What is Palladianism?
Palladianism was an approach to architecture strongly influenced by the sixteenth 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.
Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) was a Venetian architect, 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 seventeenth 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.
Never a plagiarist, the strong influence of Palladio’s ideas can, however, still be seen in Jones’ projects for the Royal family: the Queen’s House at Greenwich, Banqueting House in Whitehall, and Queen’s Chapel in St James’, London.
Although the principles of Palladianism never ceased to be influential, the advent of the English Civil War in 1642 and Jones’ 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 self-consciously to revive what they saw as the purity of Palladio’s vision – a process 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.
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 eighteenth century elite architecture, a trend 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.
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