait of Palladio, 1576,
G.B Maganza
Artists influence the way we live. Their creative efforts permeate virtually every aspect of our lives today from the pictures on our walls to the clothes we wear. All were designed by artists--even the convenience food we buy in stores or the plates of food set before us in fancy restaurants. However no artist has a greater impact than those who design the environment in which we live--architects. That has changed somewhat just in my lifetime as architects have passed the responsibility for interior spaces largely to what have come to be know as "interior designers" (don't call them interior decorators). However, before the two areas of expertise parted company, architects were the artists who dictated the major impact culture had upon their client's lives.

In ancient history they were known as "master builders." As the use of paper and pencils became more and more common, these master builders became more like master planners. Their apprentices took their place on building sites (and often still do today). Most such early "architects" were largely unknown. Wikipedia list three architects from the 13th century. The 14th century has four. Thereafter, their numbers approximately doubles with each passing century. By the 16th century, when architecture became an official profession, the list jumps to 17, including such names as Michelangelo, Antonio Sangallo (the elder and the younger), Raphael, Giorgio Vasari, and perhaps the most important one of all, Andrea Palladio.


Mount Vernon's Palladian window
If you've ever heard of him at all, you may have heard of his window. The palladian window came to America translated from Italian to English by publishing architects such as the Langley Brothers, William Pain, Richard Godfrey, and William Salmon. The most famous example in the U.S. was copied by George Washington's builder for the centerpiece gracing the "grand ballroom" of Mount Vernon. It's basically a central arched window with two rectangular side windows, augmented by numerous variations as to both inside and outside decoration. The Mount Vernon design probably came from the Langley's The City and Country Builder's and Workman's Treasury of Designs, published in London in 1741 (there was also a palladian door).

The title page of
I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura
Most famous architects leave behind their lasting influence when their designs are build and deemed important enough to be preserved for succeeding centuries. And certainly, the exquisite adaptation of classical Roman architecture Palladio manifested have been a factor in his lasting influence. His Villla Rotonda (1570) in Veneto, Italy and his San Giorgio Maggiore (1560-63) in Venice are considered his most outstanding works. However, in Palladio's case, more than anything else, it's his writings and drawings, which he published in four huge volumes starting in 1570, titled I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura (Four Books on Architecture). In effect, Palladio was to "write the book(s)" on the subject.

Born in 1508, more than any other single architect, Andrea Palladio has been the most influential in history, from Indigo Jones to Christopher Wren to Thomas Jefferson, his followers include a "who's who" of professionals and legions of amateurs. The Roman's copied the Greeks. Palladio copied the Romans via Vitruvius' de Architectura. More than that though, Palladio adapted the Roman style to "modern" Italian living. Every one of his nearly 70 surviving works are in the area of Venice. Yet, thanks to the English architects who unashamedly plagiarized his writings, in stone and in print (even though they were kind enough to provide attribution), Palladio is still influencing domestic architecture all around the world today. Whenever some rich home builder wants to exhibit his good taste, elements from Palladio's models continue to raise their classical head.

The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, 1560-77, Venice, Andrea Palladio.
The fa├žade is by Palladio as well, completed by  Vincenzo Scamozzi  and
Simone Sorella in 1611, after Palladio's death in 1580.


 

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