Palladio in Venice. After his early training as a stonecutter and “maestro da muro” [stonemason], under the guidance of the humanist Giorgio Trissino and part of the circle of the educated members of the intellectual aristocracy in Vicenza, Andrea di Pietro “della Gondola” (Padua 1508, Vicenza? 1580) began his studies on architecture, based on both contemporary treatises and the direct archaeological and philological study of the antiquities of Rome but not only. He thus became a specialist on the subject and a recognised interpreter of its implementation into “true architecture”. It was Trissino who named him “Palladio” and he worked on both the neo-classical renovation urbis of Vicenza, the greatest strength of which was the transformation of the Gothic Palazzo of the Region into a Roman Basilica by constructing the loggia, and on villas in the area. From the 1540s onwards he received commissions from Venetian patricians (Pisani, Contarini) and began working on villas on the mainland. However, his direct and lasting relationship with the city of Venice began in the early 1550s with some of the learned and illuminated members of city’s aristocracy, the brothers Marcantonio and Daniele Barbaro in particular, thus becoming part of the highest political circles and government of the Venetian Republic. The same circles supported all Palladio’s architectural work in Venice, some more openly than others, and it was not long before he had made his reputation. He worked a great deal on the mainland building villas for the nobility and then also received commissions for the designs of religious buildings in particular, while his residential and urbanistic designs met with clear resistance. In Venice he also published works of a philological and archaeological nature as well as his successful treatise the Four Books of Architecture in 1570. From a social point of view, in Venice he was in close contact with figures of high cultural profile who were either involved in the State government or important charitable and religious institutions. Nevertheless, he was never to consider himself a Venetian citizen and did not have his own home in the city but rather alternated his stays in the city, above all as the beloved guest of the brothers Giambattista and Jacopo Contarini in their palazzo on the Grand Canal, with his countless professional commitments in the region and Vicenza.
Palladio and the forma urbis of Venice. One cannot speak of “urban planning” in the true sense in the extraordinary urban continuum of Venice. In actual fact, this intention is clearly present in Palladio’s design for the new Rialto Bridge, involving the urban areas at both ends, but it was one he was unable to execute. Nevertheless, with his last works, it was Palladio himself who left his mark and transformed the most unique and symbolic urban fabric of Venice, the Basin of Saint Mark’s, with the façade of San Giorgio Maggiore and, on the island of the Giudecca, the façades of the votive Church of the Redentore and the Zitelle complex. The result was one of extraordinary renovative strength. These three masterpieces figuratively mark the borders of the great expanse of water behind Piazzetta San Marco – the new “forum” of a “classical” Venice Doge Andrea Gritti commissioned Sansovino with – making it discernible and measurable as a new urban space that was an integral part of the city. The façade of San Giorgio thus became the symmetrical parallel of the Gothic façade of the Doge’s Palace and the perspective vanishing point framed by the arch of the Torre di Mori coming from Rialto. With its finely balanced white façade the volume of the Redentore marks the end in the west, after the lighter but subtle accent of the Zitelle. This is why Palladio may be named as the author of the renewed Venetian forma urbis, adopted and codified already by his contemporaries and still emblematic today. The two bird’s eye views by De Barbari (1500) and Arzenti (beginning of 17th century) are respectively the testimony of the “before” and “after” and the transformation becomes clear immediately.
Palladio’s Venetian environment
New knowledge, architecture and professional practice. In Venice Palladio threw himself into that fervid cultural environment that had already attracted him in Vicenza. In the field of architecture, there were both the contemporary examples of the buildings for which Sansovino was famous, and the highly esteemed Sanmicheli, while theoretical debates were nourished by, amongst other things, the “books” by Sebastiano Serio that come out of Venetian printing houses. Palladio’s search for “true architecture” went through a fundamental stage in Venice when he was working with the many-sided Daniele Barbaro, in pectore patriarch of Aquileia and with whom he started working in the early 1550s on the edition of Vitruvius’ “De Architectura” published by Marcolini in 1556. On display here are the valuable handwritten preparatory notes, on loan from the Marciana Library. For Palladio this was a valuable opportunity for personal enrichment, helping transform his concrete archaeological experiences into real philological knowledge of the ancient, which was also useful to show the infinite expressive possibilities of the classical word, allowing creative freedom in the contemporary while protecting the “truth”. Palladio’s study of various disciplines was fundamental to his maturation and this was the fruit of the work of many Italian intellects who were prolific in the publishing workshops in the city. Whether hydraulics (Ceredi), applied mechanics (Tartaglia and Ramelli), mineralogy (Agricola), mathematics and geometry (Tartaglia), optical measurements (Belli), or geometrical-musical harmony (Zarlino), etc., all the subjects helped form and stimulate Palladio’s cultural horizon in the awareness of the fundamental contributions they might offer the noble art of architecture, the product of privileged intellectual synthesis. On display is a selection of contemporary graphic works on paper together with some examples of tools used for drawing and measurements.
Intellectuals, friends, clients. Palladio began perfecting his cultural education when he was part of Giangiorgio Trissino’s Vicentine circle. It was none other than this fine humanist, historian and linguist who was also recognised by Venetian society, who introduced the promising architect into the most knowledgeable cultural and political circles in the city. Palladio soon became the favourite contact of Daniele Barbaro and his brother Marcantonio, a diplomat and member of government. It was through them that he was introduced to other high ranking figures, quickly receiving their admiration and commissions, for example, Patriarch Giovanni Grimani, the brothers Jacopo and Giambattista Contarini, Leonardo Mocenigo and many others. Palladio proved himself to be an interlocutor who was able to give an architectural shape to different needs and values, showing the highest skill – both technical and intellectual – that was almost unrivalled at that time. In the lively Venetian circles of printers-publishers, Palladio also had the chance to meet outstanding figures of polygraphic intellect such as Francesco Sansovino, son of the famous Jacopo, the Florentines Anton Franceso Doni and Giorgio Vasari.
Palladio: works in Venice
His theoretic, philological, literary and illustrative works. It was through his contacts with the Venetian environment that Palladio became aware of his own role as a man of culture, active both in the practice of construction and in that of pure intellectual production. The stimulating relations he had in Venice with polygraphs and printers, together with the encouragement from figures such as Daniele Barbaro, are at the roots of his independent undertakings in publishing. The earliest and most agile booklet “The Antiquities of Rome” – Rome, Lucrino, Venice, Pagan, 1554 was the fruit of the detailed archaeological studies he had carried out during his numerous trips to Rome. Conceived as a practical but not superficial “tourist map” of the ancient city, it was to enjoy considerable, long-lasting success with over 50 reprintings and new editions. “The Four Books of Architecture” – Venice, D. de’ Fransceschi, 1570 was the treatise that was to establish Palladio’s century-long success once and for all as a pragmatic model of neo-classical architecture, even more so than his works. The aim of the publication was to set down, in an exemplary synthesis, his lengthy experience in the philological-archaeological field of the “ancient”, and that of architectural constructions, the “modern”. With the unhidden presumption of objectivity, in this book Palladio creates a unitary, systematic typological workshop, becoming a reference model for the “true” language of architecture and its infinite possibilities. Indeed, the “Four Books” was to be the most widespread and long-lived text on architecture until the 19th century, going well beyond European borders. “I Commentari di C. Giulio Cesare….” – Venice, P. de’ Franceschi, 1575. Andrea’s interests in this field of philology, together with those in military technique, reveal the richness of his cultural universe. Here he presided over the effective illustrative part, as well as integrating the parts inherent to Roman military science. Upon the request of both the authors and the printers-publishers, it was as illustrator that Palladio occasionally invested his philological skills of the ancient, providing the illustrations for the texts, or his architectural skills for the composition of frontispieces. The following are attributed to him: “L’Italia liberata dai Goti” by Trissino, “Alamanna” by Olivieri, “Navigationi et Viaggi” (vol.3) by Ramusio, and “Artis Gymnasticae” by Mercuriale.
His architectural works in Venice and on the Venetian mainland. In accordance with the wishes of a restricted group of aristocratic intellectuals led by the Barbaro brothers, around the middle of the 1550s, when he was almost fifty Palladio was declared the successor of the more elderly Sansovino. He was put forward as the modern, knowledgeable interpreter of the classicist revival in architecture and it was as such that he received important commissions in Venice in the religious field: façades for S. Pietro di Castello and S. Francesco della Vigna, the radical restructuring of the complexes of the Lateranensi alla Carità and the Benedictines of S. Giorgio Maggiore, and the rebuilding of S. Lucia. He met a group of patricians involved in charitable institutes and offered his work there as well, showing he was a capable interpreter of Counter-Reformation spirituality, as can be seen in his work on the Ospedaletto and the Zitelle. On the other hand, although the traditionalist spirit of the Venetian upper-class continued to favour him for the construction of new villas on the mainland, they would not give him the opportunity to express himself in either civil architecture or town-planning, as he himself observed with the publication of designs that had never been executed or “virtual” designs in his “Four Books” (1570). Nevertheless, in Venice he was held in great professional esteem, and was constantly in demand for consultation and technical advice, both privately and publicly, for example in the restoration of the Doge’s Palace after two fires; his services were also in demand for work of a more philological nature such as the construction of a provisional ancient theatre or a construction for State ceremonies such as for the reception of Henry III of France. In Venice he left his unmistakeable and indelible mark par excellence on the urban “scene” –Saint Mark’s Basin, redefined by the visual cornerstones of the three Palladian façades of San Giorgio, the Zitelle and the Redentore.
The Veneto and Palladio’s “success”. The extensive centuries-old success of Palladian architecture is basically due to the exceptional effectiveness of his treatise “The Four Books of Architecture”. The original xylographic matrixes used by Domenico de’ Franceschi in 1570 were used countless times for reprintings in the 16th and 17th centuries, until they were worn out. Countless re-editions were then printed with new typographic materials. Before the multi-lingual edition was published (Italian, French, English) in Venice 1726-30, there were a considerable number of translations abroad: Valladolid 1625, Paris 1650, Amsterdam 1682, followed by London 1721, La Haye 1726, London 1738, Madrid 1797 etc. In the 17th century in England the words Palladian classicism quickly took root with surprising energy, promoted by figures such as Inigo Jones, Henry Wotton and Colen Campbell; in the 18th century it was supported by Lord Burlington. However, throughout the entire 18th century, Venice and the Veneto remained the main seat of irradiation for authentic Palladian thoughts, nourishing the increasingly widespread “Palladianism” as far as the other side of the Atlantic. Palladio’s biography then began to take shape (Temanza, 1762). At the same time, closer attention was paid to his works, including those not originally included in “The Four Books”, such as the Venetian churches. They were re-published with tables and comments in editions that were frequently smaller in format and thus cheaper, either bilingual or with a translation of the entire text, to reappraise the absolute models – in other words, Palladio’s architecture – to render them in even more rigorous normative codifications, in the wake of what had become international neo-classical enthusiasm. The exhibition includes nearly all Veneto publications on Palladio from the 18th and 19th centuries: After the illuminist reappraisal, the substantial local production of the 19th century was more text-bookish, extrapolating the “rules” for use by artistic academies and professional schools, until the appearance of the first real modern historical-critical monographs (Magrini, 1845), ending with the exhibition on the same subject “Palladio in Venice” by Ferrari (1880).
Palladio: the character, the myth. During the 18th and 19th centuries in particular, as the language of his architecture was gradually becoming the international neo-classical word and, as a consequence, his historical figure also grew in importance, leading to the question of Palladio’s true “nature”. This was a question that was to go unanswered for a long time, and one that today has only been partially answered. The only historically reliable image of Palladio is that in a copy from the 18th century (Vicenza, Villa Valmarana “ai nani”) with a portrait that was probably the work of G.B. Maganza (vernacular painter and poet, and longstanding friend of the architect). On display here is an interesting collection of prints of Palladian portraits – often fanciful or based on unreliable models – between the 18th and 19th centuries, most of which were made in the Veneto. They range from those of the 18th century – the century when the “cult” of the architect was at its height, sometimes with heroic half busts, to the more romantic and popular hagiography of the 19th century. During the XIX medal engravings of a commemorative nature, often of good quality (Putinati, Stiore), made their own contribution to the architect’s glory.