Palladianism: the Incredible Influence of Andrea Palladio
The Classical style was revived during the Renaissance, an explosion of art and culture that occurred mainly in Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries. Architects and patrons admired Roman architecture and revived it for their buildings. One of the greatest Renaissance architects was Andrea Palladio (1508-80), who was inspired by Roman architecture but developed his own personal style. He specialised in private villas such as the Villa Capra (1566). This is a compact villa with a square floor plan. Each face is identical and features a full temple portico. Palladio’s villas were usually sited on hilltops commanding a 360º panorama of the landscape.
In the 18th century, British architecture was dominated by aristocrats, because only they could afford to build. It was felt that an aristocrat’s education should include a tour of Europe and it became fashionable to take the ‘Grand Tour’ of Italy and Greece. This was a form of cultural tourism: they visited the major cultural sites – the monuments of ancient Greece and Rome, and the cities of the Italian Renaissance. When they returned to England they built houses based on the styles they had seen. For example, Lord Burlington had been on the Grand Tour and had studied Palladio’s work. He designed Chiswick House in Middlesex (1723-9) for his own occupation. This is the prefect Palladian villa recreated in England. It was based on Palladio’s Villa Capra, but it has been simplified. Only the frontage has a projecting portico. It is terminated with a dome with Diocletian windows. This feature was named after the Roman Emperor Diocletian. The plan has an octagonal central space lit from above. Lord Burlington was a gentleman amateur, but he became the key prophet of the Palladian style.
In architectural history we do not simply study architectural styles; we also study the way styles are transmitted, how their influence is spread. The Grand Tour was important, but another catalyst was the publication of architectural source books. Palladio published his designs in a text called I Quattro Libri dell’ Architettura. This is one of his drawings from the book. This made it possible for architects to emulate Palladio’s work and his influence spread across Europe.
An architect who was enamoured of Palladio was Colen Campbell. He designed Houghton Hall in Norfolk (begun 1722). I said that Palladio developed his own style. He actually created two styles – one for villas and one for houses. Palladian houses consist of a central block with symmetrical pavilions on either side. Houghton Hall is exemplary. It has a rusticated base, projecting tetrastyle portico and corner towers. The towers have Venetian windows – tripartite divisions.
The grandest house of the Palladian Revival is Holkham Hall by William Kent (1734). Kent was a protégé and perhaps a lover of Lord Burlington. This was designed for Lord Leicester, who had made the Grand Tour. Holkham is a very flamboyant composition, but one that is supremely well-controlled, as you can see from the plan. It has a central block with four outer pavilions attached. Each block would make a perfectly well-formed Palladian house in its own right. It is almost as if the standard Palladian form has been multiplied.
This is the entrance hall of immense grandeur, also designed by Kent. It has a coffered ceiling supported on Ionic columns. It is executed in pink Derbyshire alabaster. This screen of columns is derived from Palladio’s church of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice.
The Palladian style was influential among the aristocracy. There is a Palladian chapel in Gibside, a landscape garden in County Durham. Here the form of the Palladian villa has been adapted for use as a chapel, which is incredibly rare. This was designed by James Paine. It is very similar to Chiswick House but it was built as a mausoleum - the bodies of the patrons are interred in the basement. It has a severe dome raised on a drum with swag decoration. The roofline is arrayed with funerary urns, indicating that it was designed as a mortuary chapel. Overall, the design very solemn and grave.
For a more detailed discussion of Palladio himself, please see the excellent work of Francois Hagnere.
Please see my articles on related aspects of architectural history: