Palladio Still Relevant 500 Years After His Birth

October 21, 2008

By Anya Kaplan-Seem

Widely respected as one of the most important architects of the Western world, the Italian-born Andrea Palladio continues to influence architects both in Europe and America today. In honor of the quincentenary of his birth in 1508, and as part of its Year of Palladio celebrations, the Institute for Classical Architecture and Classical America (ICA&CA) is hosting a symposium in New York on Friday and Saturday. Called “Intra Moenia: Palladio and the City,” the symposium will consider Palladio’s work not only for its historical value, but also for its “prospective applicability to future work,” says Paul Gunther, ICA&CA president.

Villa Almerico Capra (La Rotonda) near Vicenza
Photo courtesy Institute for Classical Architecture & Classical America
Villa Almerico Capra (La Rotonda) near Vicenza.
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Though a prolific builder, Palladio’s lasting influence is largely attributed to his writing. His architectural treatise, I Quattri Libri dell’Architettura (The Four Books of Architecture), includes studies of ancient Roman architecture as well as disquisition by Palladio on his own work, and remains one of the most important architectural texts ever produced.

Born in Padua as Andrea di Pietro dalla Gondola, and destined at age sixteen to a career as a stonemason, Palladio later gained both an architectural education and a new name from Giangiorgio Trissino, an aristocrat and humanist who became his mentor. Palladio went on to work in both the private and public realms, building primarily in Venice and the surrounding Veneto region. His works include countryside villas, private palazzos, civic buildings, and sacred works. His most iconic villa is the Villa Almerica Capra, also called La Rotunda for its circle-in-a-square geometry; his is best-known church is the Monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice.

Palladio’s civic buildings, as well as the “public, urbanistic impulse” behind much of his work, will be the topic of the ICA&CA’s symposium. Because “so much attention is given to the villas,” the Institute sought to “find a new angle, a new perspective on Palladio,” says Gunther. Focusing on the potential of Palladio’s civic legacy to provide lessons for today’s ever-more urban world, the symposium will consist of three panel discussions: Palladio and the Civic Realm; Palladio’s Influence on America, Europe and Beyond; and Modern Palladians. It is Gunther’s hope that by considering the attention Palladio gave in his work to context, environment, and “the lives of the inhabitants” for whom he was building, the symposium will allow architects to glean some “abstract themes” of relevance to the 21st century.

"Intra Moenia: Palladio and the City” is only one of many Palladio-themed events the Institute organized for 2008. Others include lectures, drawing tours, and a series of travel programs. Participants have visited Palladian-style country houses in Ireland, seen Jefferson’s Palladio-inspired work in Virginia, and will learn about “The California Classicism of Los Angeles,” in November. The Institute also has hosted several visits to Palladio’s Veneto to see the architect’s own work. After returning from the latest trip, Gunther confessed to a renewed infatuation: “You sort of fall in love with the man as you go around, that’s for sure.”

For more information, visit the Institute’s Year of Palladio homepage.

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