Late Italian Renaissance master Andrea Palladio (15081580) is considered one of the most influential architects in the Western world. His interpretation of ancient Roman architecture as a contemporary style spread throughout Europe and Britain to North America, and his finished buildings, drawings, and writings have become cultural touchstones.
Palladio and His Legacy: A Transatlantic Journey presents 31 rare drawings by Palladio from the outstanding collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects Trust. Opening at the National Building Museum
on September 2, 2010, and running through January 9, 2011, the exhibition examines the development of Palladios design sensibility through his drawingswhich range from early studies and sketches to presentation drawings of villasand his architectural texts. The exhibition also includes detailed architectural models, created and loaned by renowned modelmaker Timothy Richards, which demonstrate the spread of Palladios architectural theories to America, most notably through the work and influence of Thomas Jefferson and in designs for monumental buildings in Washington, D.C.
Palladio trained as a stonemason in the northeastern Italian city of Vicenza, then part of the Republic of Venice. He studied ancient Roman ruins and the one surviving Roman treatise on Roman architecture by Vitruvius. His architecture synthesized the lessons of the ancient Romans with the achievements of his predecessors and contemporaries, including Bramante, Raphael, and Michelangelo, ultimately reinventing classical architecture as a perennially contemporary style. In 1570, his I Quattro Libri dellArchitettura (Four Books on Architecture) set out his theories and demonstrated his core beliefs in the beauty and harmony of classical architecture.
Palladio was very democratic in his belief that the principles of architecture and good design could be applied to any building, from a barn to a palace. His own work included villas, palaces, churches, and public buildings. He was the first architect of the modern era to believe that good architecture improved peoples lives.
The exhibition begins with five drawings from Palladios early career that demonstrate his intensive study of ancient Roman architecture. His sketch of the warehouses of Emperor Trajan at Ostia shares many design elements found later in his Basilica in Vicenza (1549). His drawing of the column bases at the Lateran Basilica in Rome shows how they were intended to add height to preexisting columns. Palladio adopted this approach in the interior of the church of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice (1565). The Temple of Minerva at Assisi is a unique example of a classical temple with a portico of columns on high pedestals. Palladios study of this temple anticipates his design for the Palazzo Valmarana in Vicenza (1565).
The only existing Roman text on architecture in Palladios day was De Architectura by Vitruvius, for which the original illustrations had not survived. Several drawings in the exhibition demonstrate how Palladio interpreted the text.
Creative Process and I Quattro Libri dellArchitettura
The exhibition also presents drawings that demonstrate Palladios creative process. On view are rough sketches, with unfinished areas and traces of earlier ideas, for the Villa Mocenigo and the reconstruction of the Mausoleum of Emperor Augustus. Juxtaposed with these are presentation drawings made for some of Palladios patrons and modern bas-reliefs that express in three dimensions what the drawings represent.
Since its publication in 1570, Palladios landmark text, I Quattro Libri dellArchitettura, has had enormous influence on architects. The books graphic design and sequencing of text and illustrations became a model for subsequent architectural publications. The exhibition features preliminary drawings for the book, which shed light on Palladios creative process in conveying, as economically as possible, the key information needed to illustrate a building (plan, elevation, and section).
Palladio and America
Knowledge of Palladio and Palladianism spread to America through a number of highly influential books, some of which are on display in the exhibition. The exhibition also features models of key American buildings that highlight Palladios influence on the architecture of the United States. During the eighteenth century, Palladios impact was almost entirely on domestic architecture, as house design increasingly incorporated classically proportioned porticoes. The earliest known example of this in the U.S. is Drayton Hall (1738-42, designer unknown), outside of Charleston, South Carolina.
It was through Palladio that Thomas Jefferson first encountered the model for his most influential architectural work the Virginia State Capitol, begun in 1785 and based on the Temple of Diana at Nîmes, France. This temple of democracy established the precedent for designing the new nations public buildings in the monumental Classical Style. These included some of Americas most ambitious public buildings of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century American Renaissance, such as the New York Stock Exchange (1903) and the Supreme Court (1935) and National Gallery of Art (1941) in Washington, D.C.