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Palladio and His Legacy: A Transatlantic Journey at Notre Dame's Snite Museum of Art
Conjectural Portrait of Andrea Palladio by Sebastiano Ricci c., 1715.

NOTRE DAME, IN.- For the first time in the Midwest, a collection of thirty-one rarely seen drawings as well as books and models by Italian 16th-century architect Andrea Palladio, from the collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects, will be on view at the Snite Museum of Art. Palladio and His Legacy: A Transatlantic Journey, will be on exhibit from June 5 through July 31, 2011. This collection will travel to one more US venue before the drawings are put into storage for twenty-five years in order to ”rest” these delicate and valuable works.

The drawings, together with Palladio’s architectural texts and pattern books, highlight the growth of his design sensibility. They range from early studies and sketches to perfectly executed later drawings of villas and other commissioned works. Also on view are a number of detailed architectural models, created and loaned specially for the exhibition by renowned model-maker Timothy Richards, which demonstrate the spread of Palladio’s architectural theories to America, most notably in the work of Thomas Jefferson and in designs for monumental buildings in Washington, DC.

The exhibition begins with five drawings from Palladio’s early career and his intensive study of the architecture of antiquity. His sketch of the warehouses of Trajan at Ostia shares many design elements found in his later Basilica in Vicenza. A drawing of the antique bases of columns in the Lateran Basilica shows that they were intended to add height to preexisting columns that were too low. He adopted this approach in the interior of the church of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. Assisi’s Temple of Minerva is a rare example of a classical building with columns on high pedestals. Palladio’s study of this temple anticipates his design of the giant pillars on pedestals at the Palazzo Valmarana. This section of the exhibition also includes a model of the Pantheon in Rome, which Palladio measured and found a particular source of inspiration in terms of proportions and detail.

The only extant Roman text on architecture in Palladio’s day was De Architectura by Vitruvius, for which the original illustrations had not survived. Several drawings in this portion of the exhibition demonstrate how Palladio “interpreted” the text, including a plan and elevation for his Vitruvian Peripteros Temple.

The exhibition also presents drawings that demonstrate Palladio’s 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 Augustus. Juxtaposed with these are perfectly executed drawings made for some of Palladio’s patrons, including an elevation drawing of a villa that demonstrates the effect of sunlight on the building.

Several of the architectural drawings are complemented by modern bas-reliefs that express in three dimensions what the drawings represent. Since its publication in 1570, Palladio’s landmark text, I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura, has exerted enormous influence on architects. The book’s graphic design and sequencing of text and illustrations became a model for subsequent architectural publications. The autograph sheets in the exhibition shed light on Palladio’s creative process in designing the text, beginning with studies of how to integrate a building’s plan and elevation, followed by preliminary studies for the woodcut illustrations.

Andrea Palladio (1508–1580) is considered among the most significant and influential architects in the Western world. His clean, elegant interpretation of the architecture of classical antiquity was to spread throughout Europe and North America, and his finished buildings, drawings, and writings have become cultural touchstones.

Palladio was born in Padua, then part of the Republic of Venice, and early on worked as a stonecutter in sculpture studios in the Veneto. He would later be drawn to architecture and studied Roman ruins as well as the work of the classical author Vitruvius. In 1570, Palladio published his seminal I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura (Four Books on Architecture), which fully lay out his architectural theory and demonstrate his core beliefs in the beauty and harmony of classical architecture. Primarily known for his villas and palaces for the aristocracy, Palladio also designed buildings for wealthy merchants and untitled landowners. These structures include churches, apartment blocks in Venice, and even barns. Throughout, he was able to incorporate classical design elements while exploiting Renaissance era advances in engineering and construction technique.

It was through books that knowledge of Palladio and Palladianism spread to America. A number of these highly influential books are on view. Palladio’s influence on the architecture of the United States is examined in the final section of the show, which consists of a series of specially commissioned models of key American buildings. During the eighteenth century, Palladio’s impact was almost entirely on domestic architecture, as house design increasingly incorporated classically proportioned porticoes. Thomas Jefferson’s design for his famous home, Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia, is one of the best examples of this. Jefferson also incorporated Palladian principles into his design for the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond as well as in an unsuccessful competition submission for The White House.

The exhibition is curated by Dr. Irena Murray, the Sir Banister Fletcher Director of the British Architectural Library at the Royal Institute of British Architects; Charles Hind, H. J. Heinz Curator of Drawings at the BAL and an internationally acknowledged Palladian scholar; and Calder Loth, retired Senior Architectural Historian at the Virginia Department of Historical Resources. Additional scientific and historical advice is provided by Dr. Guido Beltramini, Director of the Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio in Vicenza.

The exhibition is organized by the Royal Institute of British Architects Trust, in association with the Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio, Vicenza, and is presented at the Snite Museum of Art in partnership with the School of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame.

Plaster models are by Timothy Richards. Based in Bath, England, Timothy Richards has over many years become internationally known for his detailed plaster models of buildings from around the world. His work is held in many private collections and offers a unique way to help explain and interpret historically important architecture.

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