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What is Palladianism?

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Image of William Whyte
William WhyteProfessor of Social and Architectural History, University of Oxford
Visitors on the Palladian Bridge at Prior Park, Bath
Visitors on the Palladian Bridge at Prior Park | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Palladianism was an approach to architecture strongly influenced by the 16th-century architect Andrea Palladio. Characterised by classical forms, symmetry, and strict proportion, the exteriors of Palladian buildings were often austere. Inside, however, elaborate decoration, gilding and ornamentation created a lavish, opulent environment. Discover how the style gained popularity and came to dominate England’s elite architecture in the 18th century.


Andrea Palladio (1508–1580) was a Venetian architect who was responsible for a series of churches in Venice, public buildings in Vicenza, villas in the Veneto, and much more besides.

Seeking to revive the principles which underpinned ancient Roman architecture, he stressed the importance of proportion, symmetry, and the correct use of the classical orders.

His influence was magnified by a series of important publications, not least his Four Books of Architecture (I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura), published in 1550.


Palladio’s vision was brought to England in the early 17th century. A key figure in this process was the architect Inigo Jones (1573–1652), who made several trips to Italy, acquired a copy of the Four Books of Architecture, and collected original drawings by Palladio.

Though Jones was never a plagiarist, the strong influence of Palladio’s ideas can, however, be seen in Jones’s projects for the Royal family: the Queen’s House at Greenwich, Banqueting House in Whitehall, and Queen’s Chapel in St James’s Palace, London.

The east front of Osterley Park and House, London with the 'transparent' portico at
The east front with the 'transparent' portico at Osterley Park and House | © National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

Palladian revival

Although the principles of Palladianism never ceased to be influential, the advent of the English Civil War in 1642 and Jones’s death a decade later in 1652 brought to a halt this great state-sponsored Palladian movement.

In the 1710s, nonetheless, a generation of architects began to revive what they saw as the purity of Palladio’s vision. This process was aided by the first complete translation of the Four Books of Architecture into English from 1716. A leading figure in this was the Earl of Burlington (1694–1753), whose own projects – especially Chiswick House – helped set a trend.

Palladian achievement

Burlington could not have achieved all he did without his collaboration with the architect and garden designer, William Kent (1686–1748).

Their architecture was also never purely Palladian. It owed much to other designers, and especially to Inigo Jones. Appropriately enough, Burlington’s Chiswick House would be flanked by statues of both Palladio and Jones.

This particularly English Palladianism came to dominate 18th-century elite architecture. The trend was helped by the aristocratic love of the Classics and popularity of the Grand Tour and sustained by the need for new villas as well as large country houses.

Trusted Source

This is a Trusted Source article, created in partnership with the University of Oxford. This article contains contributions from William Whyte. William is Professor of Social and Architectural History and a fellow of St John’s College, University of Oxford.

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