The Wise One
HANCES ARE GOOD that your home, office, community center or place of worship reflects the vision of the Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio. Four hundred years after his death, Palladio’s influence and creative genius are still evident the world over.
Palladio blended the best of classical Mediterranean design with what were then modern materials. The resulting palaces, churches, villas, theaters and stadiums, most built in Vicenza, Italy, have been collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Art historians call Palladio the most imitated architect in history.
Palladio is the grandfather of crown moldings, roof gables, classical columns, sweeping entry stairways and the porte-cochère. He popularized the eponymous Palladian window, a tall archway with three openings. Every structure, from the simple to the divine, became an archetype.
Born in 1508 in Padua, Italy, Andrea di Pietro della Gondola began his career as a stonecutter. When he graduated to stonemasonry, he crafted monuments and decorative sculptures. In his thirties, while under the tutelage of the humanist poet Gian Giorgio Trissino, who dubbed him Palladio, “the wise one,” he was exposed to science, classical arts and engineering. During studies in Rome, he sketched the intricate renderings of temples and bridges that came to influence his complete body of work.
Palladio set out to reclaim and update the classical ideal with a focus on harmony and simplicity. Villas, palaces and churches were designed to convey their place in the social order, but he incorporated simple materials like brick and stucco to evoke a sense of permanence.
Although he applied his genius to virtually every type of structure, Palladio is perhaps best known for the villa style he originated. Thomas Jefferson modeled his primary residence, Monticello, and the University of Virginia, which he founded, on Palladio’s villas. The Capitol building in Washington, D.C., and the White House reflect the grace of that style, while Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, outside of Paris, is an avant-garde translation of the classic.
In 1570, he wrote and illustrated “The Four Books of Architecture,” an homage to Vitruvius, whose circa 30 B.C. “De Architectura” is the only surviving architectural discourse from antiquity. Jefferson called Palladio’s treatise the Bible of design. Twentieth-century architects built on Palladio’s use of geometry, blending symmetry and clean lines with cutting-edge construction.
Following Palladio’s death, British architects adapted his style to town halls, assembly rooms, inns and farmhouses, and used his elevated portico in country houses to separate the residence from the staff quarters. These “Palladians” were attracted to the crystal-clear design that, free of lavish finishes, blended classical elegance with modern living styles.
As was the case with so many Renaissance-era innovations, Palladio’s style reached American shores and by the mid-19th century could be spotted across the country. Even today, architects continue to draw upon his designs, incorporating them in contemporary and classical structures alike. Those interested in seeing a local example are encouraged to visit The Resort at Pelican Hill,® whose architects meticulously modeled both outdoor and indoor spaces on Palladio’s villa design.
Join us for walking Art & Architecture tours Wednesdays at 4 p.m., or request the Resort’s self-guided tour booklet from the concierge.