Vicenza: the architect Palladio and the painter Tiepolo in Villa Valmarana  2/3

I seppo Porto  entrance        Palazzo Porto reconstruction back      and front
Palazzo Porto entrance Palladio Vicenza

Palladio designed the Palazzo Iseppo Porto (often called Palazzo Porto for short) in a style that he assumed was authentic classical Roman. This facade is a personal interpretation of house types like Bramante and Raphaël constructed in Rome, namely

  • two floors with a mezzanine attic.
  • semi-columns on the second floor.
  • high windows with alternating pediments: segmented and triangular with a balustrade at the bottom of the high windows.
Palladio Palazzo Porto facade big size      Upper floors      Cross section 
Scamozzi drawing of the facade        Floor plan Palazzo Porto ‘Quattro Libri’
Palladio Palazzo Porto Vicenza

But the facade of Porto is much more mature than his Casa Civena. The boring monotony of Civena is avoided. For this facade, Palladio made clever use of centralisation in the way that he developed for his villas. For instance, Palladio placed Michelangelo-like figures from the new sacristy on the segment-shaped pediments in the centre, with garlands and statues. The corners were marked in a similar way. If you look closely, you will see peculiar heads that function as capstones. Each head is different. All palazzi in narrow streets are variations of the palazzo Iseppo Porto prototype, with the horizontal dominating above an axial symmetry. These include palazzo Thiene, Valmarana and Barbarano. The layout of Iseppo Porto is even more original than the construction.

Palazzo Iseppo da Porto, Contrà Porti 21 (Andrea Palladio; planned around 1546, built in 1546-1552)

‘This is one of the two palazzi that Palladio designed for the Porto family, one of the rich and powerful families of Vicenza (the other being Palazzo Porto in Piazza Castello). It was commissioned by Iseppo da Porto, who had just married Livia Thiene, [the family] probably to compete with his brothers-in-law Marcantonio and Adriano, who had begun to build the Palazzo Thiene in 1542 only a stone’s throw away (project probably by Giulio Romano, revised by Palladio in 1544). Palladio develops a close friendship with the nobleman, which, given Porto’s high position in the town council, helps him to win several important public commissions later on.

Palladio originally planned two distinct residential blocks for the palazzo. In the Quattro libri dell’architettura, the two blocks are interconnected by a majestic courtyard with four enormous composite columns. Eventually only the block overlooking the street was completed. It is notable for the unusual height of the lowest order of the façade, coming from the Vicentine custom of living on the ground floor of a building. Interesting ornamental details include big mascarons above the windows and the statues of Iseppo da Porto and his son Leonida, depicted as ancient Romans, guarding the entrance from the attic.

The palazzo shows young Palladio’s acquaintance with both antique and contemporary architecture. It is a reinterpretation of Bramante’s Palazzo Caprini, which Palladio had seen some years before in Rome. The four-columned atrium shows Palladio’s knowledge of Vitruvian spaces. The two rooms to the left of the atrium were frescoed by Paolo Veronese and Domenico Brusasorzi, while the stuccoes were made by Bartolomeo Ridolfi.’

Source: Jürgen Järvik

Two nearly identical blocks were placed opposite of each other, connected with a courtyard and a colossal colonnade. This courtyard has columns bearing the piano nobile, which was later applied for the Villa Sarego. While the three parts are not connected optimally, the idea is still novel and completely separate from architecture at that time. But again, for this palace too, the only thing built according to Palladio’s design is the facade. 

Palazzo Barbarano Museum Palladio

The Palazzo Barbarano was designed in 1570 on the same narrow street where the Palazzo Porto is located.

Palazzo Barbarano big size       Upper floor      Courtyard and loggia
Palazzo Barbarano facade Museum Palladio Vicenza
Palazzo Barbarano other side big size       Front and side       Detail relief
Palazzo Barbarano facade Palladio Museum Vicenza

When Palladio began his work on this palace, a financial crisis swept the land that halted the construction of other palazzi. Even the aristocratic owner, Barbarano, struggled to purchase a suitable plot for his palazzo. The plot was irregular. Two more bays were likely added in the late 16th century, and thus the entrance portal is no longer in the centre. The relief above the windows on the ground floor are based on palazzo Valmarana. Palladio wrote that he also changed the facade when he changed the layout. The first design had massive columns. Palladio likely saw this order as too drastic for a street as narrow as the Contrada Porti. The current design lacks a colossal order, but the column is still the same height as the width of the street. 

Entrance museum Palladio and the portico
Museum Palladio entrance Palazzo Barbarano Vicenza

The Palazzo Barbarano also hosts exhibitions about Palladio and its influence on architecture and other architects. In 2008, for example, there was a large exhibition 500 years after the birth of Palladio.

Museum Palladio in Palazzo Barbarano big size
Museum Palladio Palazzo Barbarano interior Vicenza
Museum Palladio in Palazzo Barbarano big size
Museum Palladio interior Palazzo Barbarano Vicenza

Many merchants in Vicenza have become rich through the silk trade. Without the proceeds from this trade, Palladio would not have received orders for the palazzi. As a reminder of this trade, a mulberry tree can be seen in the courtyard. Silkworms use the leaves of this tree as food.

Palazzo Barbarano courtyard with mulberry tree         Loggia
Palazzo Barbarano courtyard with mulberry tree Museum Palladio Vicenza

Photo: DS-FL

The painter Carl Laubin shows in two works that Palladio is strongly influenced by classical architecture, but also that Palladio was an important source of inspiration for architects after him, especially in England and the US.

Photo: Federico Giardina

We head west through the central street that was named after Palladio: the Corso Andrea Palladio. We take a right turn into the Corso A. Fogazarro, the location of the Palazzo Valmarana.

Photo: David Nicholls

We subsequently move back to the main street to arrive at the Piazza del Castello which has the Palazzo Porto-Breganze.

The palazzo Valmarana is different than all of Palladio’s previous works. It is often regarded as a mannerist work. This view brings up the non-classical elements as an argument for mannerism. The danger of this view is that it ranks Palladio among a style that does not suit him.

Photos: Ray Streeter

Photos: David Nicholls

G.A. Fasolo  ‘Family Valmarana’
G.A. Fasolo 'Family Valmarana' painting


‘The family of Gianalvise Valmarana, portrayed together with his wife Isabella Nogarola and eight of their twelve children. From left to right: the head of the family, a politician and supporter of Palladio, then the consort who is holding Massimiliano in his arms and who will continue the construction of the family palace after the death of her husband. Follow Margherita, Penelope, Ascanio, brave man of arms already in knight’s clothes, Isotta, Antonio, Deianira, and finally Leonardo astride his wooden horse.’

Source: Wikipedia (Italian)

Photo: Jürgen Järvik

Palladio’s more mature style, for example palazzo Valmarana, arose entirely from his own personal development. You cannot label it. It’s unique. Moreover, this labelling of mannerism completely ignores the peculiarities of having to construct in a city. The adjacent buildings, and the shape of the plot, all of these factors can be quite erratic. It does not always lend itself towards the old Vitruvian principle of perfect symmetry and symmetria.

Valmarana has a simple layout,  insofar that nothing was added for added optical or symbolic effect like with the colossal peristylium in the palazzo Iseppo Porto. Only the front half of the design has been carried out and it still works well.

The facade of Valmarana has been discussed many times. It is Palladio’s solution to a narrow street. The outermost bays are obviously different and they lack the colossal pilasters. The corners have that the effect that the facade is neutralised on the sides against the adjacent facades. The colossal, smooth pilasters have an integrating effect against the adjacent facades. Presumably, the use of this colossal order was inspired by Michelangelo, who for example used this order for the outside of the St. Peter. The model of the St. Peter was completed in 1547, while Palladio in 1554 still visited Rome some 7 years later. The manner in which Palladio shaped the corner bays is not entirely devoid of irony. He learned this from Giulio Romano: a mannerist by definition. Not only has the colossal order disappeared, all other additions have also changed.

This applies, for example, to the reliefs that are changed in the windows or the pediments implemented in the corners. These were simple jokes, but architectonic purists weren’t laughing. Still, it is a classical approach, as the corners at the palazzo Porto are also emphasised by other elements, while both facades have statues on the corners above the skyline (at least, on the drawings). The facade of the San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice also solves the sudden transition of colossal to small orders at the corners by means of statues. Both the San Giorgio and the palazzo Valmarana dictate the sudden transition at the corners. The inscription  above the entrance reads that in September 1581, Maria of Austria visited the Palazzo Valmarana along with her entourage. This must have been the same year as when the palace was completed.

Then we go back to the main street and arrive at the Piazza del Castello where the Palazzo Porto-Breganze is located.

The palazzo Porto-Breganze with its colossal columns has garlands between the capitals and the high basements with the columns on top, and is a near-replica of the San Giorgio Maggiore. What would it take for the two bays evolve into an actual palazzo?

Vincenzo Scamozzi, who supervised the construction, wrote in his Idea della Archittetura Universale from 1615 that he completed this palazzo following a number of changes. Scamozzi didn’t even name Palladio as a designer, much like he never named Palladio out of jealousy. As a theoretician, Scamozzo greatly influenced the world of architecture with his books, in the Netherlands, too. In 2008, a Dutch translation appeared of one of Scamozzi’s works, part VI, : Vincenzo Scamozzi, ‘De grondgedachten van de universele bouwkunst Architect te Venetië Klassieke zuilenorden’, Architectura & Natura Pers, Amsterdam 2008 (book review Dutch) and for Vincenzo Scamozzi Annotations to Daniele Barbaro Commentary on Vitruvius De Architectura, click here (pdf download)

Vincenzo Scamozzi
portrait of Vincenzo Scamozzi Louvre

The current palazzo is only one room wide. It ends with a courtyard, with at the back half a floor of semi-columns that clearly went in a circle as if it were a theatre wall. This was a novel idea, likely coming from Palladio himself. The sides clearly show that the columns of Palladio consisted of ordinary red brick. The original white stuccowork that was to give the impression of precious stone is hardly discernible anymore in 2007.

The Loggia del Capitaniato

Piazza dei Signori big size
Piazza dei Signori Vicenza
Loggia dei Capitaniato  large size
Palazzo Loggia dei Capitaniato Palladio Vicenza

Photo: David Nicholls

The Loggia del Capitaniato, situated across from the basilisk at the north side of the large Piazza dei Signori, is a late work of Palladio and stands in stark contrast with the basilisk. 

This latest building is clearly a product of the renaissance, while the Loggia del Capitaniato announced baroque. One important feature of this facade is the horror vacui (the fear of empty space): all wall planes disappear among a confusing mix-up of stuccowork reliefs, some of which have crumbled. The small scale and the flatness of the stuccowork are in strong contrast with the pronounced high-relief of the larger architectural types.

Photo: Wikipedia (Italian) 

Palladio used the Arch of Septimius Severus from Rome as a classical example of exuberant decorations. With the exception of the figures in the spandrels, all reliefs on the Loggio del Capitaniato are intended to be trophies all antica. The side wall depicts all six allegorical figures.

Picture: Wikipedia

The two figures at the bottom represent victory and peace, with the following annotations: ‘I rest, undisturbed by war’ and ‘The ships that have brought us victory’. The last annotation refers to Lepanto, the Turks were defeated there in 1571. Many attributes refer to water. The city council was in quite a rush to complete the Loggia. The victory over the Turks was announced in Vicenza, under authority of Venice, on the 18th of October (the Turks were defeated on the 7th of October 1571). Palladio, impressed by the victory, changed the original design of the loggia. The triumphal arch motif was placed in the side wall. Not a sensible move architecture-wise, but political interests trumped artistic interests in this case. When we arrive, we will further examine and discuss this striking building.

We walk east to arrive at the Teatro Olimpico via the Corso Andrea Palladio.

Photos: Wikipedia and entrance Ryan Lintotti

1. Youtube  Empire of the Eye: The Magica of Illusion Teatro Olimpico (6.37 minutes)
2. Youtube Teatro Olimpico (4.09 minutes)

Photos: Nina Seán Feenan and the mouseover Roberto Ruager

As we enter the Teatro Olimpico through the courtyard and head into the auditorium via the first hall, we stand in the oldest and still preserved covered theatre of Europe. It is made after a design of Palladio from 1579. His student Scamozzi completed it after Palladio’s death. Fortunately, that was in time for the planned opening ceremony on March 3rd 1585 of a piece by the Greek Sophocles, titled: ‘’Oedipus Rex’’. Palladio based the design of his theatre on the go-to book, On architecture , by Roman architect Vitruvius from the 1st century BC. Vitruvius advises to design a good theatre as follows:

The layout of the theatre itself must be designed in the following way. The compass is placed and a circle is drawn in the centre of a place that is as large as the cirfumference of the lower-most part. In that circle, four equally-sized triangles are drawn that touch the circumference in equal distances. (This is what astrologists use in their figure of the twelve zodiacs for making calculations based on the musical harmony of starts). Of these triangles, one take the side closest to the theatre wall; the line with which it cuts off a circle segment determines the front of the theatre building. Parallel to this, a line is drawn through the centre that separates the stage from the orchestra.

From: Vitruvius, Handboek voor bouwkunde, Athenaeum -Polak &Van Gennep, Amsterdam 1997, blz. 150.

Later studies by archeologists uncovered that Palladio wrongly interpreted the texts of Vitruvius about the theatre (click here for the layout of the Teatro Olimpico and a cross-section). The decor pieces were not supposed to be at the back of the stage (proscenium), but next to it. So in this regard, the Olimpico is not fully classic. Still, this theatre was not based on Vitruvius’ book alone, but also on the classic ruins in Verona, Rome, but especially the Grega theatre (Berga) in Vicenza that Palladio studied. The skene, as in, the space directly behind the stage that served as a decor, is constructed out of wood and plaster.

Palladio’s design of the skene is a decor that due to its clever use of perspective creates a lot of depth and variation. If we sit in the theatre and look at the stage with the skene, I will use some A3-papers to demonstrate how Palladio placed the decor in such a limited aount of space, how the sky is attached and the location of the stairs that allowed the actors to reach the stage.

Teatro Olimpico big format
Teatro Olimpico interior Palladio Vicenza
Front         Back
Teatro Olimpico skene detail corridor Palladio Vicenza
Photo: Been Around


As we walk out of the Teatro Olimpico, we can already see the Palazzo Chiericati. 

Teatro Olimpico  Palazzo Chiericati
Teatro Olimpico  Palazzo Chiericati Palladio Vicenza

Photo: Giulio Bernardi

Girolamo Chiericati commissioned Palladio to construct a beautiful palace. To do this, Chiericati first had to apply for a permit in which he wrote the following (a liberal translation):

‘I was advised by architects and many upstanding citizens of our city to erect a portico along the full length of the facade at the square, the Isolate. For the comfort of my own family, but equally for the comfort and beauty of our city. I have pondered on this, indeed in light of the extra costs associated with this type of portico. Nevertheless, given the amazing comfort and the amazing honor bestowed on me and the public it would be a rewarding endeavour for me if permission is granted [for construction] from this beautiful city.’
Palazzo Chiericati entrance big size        Upper part
Palazzo Chiericati detail facade Palladio Vicenza

Photos: Nevica

Palladio used a typical Venetian palazzo, with a trichotomy in the facade as a starting point with the layout rotated 180 degrees. The central part is slightly stepped up to create a central axis at the entrance. At the same time, there is a horizontal axis for people walking along the palazzo. Palladio uses a very wide front side as opposed to the depth of the house. The central part of the palace is used for circulation inside the house. The hall to reach the side chambers. The back to reach the stairs leading up, the hall itself looks like a square. The palazzo Chiericati is based on two traditions:

  • medieval rows of houses with arcades like in Padua, along a street. Palladio previously did this with his Casa Civena.
  • the classic tradition traced back to the Stoa of the Greek, placing a colonnade along a square. Palladio used this for the Basilica (Sansovino at the Library) and Michelangelo for his palazzi at the Campidoglio).
Palazzo Chiericati             Large size            Cross section
Palazzo Chiericati facade Vicenza Palladio

In both cases, there exists a conflict between the private and public terrain. One must be able to walk alongside and underneath it, but simultaneously there must be an entrance to enter the palazzo. The axis in the central hall crosses the main axis. Each room also has two axes that cross in the middle. The two side chambers directly behind the facade hide the entire depth of the building. The axes end at a window or a hearth. The rooms are also proportioned in relation to each other. Palladio does not just apply his proportion doctrine to the layout, but to each room and how they relate to each other. When we arrive, I will use an A3 paper to demonstrate what we already, albeit briefly, covered in the class, namely the typical palladian proportionality doctrine. Palladio strongly preferred the harmonic average. You will see how he used it for this palazzo, even with an inescapable consequence. The question I shall pose you as we stand in front of the Chiericati is as follows: why does Palladio deviate from his harmonic average for the large central chamber?

The Pinacoteca is now housed in the palazzo. The paintings from the Cappella Chiesa di San Bartolomeo can be seen here. The Gioiello di Vicenza was an old silver model of the city of Vicenza from the 16th century made as an ex voto. It is attributed to Andrea Palladio. It has melted under Napoleon Bonaparte. A faithful reconstruction was made in silver in 2012-2013.

The  jewel of Vicenza replica  big size  attributed to Palladio           Youtube  6.20 minutes        Vicenza’s jewel         Detail
The  jewel of Vicenza replica  attributed to PalladioMuseum Chiericati Vicenza

The paintings that originally hung in the Chiesa di San Bartolomeo can now be seen in this museum.

Chapel with paintings from the Chiesa di San Bartolomeo
Museo civico di Chiericati: Chapel with paintings from the Chiesa di San Bartolomeo

There are also works by Cima da Conegliano (Throning Madonna for the vineyard with James and Hieronymus), Barteolomeo Montaga (Madonna with child under the pergola with John the Baptist and Onufrius the Great) and Hans Memling (triptych by Jan Crabbe). The original triptych is spread over three museums. The outer side panels are in the Groeningemuseum in Bruges. The inner side panels (Kneeling male donor with Saint William of Maleval, and female kneeling donor with Saint Anna) in the Morgan Library & Museum New York. The center panel hangs here. From September 2016 to January 20017, the triptych as a whole could be seen again at the Morgan Library & Museum.

We continue our way to the Piazzale Torquato Fraccon and the Arco delle Scalette. Here we go up the stairs, on the way to the Villa Capra La Rotonda.

Piazzale Torquato Fraccon and the Arco delle Scalette big size
Piazzale Torquato Fraccon Arco delle Scalette Vicenza

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