Andrea Palladio was born on November 30, 1508 in Padua (then part of the Republic of Venice) and was given the name Andrea di Pietro della Gondola. His father, Pietro, called “della Gondola,” was a miller. Andrea was fortunate to be young enough to be unaffected by the warfare which struck the Veneto in the early years of the 16th century. On May 14, 1509 (when Andrea was six months old) the combined forces of the League of Cambrai defeated the Venetians at the Battle of Agnadello and overran most of the Veneto. Only a series of courageous military efforts enabled the Republic of Venice to regain its political viability.
In 1521, when Andrea was 13, his father arranged for him to be an apprentice stonecutter for a period of six years in the workshop of Bartolomeo Cavazza da Sossano, who was a noted sculptor and whose projects included the altar in the Basilica del Carmine in Padua. Cavazza is said to have imposed particularly hard-working conditions, and Andrea fled the workshop after only 18 months, and went to Vicenza. However, he was forced to return to Padua to fulfill his contract. In 1524, at age 16, Cavazza released him from the contract, and he moved permanently to Vicenza where he resided for most of his life.
In Vicenza, he enrolled in the guild of the bricklayers and stonemasons. He became a pupil and employee in the busy Pedemuro workshop, which specialized in stonecutting; his particular specialty was the carving of monuments and decorative sculpture in the style of the Mannerist architect Michele Sanmicheli of Verona.
Andrea’s first works date from the 1530s, when stability had been restored on the Venetian mainland. But the key year was 1538-9, when he worked for the Humanist scholar, Gian Giorgio Trissino, on the reconstruction of his residence, the Villa Trissino at Cricoli outside Vicenza, in the ancient Roman, or classical, style. The Villa Trissino was rebuilt to a plan reminiscent of designs of Baldassarre Peruzzi, who was an important High Renaissance architect. Trissino planned to house a learned academy for his pupils, who lived a semimonastic life studying mathematics, music, philosophy, and classical authors. The villa represented Trissino’s interpretation of the ideas of the ancient Roman architect and theorist Vitruvius, who was active 46-30 BCE and whose works had become available in print in 1486. (Palladio was later to describe Vitruvius as his master and guide).
Trissino took an interest in young Andrea’s masonry work on the villa, and encouraged him to study the arts and sciences, including the study of ancient architecture of Rome. Trissino also gave him a new name by which he would be known for the rest of his life: Palladio, meaning “wise one,” after the Greek goddess of wisdom Pallas Athena, and also a character in Trissino’s dramatic poem Italia Liberata dai Goti (Italy Liberated from the Goths). The choice of this particular new name indicated the hopes Trissino had for his protégé.
Major Architect During the Italian Rennisance
Finally in 1540, at the age of 32, Palladio received the formal title of architect. Around this time, he designed his first villa, at Lonedo for Girolamo de’ Godi. The Villa Godi has a plan clearly derived from the Villa Trissino but with similarities to traditional Venetian country houses. It contains all the elements of Palladio’s future villa designs, including symmetrical flanking wings for stables and barns and a walled courtyard in front of the house. Palladio made numerous changes and additions over the years, adding lavish frescoes framed by classical columns in the Hall of the Muses of the Villa Godi in the 1550s.
He also designed his first palace at this time, in Vicenza for Giovanni Civena. In elevation the Palazzo Civena was close to the High Renaissance palace type developed in the early 16th century in Rome. In plan, it resembled Sanmicheli’s Palazzo Canossa (c. 1535) in Verona. An innovative feature was the use of traditional arcaded pavement of northern Italy behind the main elevation, an idea that Palladio reinterpreted in imitation of an ancient Roman forum.
In his early works in Vicenza in the 1540s, he sometimes emulated the work of his predecessor Giulio Romano, but in doing so he added his own ideas and variations. An example was the Palazzo Thiene in Vicenza, which Romano had begun but which, after Romano’s death, Palladio completed. It was his first construction of a large town house. He used Romano’s idea for windows framed by stone corbeaux, a ladder of stone blocks, but Palladio gave the heavy facade a new lightness and grace.
In 1541, Palladio made his first trip to Rome, accompanied by Trissino, to see the classical monuments first-hand. He took another, longer trip to Rome with Trissino from the autumn of 1545 to the early months of 1546, and then a third trip in 1546–1547. These visits greatly affected his palace designs. Palladio saw the work of the greatest architects of the Roman High Renaissance style: Donato Bramante, Peruzzi and Raphael, who has generally been more remembered for his paintings than for his architecture. He also measured ancient Roman antiquities, notably the baths. His principal ideas on palace design were formed between his first work of 1540 and his last visit with Trissino to Rome. He also visited and studied the Roman works in Tivoli, Palestrina, and Albano.
At the Villa Trissino, Palladio met the young aristocracy of Vicenza, some of whom were to become his patrons. During these years in residence in the Villa, he met and discussed ideas with some of the most important Mannerist architects of his day. All of these had important influences on the young architect.
One of the most important works of his early Vicenza period was the Basilica Palladiana in Vicenza (1546), the palace of the city government that was his first major public commission (the work was not actually finished until 1617, decades after his death). Palladio called it Basilica, explaining that the functions and form of a modern city hall resembled those of an ancient Roman Basilica. He did not construct the building from the ground up, but added a two-story arcade of white stone to serve as a buttress to the old structure that had been finished in 1459. For the facade, Palladio made harmonious use of two levels of arcades with rounded arches and columns, which opened up the exterior of the building to the interior courtyard. The arcades were divided by columns and small circular windows (oculi), with a variety and richness of decorative detail. The arches created what became known as the Palladian window, that is, a three-part window composed of a large, arched central section flanked by two narrower, shorter sections having square tops. The work was regarded as a success, and Palladio was soon designing palaces and villas both in Vicenza and the surrounding region of the Veneto. Its design had a notable influence on many buildings across Europe, from Portugal to Germany.
The success of the Basilica Palladiana propelled Palladio into the top ranks of the architects of Northern Italy. He travelled to Rome in 1549, hoping to become a Papal architect, but the death of Pope Paul III ended that ambition. His patron, Gian Giorgio Trissino, died in 1550, but in the same year Palladio gained a new supporter, the powerful Venetian aristocrat Cardinal Daniele Barbaro, an Italian diplomat, architect, writer on architecture, and a translator of, and commentator on, Vitruvius. Through Barbaro, Palladio became known to the major aristocratic families of Northern Italy. In addition to the Barbaros, the aristocratic Cornaro, Foscari and Pisani families supported Palladio’s career, while he continued to construct a series of magnificent villas and palaces in Vicenza in his new classical style.
Palladio was particularly interested in capturing the symmetry and proportions seen in the buildings of ancient Rome. This was especially true with his suburban villas. The suburban villa was a particular type of building, a house near a city that was designed primarily for entertaining. In such a suburban setting, Palladio built the Palazzo della Ragione in Vicenza, in addition to many other suburban villas, among them Villa Malcontenta, Villa Pisani, and Villa Cornaro. The Villa Valmarana, near Vicenza, was built around 1551. The villa was clearly inspired by Rome’s Pantheon, except that Palladio added three additional giant columned porticoes, one for each side of the villa. The central part of the building was topped by a shallow dome.
The most famous suburban villa constructed by Palladio was the Villa Capra, also known as La Rotonda, not far from Vicenza, begun in 1566 for Count Paolo Almerico, the canon of Pope Pius IV and Pope Pius V. (The Count had decided to return to Vicenza after retiring from his service to the Vatican). The site was on a gentle wooded hilltop, with views of the countryside in all directions. The villa was perfectly symmetrical, with four identical facades with porticos around the domed center. The height of the base was exactly the height of the attic, and the width of each portico exactly half the length of the facade. (This villa was influential in the development of later villas during the 18th century in both England and the US).
Palladio’s suburban villas, in general, were built using brick covered in stucco and contained rooms of various sizes arranged around a central domed hall. Other common features included a raised basement, impressive colonnaded porches, and significant use of decorative stucco. Palladio was also very interested in mathematical harmony, and this was reflected in the precise dimensions of the rooms in the villas, both in themselves and in relation to each other. These villas were often connected to their adjacent farm buildings by straight or curved loggias. Another recurring feature was a walled court set in front of the villa and so designed to extend the symmetry and proportion of the whole.
At the behest of Cardinal Barbaro, Palladio returned to Rome around 1554, staying until 1556. Barbaro encouraged him to study Roman ruins further; and this resulted in his publication of Le Antichità di Roma (The Antiquities of Rome, 1554). Cataloguing the ruins that were visible to tourists, this book became the standard guidebook to Rome for the next 200 years.
In 1556 Palladio collaborated with Cardinal Barbaro in publishing in Venice a new illustrated edition of his hero Vitruvius’ De Architectura, Libri Decem (The Ten Books on Architecture, 26 BCE).
Palladio also wrote several of his own illustrated books on architecture besides these two. His most important and most influential work for centuries to come was I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura (The Four Books of Architecture), which was first published in 1570. The work was immediately popular with architects; it was translated into several European languages, including four editions in English between 1663 and 1738. This work helped spread Palladio’s ideas on architecture because although it focused on classical architecture, he often used his own designs to illustrate the descriptions. Book One featured studies of decorative styles, classical orders and materials. Book Two included Palladio’s town and country house designs and classical reconstructions. Book Three contained designs for basilicas and bridges, rules for urban planning and classical halls. Book Four featured the reconstruction of ruined, ancient Roman temples.
Churches: Most Famous Commissions in Venice
It was not until Palladio’s reputation had long been established in the countryside and in his adopted home town of Vicenza that the conservative Venetian ruling class dared to employ him in their own city. His most famous commissions in Venice involved the design of numerous churches there. Cardinal Barbaro and his younger brother Marcantonio introduced Palladio to Venice. There, he developed his own style of religious architecture, distinct from and equally original as that of his villas. His first project in Venice was the cloister of the church of Santa Maria della Carità (1560 61), followed by the refectory and then the interior of the San Giorgio Monastery (1560 62).
In 1565 Palladio began work on the San Giorgio Maggiore church in Venice, a building inspired by the 4th-century BCE Basilica of Maxentius in the Roman Forum. The church was not finished until 1610 after Palladio’s death, but it faithfully followed his original intentions. The facade, which has columns on massive bases that are topped by Corinthian capitals, was made up of two interlocking temple fronts. It was an innovative solution to cover a building on sloping ground with a symmetrical facade along classical lines. In the church’s niches were statues of Saint George and Saint Stephen, and also busts of some of the Doges of Venice. The rigorous, perfectly balanced interior had an inverted Latin-cross plan with a nave, two aisles and a large dome.
In 1576, near the end of his life, Palladio designed the church now commonly known as Il Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore (The Church of the Holy Redeemer, 1577-92), also in Venice, specifically, on the island of Giudecca. It is widely regarded as his finest church. It was commissioned in thanksgiving for the passing of another terrible wave of the Black Death plague, but it was not completed until 1580. The gleaming white facade of Istrian stone makes a stark contrast to the red brickwork of the rest of the building. The church looked like a large red ship berthed between the close houses of the Giudecca, across the water from St Mark’s square. Il Rendetore’s interior design reflected its function as host to the Doge, who participated in a grand procession each year on the third Sunday in July, the feast day of the Redeemer. Accordingly, the nave was unusually wide and without aisles, and was flanked by chapels that are lit by semi-circular windows (lunettes), and supported by deep external buttresses. The transept was crowned by a simple dome. The interior had very little decoration and was mostly white; Palladio preferring instead to give character to the church by the play of the abundant light on his Corinthian columns and arches. The luminosity of the interior was produced by the large semicircular windows, which were filled with remarkably clear glass, known as cristallo, that was a specialty of the workshops on Murano.
Both of these Venetian churches contained elements seen in the Roman baths of Diocletian and Titus, such as multiple vaulted areas divided by screens of columns.
In 1570, Palladio was formally named Proto della Serenissima (Chief Architect of the Republic of Venice), succeeding Jacopo Sansovino. This position required Palladio to advise Venice’s rulers on the city’s fortifications. He also was required to design decorations for the interior of the Doge’s palace. However, not all of his designs in this role were successfully implemented. For example, his design for the Rialto Bridge was rejected in favor of a design by Antonio da Ponte (1512-1597).
The last church Palladio designed was the Tempieto Barbaro (Barbaro Temple), built at the end of his life, which was one of his most accomplished works. It was begun in 1580 as an addition to the Villa Barbaro at Maser. It united two classical forms, a circle and a Greek cross. The facade featured a particularly imposing classical portico, like that of the Pantheon in Rome, placed before two tall bell towers, before an even higher cupola, which covered the church itself. The effect was to draw the eye upward, level by level. Inside, the circular interior was surrounded by eight half columns and niches with statues. An open balustrade ran around the top of the interior wall, concealing the base of the dome itself, making it appear that the dome was suspended in air. This idea would be adopted frequently in later Baroque churches. Palladio achieved a perfect balance between the circle and the cross, and the horizontal and vertical elements, both on the facade and in the interior.
Palladio’s Final Project
The final work of Palladio was different than villas, churches, and municipal buildings he had developed over the course of his career. It was the Teatro Olimpico in the Piazza Matteotti in Vicenza, built for the classical theatrical productions of the Vicenza Accademia Olimpica (Olympic Academy of Vicenza), of which Palladio was a member. Since the theater was intended to host classical plays, Palladio’s design was, appropriately enough, a direct reconstruction of the ancient Roman theater in Orange in southern France, and it also followed a description of an ancient theater by Vitruvius. Construction began in February, 1580, six months before his death. The back wall of the stage was in the form of an enormous triumphal arch divided into three levels, and three portals through which actors could appear and disappear. This wall was lavishly decorated with columns and niches filled with statuary. The view through the arches gave the illusion of looking down classical streets. The ceiling was painted blue with numerous white clouds designed to give the illusion of sitting under an open sky, in imitation of the open-air ancient theater. Behind the semi-circular rows of seats, Palladio placed a row of Corinthian columns.
Palladio died before the theater was completed. Vincenzo Scamozzi completed it, with a number of modifications, and it opened on March 3, 1585 with a production of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.
Little Known of Palladio’s Personal Life and Death
Not much is known of Palladio’s personal life. Documents show that he received a dowry in April, 1534 from the family of his wife, Allegradonna, the daughter of a carpenter. They had four sons: Leonida, Marcantonio, Orazio and Silla and a daughter, Zenobia. Two of the sons, Leonida and Orazio, died over a short period of time in 1572, and this greatly affected Palladio.
Andrea Palladio died on August 19, 1580, at the age of 71 in Maser, Provincia di Treviso, Veneto, Italy. He was originally buried in Valmarana Chapel, which he had designed in 1576 in Chiesa di Santa Corona in Vicenza. In 1844, a new tomb was built in a chapel dedicated to him in Cimitero Maggiore di Vicenza (Major Cemetery of Vicenza).
Legacy of Andrea Palladio–Influential Figure in Development of Western Architecture
Palladio is one of the most influential figures in the whole development of Western architecture. The qualities that made him influential were numerous and varied. His palaces and villas were imitated for 400 years all over the Western world. He was the first architect to systematize the plan of a house, and he consistently used the ancient Greco-Roman temple front as a portico¬¬–a roofed porch supported by columns (this was probably his most imitated architectural feature). Finally, in his I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura (The Four Books of Architecture), he produced a treatise on architecture that, in popularizing classical decorative details, was possibly the most influential architectural book ever printed.
The influence of Palladio’s buildings and publications reached its climax in the architecture of the 18th century, particularly in England, Ireland, the United States and Italy, creating a style known as Palladianism, which in turn spread to all quarters of the world.
Andrea Palladio–Father of American Architecture
I want to end this essay with a discussion of the Palladian influence on architecture in the United States. Palladio’s influence is evident almost from the beginning of its buildings that were designed by architects. In 1749 Peter Harrison adopted the design of his Redwood Library in Newport, Rhode Island from Palladio’s I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura, while his Brick Market, also in Newport, a decade later, is also Palladian in conception.
Thomas Jefferson, as an amateur architect, once referred to Palladio’s I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura as his “Bible.” Jefferson acquired an intense appreciation of Palladio’s architectural concepts, and his designs for his Monticello estate and the University of Virginia were based on drawings from Palladio’s book. Realizing the powerful political significance related to ancient Roman Republic buildings and symbols, Jefferson designed many of his civic buildings in the Palladian style. His first Monticello building (remodeled between 1796 and 1808) is quite clearly based on Palladio’s Villa Capra, with modifications in a style that is described in America today as Colonial Georgian. Jefferson’s Pantheon, or Rotunda, at the University of Virginia, is undeniably Palladian in concept and style.
Jefferson also organized a competition for the first United States Capitol building. It was won by William Thornton with a design inspired in part by Palladio and his La Rotonda that President George Washington accepted.
Jefferson, as the third American President, must have gained particular pleasure as the second occupant of the White House, which was doubtless inspired by Irish Palladianism. Both Castletown and Richard Cassel’s Leinster House in Dublin claim to have inspired the architect James Hoban, who designed the White House, built between 1792 and 1800. Hoban studied architecture in Dublin, where Leinster House (built circa 1747) was one of the finest buildings at the time. The Palladianism of the White House is an interesting example of an almost early form of neoclassicism, especially the south facade, which closely resembles James Wyatt’s design for Castle Coole of 1790, also in Ireland. Ironically, the North facade lacks one of the floors from Leinster House, while the southern facade is given one floor more than Castle Coole, and has an external staircase more in the Palladian manner.
In Virginia and Carolina, the Palladian influence is manifested in numerous Tidewater plantation houses, such as Stratford Hall Plantation or Westover Plantation, or Drayton Hall near Charleston, South Carolina. These examples are all classic American colonial examples of a Palladian taste that was transmitted through engravings, for the benefit of masons—and patrons, too—who had no first-hand experience of European building practices. A feature of American Palladianism was the re-emergence of the great portico, which, as in Italy, fulfilled the need of protection from the sun. The portico in various forms and sizes became a dominant feature of American colonial architecture.
One of the adaptations made to Palladianism in America was that the piano nobile (main floor) now tended to be placed on the ground floor, rather than above a service floor, as was the tradition in Europe. This service floor, if it existed at all, was now a discreet semi-basement. This negated the need for an ornate external staircase leading to the main entrance as in the more original Palladian designs. This would also be a feature of the neoclassical style that followed Palladianism in America.
The Massachusetts governor and architect Thomas Dawes also admired Palladio’s style, and used it when rebuilding Harvard Hall at Harvard University in 1766. Finally, Palladio’s most recent honor in the United States was when the 111th US Congress in 2010 named Andrea Palladio the “Father of American Architecture” (Congressional Resolution no. 259 of 6 December 2010).
Adapted by James J. Boitano, PhD from:
“Andrea Palladio.” Encyclopedia of Art and Design website;
“Andrea Palladio.” Find a grave website;
“Andrea Palladio.” New World Encyclopedia website, June 2021;
Cartwright, Mark. “Andrea Palladio.” World History Encyclopedia website, November, 2020;
Richardson, Margaret Ann. “Andrea Palladio.” Encyclopedia Britannica website, November, 2022;
“Teatro Olimpico.” Histouring website;
Portrait, Wikipedia.org CC License