The architect Palladio in Vicenza: Basilica Palladiana and the  Palazzo Thiene 

Andrea di Pietro, Palladio’s original name, was born in 1508. At age sixteen, in 1524, he joined the masonry and stonemason’s guild of Vicenza. For the next ten years, he is referred to as a stonemason In either 1536 or 1537, Trissino discovers the talent of the young mason Andrea di Pietro during the construction of the villa of Trissino in Cricoli near Vicenza.

Palladio big size
Andrea Palladio Architeto Vicentino 1576

 

Vicenzo di Catena Trissino Louvre big size
Vicenzo di Catena Trissino Louvre

Moreover, Trissino also greatly influenced the ideas of Palladio. The villa Cricoli of Trissino was designed by Trissino himself. His villa in Cricoli was used as the ‘Accademia Trissiana’. Students resided in the villa where they followed a very strict daily regime. Above the doors, in Greek and Latin, it said: ‘Study, art and virtue’. Trissino intended to connect monastic life with the tradition of the Greek philosophers. Palladio played an active part in the villa’s daily happenings.

Villa Trissini in Cricoli  big size zoom in   map
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Villa Trissino Cricoli Vicenza

Palladio and Trissino share a close bond. In the prologue to Palladio’s Quattro Libri dell’Architettura, the writer haisl Trissino as ‘the flower of our time’. Trissino introduced Palladio to Vitruvius and brought him along to Rome three times. The villa of Trissino was symmetrical and constructed according to proportional dimensions, something Palladio would also adopt later on. For his entire life, Palladio remained intrigued by the classics.

Youtube  over Palladio (5.24  minutes)

Palladio writes two small influential books after his first stay in Rome, both of which appeared in 1554:

1. Le Antichità di Roma [the antiquities of Rome] this book replaced the medieval book, Mirabilia Urbis  Romae (The miracles of the city          Rome), which was a kind of travel guide describing antique ruins with their history.
2. Descritione de le Chiese, Stationi, Indulgenze & Reliquie de’ Corpi Sancti, che sonno in la città de Roma (English edition). It is purely             religious, describing Roman churches for any pilgrims.

 

Map of Vicenza with Palladio’s buildings
Map of Vicenza with Palladio's buildings

1.   Casa Civena 1540
2.   Palazzo Thiene 1542
3.   Basilica Palladiana 1549
4.   Palazzo Chiericati 1550
5.   Palazzo Iseppo Porto c. 1548
6.   Casa Cogollo 1559 Palladio?
7.   Palazzo Valmarana 1565
8.   Palazzo Schio-Angaran before 1566
9.   Palazzo Barbarano c. 1570
10. Loggia del Capitaniato 1571
11. Teatro Olimpico 1571
12. Palazzo Porto-Breganze c. 1570
A.   Cathedral North portal
B.   Sta Corna (chapel of Valmarana) 1576

For the architecture of Palladio in Venice, please click on: San Francesco della Vigna (facade), San Giorgio Maggiore (make sure to scroll) and the Il Redentore.

His first book, ‘Le Antichità di Roma’, describes the classic ruins along with the exact dimensions. Palladio intended to bring together the latest advances in knowledge and spoke of ‘how desperately we all wanted to understand these antiquities’. The old books, so Palladio said, were ‘full of lies’. He presented a reliable report that greatly influenced archaeology. For nearly two hundred years, this was the go-to book if you wanted to know about ancient Rome. Stretching far into the eighteenth century, all Rome travel guides were based on Palladio.

His most important work, ‘Quattro Libri dell’Architettura’, was published in 1570. In it, Palladio covers the entire architectural spectrum. Octavo image lets you browse digitally through all four books about architecture.

Palladio 'Quattro Libri dell'Architettura'

Book I   Orders and general problems
Book II  Residence
Book III Public buildings and urban development
Book IV Temples ‘without which civilisation is impossible’

Title page of Quattro Libri

title page Quattro Libri Palladio

In the first two books, Palladio explains why he is writing his ‘Quattro Libri’. He is deeply moved by the remnants of antiquity. According to Palladio, the creation of architecture is a moral duty and, like Trissino, he perceived architecture as the highest form of art. Palladio’s plans for publication were prevented by his death. One-hundred-and-fifty years after his death, Lord Burlington released a part of his non-published works. Palladio refers to other architects whom he studied, with Alberti being referenced more than once. He saw Vitruvius as his ‘teacher and guide’. It is quite likely that no one knew Vitruvius better than Palladio.

Palladio constructed nearly all religious buildings in Venice, while his Palladio were predominantly situated in and around of Vicenza. For the architecture of Palladio in Venice, please click: San Francesco della Vigna (facade), San Giorgio Maggiore (make sure to scroll) and the Il Redentore. Palladio designed only one palazzo in Venice, but this palace never left the drawing board. Venetians, who were not entirely fond of the ‘classic’ palazzi, were of a more traditional nature and rejected Palladio’s palazzi. Furthermore, the Venetian people had concerns about how these palaces would be financed. Rightly so, as not one of the private clients ever completed more than half of his palazzo. Only one public building was ever fully completed. In nearly all cases, the facade did see the light of day. Vicenza has ten facades designed by Palladio, usually harbouring not-so-original rooms behind them. Still, for centuries these facades and designs were of great influence. The ‘palladian’ that I taught you exists for a reason. In the 16th century, Vicenza was marked by a frenzy of construction activities like in Florence between 1445-1490.

We head North from the park where we will have a look at Palladio’s first building from circa 1540: the Casa Civena.

Marco Moro ‘Casa Civena’ 1847 big size
Casa Civena Vicenza   detail
Marco Moro 'Casa Civena' 1847 Palladio Vicenza

As a designer of palazzi – different from villas – Palladio did not become independent until quite late. Palladio’s first palace design drawings are of a rather amateur level. The Casa Civena in Vicenza comes from that same period of 1540. The building looks a lot like Serlio’s works, with the quality being rather mediocre compared to Palladio’s later works. The loggia on the ground floor are what you will often see in Italian cities, like in neighbouring city Padua. The open facade with arcades forms a screen along the streetway. Palladio wrote the following about this in his Quattro Libri:

‘When one wishes to separate the pavement from where animals and carts ride, I would wish to see the street divided in such a way that porticos are constructed along both sides for citizens to walk under while they are shopping, without being obstructed by sun, rain or snow. Nearly all streets in Padua, that noteworthy city, famous for its university, are of this type.’

Palladio, Quattro Libri II, 11

The Casa Civena is an old tradition that was subject to a classical Roman formula, as can be gathered from the segmented and triangular pediment. This palazzo has little to do with the second palazzo, the Palazzo Thiene, in Vicenza, which we will become evident later.

We continue our way North. Close by lies the Basilisk or the Palazzo dei Signoria. This was Vicenza’s city hall. The basilisk, like the Duomo in Florence, is a clear beacon that towers out above everything else.

We continue our way North. Close by lies the Basilica Palladiana. This was Vicenza’s city hall. The basilisk, like the Duomo in Florence, is a clear beacon that towers out above everything else.

Basilica Palladiana zoom in
aerial picture of the basilica Palladiana
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Vicenza Basilica Palladiana

Basilica Palladiana

Palladio’s first public assignment was the loggia, consisting of two floors of the Palazzo dei Signoria, also known as the Basilica Palladiana. This is where the council of five-hundred gathered. The original building had a wooden roof atop a large gothic hall. Padua still has a somewhat comparable Basilica Palladiana.

Palazzo della Ragione  Padua big size
Palazzo della Ragione  Padua
Basilica Palladiana big size
roof terrace    bays
Basilica Palladiana Vicenza

The ground floor comprised a network of stone vaults, constructed circa 1450. By the late 15th century, the stores and storage facilities had a loggia of two floors, but it quickly collapsed after its completion. War was a culprit. It was not until 1538-1542 that the council convened for consultation.

Basilica Palladiana big size
aerial picture of basilica
Basilica Palladiana Vicenza

Photo: David Nicholls

Famous architects were asked to design the reconstruction of the loggias. Established names like Sanmicheli, Sansovino, Serlio and Giulio Romano were approached. Giulio proposed to rebuild the recently collapsed loggio, but fortify them, too. That idea was rejected. A majority vote in the council opted for a more classical design. Palladio was then involved in the standoff. He had already gained local fame and it was no secret that he knew all about classics. The council commissioned a wooden model for one bay.

In 1548, Palladio’s new drawings were accepted and the eventual model was completed. Palladio’s solution is not a building, but instead a screen surrounding the old core. Palladio was cleared to begin in 1549. The screen acts like a buttress or brace system. It also acts like a frame, while hiding the irregular layout of the inner core from public view. The layout depicted by Palladio in his Quattro Libri is a regular one, however. Many vaults that are now there are the vaults of the first loggia, so not by Palladio. Palladio had already decided on the total dimensions. The heavy antae that we see now likely contain the previous antae that were supposed to support the two-floor loggia but failed and collapsed..

Basilica Palladiana corner pillars big size
Basilica Palladiana corner pillars Vicenza

 

The nearly square bays were not designed for classical orders, they all differ in size. Given how each bay was to be given an arch of the same size, Palladio faced a problem. He therefore required elements that allowed him to shift things around, making things a bit wider or narrower. Only the corner arches are wider.

irregular bays  of the Basilica Palladiana
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irregular bays  of the Basilica Palladiana Vicenza Palladio

Moreover, the frieze with the triglyphs and metopes have been manipulated cleverly enough for them to appear regular to the naked eye. Much like the bays that really are irregular when measuring from the base. One reason is that is that the distance between the antae was completely random.

The corner bays [‘Quattro Libri’] had to be narrower to keep the corner antae strong enough. Hence why two semi-columns were placed on these antae instead of one. The open oculi in the corner bays not only became smaller, but they were closed off. The irregular, slanted anta (instead of a ninety degrees angle) is hidden from view by the protruding semi-column.

Palladio ‘screen’ old building big size
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Basilica Palladiana screen old building Vicenza

Behind the ‘screen‘, the bays of the gothic building are irregular. At the corners, too. This corner problem only applies to the north-west corner. It’s where you can see the two sides of the facade at once. That’s not the case for the other corners as they still have other construction elements.

to the right the ‘screen’ of Palladio and to the left the old building
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 Basilica Palladiana the right the 'screen 'of Palladio and to the left the old building Vicenza

It suffices to say that Palladio implemented visually appealing refinements. It shows on the first floor. The semi-columns stand out while the small order has been pushed back. The same applies for the gothic columns of the old core. The arch and architrave combination was implemented so beautifully by Palladio that this motif, the serlio motif, became very popular and was even named after Palladio. This motif, which you had to remember from the terminology list, was conceived by Bramante and made popular by Serlio, at least, on paper. It is likely that Sansovino, with his library in Venice, inspired Palladio in coming up with this motif. Construction of the library started in 1537 and was not yet completed when Palladio visited Venice. Still, this library appears entirely different, that is, the motif discovered by Bramante. With its repetition of bays with protruding and pushed back construction elements, the library had a remarkable interplay of light and shadow. This can be found at Palladio’s loggias, although in a very different way. The light and shadow effects occur at the basilisk through the openings that capture a lot of shadow and the white marble planes on the wall that light up with sunlight.

The aforementioned serlio motif cannot be found in Palladio’s drawings prior to his Venice visit, but they do appear afterwards. It is likely that Palladio learned a great deal from Sansovino’s library. When Palladio was constructing the loggia, he did not yet copy Sansovino’s  copious use of relief ornaments on the facade. The loggia is Palladio’s only building that is made entirely of stone. This also explains why the loggia’s construction lasted until 1617. This stone type isn’t as solid as the Istrian stone used in Venice. The design of the basilica like Palladio illustrated in his Quattro Libri does not match the loggia that was already under construction. For instance, on paper, the bays are regular and the corners are exactly ninety degrees 

We will have another look at the statue of Palladio that is situated near his Palladio dei Signoria.

Statue of Palladio big size
Statue of Palladio Basilica Palladiana Vicenza

 

We continue our way further north first to the Contrà San Gaetano and then to the Contrà Porti. This street has three palazzi that were constructed by Palladio, namely the Palazzo Thiene, Palazzo Iseppo Porto and the Palazzo Barbarano.

Contrà Porti big size
Contrà Porti street Vicenza

Photo: Giorgio

Palazzo Thiene  Contrà San Gaetano street big size
cross section Thiene from Palladio’s ‘Quattro Libri’
Palladio Palazzo Thiene Contrà San Gaetano street Vicenza

The Casa Civena has little to do with the second palazzo, Palazzo Thiene, which Palladio constructed two years after the Civena. The design of the Palazzo Thiene did not originate in Vento, but is traced back to Mantua with the Palazzo del Té. Thiene is very Roman. It is the product of a two-month stay of Palladio in Rome where he met with Giulio Romano. Thiene’s style is also very similar to that of Giulio Romano.

Giulio Romano detail facade of the Palazzo del Té Mantua big size
complete north facade
Giulio Romano detail north facade of the Palazzo del Té Mantua

Giulio’s own home and the Palazzo del Té has a lot of elements that were also used in the Thiene palace, like

  • an obvious use of rustication with the lower floor having heavy rustication and the top floor having a much smoother version.
  • the architrave or frames are actually very smooth.
  • the strange columns at the aediculas around the windows (a design of Giulio Romano in front of a house in Rome).
     
    Palazzo Thiene detail Palladio
    design house Rome Giulio Romano
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    design house Rome Giulio Romano drawing

Given how Palladio was never one to copy elements obediently and the Thiene palace has a scintillating design, it is plausible that Giulio did some work on it as well.  It is likely that Giulio made some sketches. In 1542, Giulio was in Vicenza for the basilica. What’s more, Giulio also signed a contract for a palace Thiene. We can gather from the contract that Palladio is the stonemason. What we also know is that the contract for Thiene was closed in 1542. The sculptor Alessandro Vittoria decorated all the rooms. He left in 1553. We know nothing with certainty of the period in between. There are, however, inscriptions in the post and lintel that separate the two floors: the courtyard east lists the year 1556 and the northern one lists 1558. A map from 1570 shows Thiene: it fully depicts its east wing, but the north wing is not complete. The map was clearly designed in accordance to Palladio’s views.

1. four wings
2. symmetry
3. different room shapes

Palazzo Thiene courtyard big size
floor plan with the facades on four streets (red Palladio design that was actually built and blue original palazzo from 1490)
Palladio Palazzo Thiene courtyard Vicenza

What’s Roman about the design is the spacious courtyard; it would engulf an entire city block. In addition, it alludes to towers, protruding corners that are also reminiscent of Rome, in particular the uncompleted palaces of Bramante: Palazzo dei Tribunali and the Cancellaria. The design of the main facade, with a view on the main street of Vicenza, is not really known.

The entire front was likely designed after the Palazzo del Té as an ‘afterthought’. Palladio wrote that the stores on the ground floor were his idea, while this is in fact a very classic element, see: Ostia or Pompeji.

What’s unique about the Thiene layout is:

  • het vooruitstekende middendeel van de hoofdfaçade, waardoor de monotonie doorbroken wordt. Dit werd veel gekopieerd in de 18e eeuw door Ledoux e.a.
  • a very high arcade on the second floor while the bottom arcade is not as high. The height of the arcade allows light to pass through the windows and there is the additional light from the courtyard. Furthermore, the high arcades bestow on the building a kind of monumentality that was entirely novel.Read more about the Palazzo Thiene? Click here at the Beth Stubbs blog

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