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Palladio, Andrea

PALLADIO, ANDREA (1518-1580), , an Italian architect whose name has become almost proverbial through Europe, ted whom many critics still consider as one of the greatest masters of his art, more especially in all that appertains to taste. He was born ut Vicenzu in the Venetian territory, t city which is distinguished by the numerous structuies with which he adorned it. Of his family, his early youth, and his first studies, scarcely anything certain is now known It appears however that be studied with great diligence tbt writings of Vitruvius and Albeiti, and that he found so encouraging patron in his countryman Gi&n-Giorgio Trasino, whoso name still holds a conspicuous place in th* annals of Italian literature. By him Andrea was taken to Rome three several limes, and he turned these opportunities to such excellent account that scarcely an antient edifice of any note escaped his examination, while of many of Ihen he made drawings and studies, and carefully noticed tbcir construction.

He appears to have returned from the last of these journeys in 1547, when he was in his twenty-ninth year, and to have settled at Vicenza. His first work, or rather one in which he had a share, was the Palazzo Publico at Udine. begun by Giov. Fontana, a Vicentine architect and sculptor, and by some supposed to have been Palladio's instructor; but the first work of any importance entirely designed by himself was the Basilica or Palazzo delta Ragtone at Viccnza, a large antient Gothic structure, the exterior of which he entirely remodelled. He surrounded it on three sides by open loggie or porticos, forming two orders. Done and Corinthian, in half columns, each including a smaller order of insulated columns whose cntablaluie forms the impost to the arches which occupy tho upper port of the larger intercolumns. So great was the reputation be at once acquired by this edifice, that he was shortly after summoned to Rome by Paul HI., who wished to consult Lira respecting the works then in progress at St. Peter's. He accordingly visited that city for the fourth time, but Paul died before be arrived. On his return he seems to have been overwhelmed with commissions, almost every one in Vicenza and its neighbourhood, who could ifford to build, employing hint to design, them a mansion or villa, of which class of subjects ibe majority of his works consist. Though he executed comparatively few structures of great magnitude and importance, he had numerous opportunities for displaying his invention upon a moderate scale, and creating a style of domestic architecture till then almost unknown—which no doubt is one reason why he has so generally been taken as a model by architects of other countries.

Among the numerous private mansions erected or designed by him at Vicenza are the palazzi Tiene, Valmarana, Chieracati, Porti, Capitanale, Barbarino, Sec, and the celebrated Villa Capra or Rotonda at a short distance from the city, besides a great many villas and country-seats along the Brenta. But some of the mansions at Vicenza have never been completed, and others too evidently attest either the poverty or the excessive negligence of their present possessors. The reputation acquired by these and similar works led to Palladio's being invited to Venice, as Sansovino, the chief architect there, was growing infirm. He was at first employed with some alterations at the convent Delia Carita, consisting of a Corinthian atrium, and a cloister beyond it. This atrium is merely an open court about 42 feet wide by 56 in depth, with a colonnade of four Corinthian columns on each side, and on each hand within these colonnades is the entrance to what were affectedly called Tablini, which were merely two tolerably spacious rooms, one intended for the sacristy, the other for a chapter-house. The atrium just mentioned communicates immediately, through a door facing the entrance, with the larger inner court or cloister, about 80 by 66 feet, whose elevations present three orders, viz. a Doric and Ionic with open arches between the columns (six on each of the longer, five on each of the shorter sides), forming open galleries quite around, while the Corinthian order above them has windows of rather small proportions. Two churches afterwards erected by him in the same city afforded him an opportunity of displaying his talents in buildings of that class. The first of them, San Giorgio Maggiore, was begun in 1556, though the facade was not erected till 1610. The plan consists of a nave with two aisles, but so short in proportion to the rest, there being only three arches on each side, that the whole approaches to the form of a Greek cross. Of decoration too there is very little besides columns and entablatures, and the small columns and pediments forming the altar tabernacles; even the vaulting and dome being quite plain, with merely arcs-doubleaux formed by the upper semicircular windows. The front has a large composite order of four three-quarter columns supporting a pediment, and placed on very lofty pedestals, with a small order in Corinthian pilasters on each side, surmounted by a half pediment, the horizontal cornice and rest of their entablature being continued as a facia between the larger columns. Yet although there is no lack of decoration, the intercolumns, except the centre one (occupied by a lofty door, square-headed but with an arch over it), being filled by niches and pannels, and there being, besides, festoons between the composite capitals, the architecture itself is by no means rich; none of the mouldings are carved, and the modillions of the cornices are mere blocks. The same may be said of the still more celebrated church called II Redentore, begun in 1573, about t»o years before the architect's death. In description the facade of this edifice agrees very nearly with that of the preceding, being similarly disposed, with a large composite onler and a lesser Corinthian one, with half pediments. At the same time there are considerable differences, for instead of being raised upon pedestals, the larger order stands upon the pUtform of a flight of steps occupying the centre division of the front, and, instead of four three-quarter columns, consists of two half-columns and two pilasters. The proportions again are quite dissimilar, owing to the omission of pedestal*, the greater width of the intercolumns, and the relative sizes of the two orders, the Corinthian one being here much larger than in the other instance, so that the cornice of its entablature is nearly level with the top of the shafts of the larger columns, whereas at S. Giorgio the smaller cornice is not higher than two-thirds of the larger columns. Neither is the lesser entablature here continued throughout, but its architrave alone, except in the centre Tntercolumn. where there are two Corinthian half-columns to the door, surmounted by an entablature and pediment, besides which there are smaller columns and segmental pediments to the niches in the lateral divisions of this centre P. C, No. 1060.

compartment. All these different columns, pediments, and half-pediments tend to produce quite as much monotony as variety. In its plan this church greatly surpasses the other, having a good deal of play and elegance in its arrangement, and being more imposing in its proportions. Still here, again, the order itself constitutes the whole of the architecture —all the rest being bare and cold, and plain almost to nakedness. The facade of San Francesco della Vigna was also designed by Palladio in 1562, although the church itself is said to be by Sansovino. This front is very much like that of S. Giorgio,-except that instead of a large panne! there is a semicircular window (in three compartments, or of the kind called a Palladian window) over the doorway, also a circular sculptured ornament within the pediment, and an inscription on the frieze.

One of his last if not his very latest work was theTeatro Olimpico at Vicenza, which he did not live to complete; for he died August 6th, 1580, at the age of sixty-two, and that structure was not entirely finished till 1583. It has been extravagantly extolled by many, and severely condemned by others as a piece of puerile architectural pedantry. Speaking of Palladio's buildings at Vicenza, Woods says of it, ' it is too celebrated to be omitted, yet as far as my own taste is concerned it might have slept in oblivion. The scene, which is the part most admired, borders upon trumpery.'

It may indeed be asserted of Palladio's works generally that they have been greatly and indiscriminately overpraised by successive writers, who seem to have merely repeated one another. Among the many who have extolled Palladio's extraordinary merits, but without attempting to show wheiein they consist, are the names of Goethe, Quatiemere de Quincy, Forsyth, Hope, and Beckford.

Judging Palladio dispassionately, it is impossible to deny that his works abound with defects and solecisms that would hardly be tolerated in any one else. We do not speak of engaged columns and matters of that sort belonging to the system itself, nor of the dryness and littleness of manner frequently resulting from an order being adapted only to asingle floor of a building, one consequence of which practice is that notwithstanding so much stress is laid upon proportions, the due proportion that should be observed between the columns and the windows is almost lost sight of; but we speak of such positive errors as windows cutting into architraves, windows within friezes, doors lower than windows, figures on the raking cornices of window pediments, naked and dressed windows in the same composition, &c.; besides other faults which, if they do not run counter to rule, are yet sins against beauty and good taste, such as ugly balusters, mean attics, offensively wide intercolumns, heavy pediments, meagre entablatures and columns, particularly in the Ionic order, and above all a dryness, mannerism, and monotony of detail. As regards Palladio himself, there may be much excuse for his errors, but certainly none for the prejudices of those who would now insist upon our admiring his works without qualification, more particularly as nothing is easier than for a modern architect to avoid his faults, and even to improve upon his beauties.

Note - this article incorporates content from The Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (1840)

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