The Italian Presence in American Art, 1760-1860

By Irma B. Jaffe | Go to book overview

16. Palladio in America, 1760-1820

MARGHERITA AZZI VISENTINI, University of Padua

Palladio, the famous sixteenth-century Venetian artist ( 1508-1580), 1 was the most frequently mentioned architect in North America between 1760 and 1820. Actually, American architecture enters into history with the name of Palladio. When people in the colonies started to build with some aesthetic claim, abandoning purely utilitarian dwellings, Palladio was there.

Just a few words, to start with, on Palladio's main treatise, the Quattro Libri dell' architettura, published in Venice in 1570 and re-edited many times, in its entirety or, more often, partially. 2 Without this book Palladio's reputation would not have been so widespread. It is probable that Palladio intended to publish more than four books, possibly as many as ten, dealing with various types of buildings. The first book deals with the location of buildings, the materials used for their construction, and the five orders, considered for centuries the grammar of architecture. The second deals with private houses in the city and in the country, palaces, and villas. The third with public buildings, streets, and bridges; the fourth, with temples. Palladio's treatise is unique in two respects; (a) in its absolute, rational simplicity and the close integration between text and image; and (b) in the nature of its content: Palladio published, as examples of private architecture, in the Secondo Libro, his own inventions, executed or only planned. So the Palladian villas and palaces became known throughout the world.

Palladio was only occasionally out of Italy. In the south of France he visited Nîmes, Orange, and Arles. There he admired and drew many examples of classical Roman architecture in order to enrich his survey of those ancient buildings that he considered unsurpassed examples of good or even perfect architecture. He studied them carefully as models with the aim of discovering the correct, universal rules that governed the art of building. Although Palladio did not go to England, the English came to the Veneto. 'Mat story begins with Inigo Jones ( 1573-1652), the Surveyor of the first Stuart Kings, James I and Charles I, who, after the long isolation of the Elizabethan era, opened Britain to Continental Renaissance culture. 3 At the beginning of the seventeenth century Inigo Jones traveled to Italy, a first time around 1601, and again from the summer of 1613 to the end of 1614. He visited Rome, but spent most of his Italian sojourn in Vicenza and Venice. He bought a copy of Palladio's Quattro Libri and carried it with him while visiting palaces and villas, recording the differences between printed plates in the volume and the actual buildings. While in the Veneto he had the opportunity to meet and discuss architecture with Vicenzo Scamozzi ( 1552-1616) and to purchase a great number of Palladio's drawings, which he later studied carefully. He returned to England where, at the very time that Bernini and Borromini were just starting to develop the new Baroque architecture in Rome, he opened the way to English architectural classicism in the name of Palladio.

Inigo Jones's art did not make a wide impact in his own time, since he worked almost exclusively for the Court and realized only a few of his many ambitious projects. His career came to an abrupt end with the first English revolution and the dramatic death of his patron, King Charles I, in 1642. However, his faithful admiration for Palladio is well expressed in the Banqueting Hall ( 1619- 1622), the only executed portion of the extended plan for the new Whitehall Palace, and in the Queen's House in Greenwich ( 1616-1619 and 1630-1635), which, like a few other buildings and many drawings, are clearly dependent on Palladio's works. Palazzo Chiericati was the model for

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