Writers' Workshop for ARCH 531 / McGill University / School of Architecture / Fall 2012

Week Ten: Palladio and the Poetic Image









Andrea Palladio, Villa Barbaro, 1549-58.


The concept of the villa, as seen, for instance, in Palladio’s Villa Barbaro above, typifies a widespread attitude toward nature during the sixteenth century.  In a work such as this the move to life in the country was not seen as an existence complimentary to that in the city, but simply as a better version of it.  Simplified and unchallenged by social expectations and situations, the envisioned emancipated state of living in the countryside attempted to create what the city had done, yet to do so in what was deemed to be an ideal manner.

After choosing a villa by Palladio that is presented in his The Four Books on Architecture, please read his account of it as well as those by other scholars and discuss on what significant levels the building speaks to its natural environment.  Kindly choose a villa that has not been mentioned by a previous blogger.

10 responses

  1. Trebuh

    While reading about the villas in Quattro Libri, Palladio’s attitude towards nature seams very rigid. This gives the impression that the villa is an object or an entity by itself that does not relate to its surroundings. Palladio dedicates the second book in his treatise to explain the concept of the villa and states they “should appear an entire, and well finished body.”[1] This comparison between the “finished body” and the villa reinforce the idea that the villa is self-sufficient and that the landscape is not taken into consideration. In the Quattro Libri every drawing of the villas have no baseline and include no context, which emphasizes the notion of the Villa as a solitary object. However, there is a duality between Palladio’s theory and practice since he also writes in Quattro Libri about the orientation and relationship of the villa with its site as well as the ever-changing seasons and the country as a retreat from urban life. This leads us to think that the villa is much more than an entity on its own: “With the Villa Emo we see the classic Palladian paradox of a building that has been designed according to its own compositional logic (typically based on symmetry), yet at the same time is also inflected so as to react to its specific site condition.”[2] The Villa Emo (Fanzolo, 1556) is composed of a temple-form central body and two arms; one arm is composed of a series of loggias while the other arm includes a series of windows, demonstrating the rigid compositional logic of Palladio. Although the composition of its facades and plans makes the villa very rigid, it also allows the framing of views on either side of the villa. This construction also “shows the radicalism of Palladio’s approach to the relationship between the villa and its immediate landscape.”[3] The villa sits on a plain and the preserved level of the landscape accentuates the horizontality of the villa: “In its simplicity, the villa heightens the importance of directing the landscape, not by imposing on it a new, meticulously regulated ground arrangement, but by figuring it through the simple act of framing.” [4] Palladio is looking at the site to enhance his construction and to create various relationships with its surrounding landscape. Thus, the villas are not designed as solitary objects, but integrate with the landscape to intensify its presence on the site.

    [1] Tavernor, Robert, Palladio and Palladianism, Thames and Hudson, London, 1991

    [2] Vittorio Aureli, Pier, The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture, MIT Press, Massachusetts, 2011, p. 64

    [3] Ibid

    [4] Vittorio Aureli, Pier, The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture, MIT Press, Massachusetts, 2011, p. 65

    November 10, 2012 at 12:01 pm

  2. labyrinth

    One cannot speak of a Palladian villa without taking into consideration its site. The majority of these villas were working farms, and thus, the function and practicality of the villa inevitably affected the choice of site [1]. However, the locations of these villas were carefully chosen not just for functional or health reasons, but also for their aesthetics. Palladio writes that, “One ought not to build in valleys enclosed between mountains; because edifices in valleys are there hid, and are deprived of seeing at a distance, and of being seen. These are without dignity and grandeur…” [2]. It is therefore evident that Palladio did give consideration to the overall aesthetics of the site.

    His emphasis on aesthetics is exemplified in perhaps his most famous villa, the Villa Rotonda. Located on the crest of a small hill, the villa can be seen from most points on the site, and evidently has four excellent views from all four identical facades. As described by Palladio, “The site is as pleasant and as delightful as can be found; because it is upon a small hill, of very easy access, and is watered on one side by the Bacchiglione, a navigable river; and on the other it is encompassed with most pleasant risings, which look like a very great theatre…” [3]. In this sentence alone, Palladio highlights both the functional aspects – its proximity to the river, and its “easy access” – and its aesthetic qualities, describing it as “pleasant” and “delightful”, and as being like a “very great theatre”. He then goes on to explain that the villa, “…enjoys from every part most beautiful views” [4]. His emphasis on the beauty of the site implies that it was a major consideration in the placing of Villa Rotonda, and reflects the way in which he regards its relationship to nature.

    [1] Sobrino, Guillermo M. “The Villas of Palladio and the Transformation of the Site”. McGill University, 1993. 46.
    [2] Palladio, Andrea. The Four Books of Architecture. New York: Dover Publications, 1965. 47.
    [3] Ibid., 41.
    [4] Ibid.

    November 13, 2012 at 1:15 pm

  3. Esiolé

    After the fall in 1453 of Ottoman city Constantinople, last surviving part of the Eastern Roman Empire, many documents hitherto held in the Ottoman Empire were brought to Europe through Italy. The discovery of original manuscripts from Greek and Roman antiquity triggered a return to classical tradition extensively expressed in Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries. Conjugated to the invention of printing, which led to a wider diffusion of written work all over Europe, this resurgence of antiquity texts was notably extremely important for architects and architecture in general.

    Iconic in many ways, Palladio’s villas portray this desire to reconnect with the classical tradition in an innovative approach based on the relation of the villa to the city and, most importantly, to nature.

    Villa Pisani (Montagnana) is particularly fascinating to observe in relation to both the city and the country. This villa is peculiar in many ways. “The building constitutes a rare case in Palladio’s production, a villa on two floors: the upper floor for the seigniorial apartments; the lower for everyday life, where business is conducted and the tenant farmers received, and not only during the summer as numerous fireplaces attest.” [1] Regarding this odd organization of interior spaces, the private spaces of the Villa are separated from the public ones both by a change of level and different accesses. “The following building is at the gate of Montagnana, castle in the Padovano, it was built by the magnificent Signor Francesco Pisani, […] The above have wooden ceilings; the hall is as high as the roof. There are two streets down sides of the building where there are two doors, above which are passages which lead to kitchen and rooms for the servants.” [2] It is especially thought provoking to look at the Villa’s implantation in the city. Indeed, the front faces the urban spaces, while the back of the building establishes a dialogue with wide gardens and an agricultural landscape. This duality is extremely interesting when looking at Palladio’s work on other villas, such as the Rotonda, that also create a relationship with the city by being situated just on its outskirts. Villa Pisani is therefore extremely curious, since it fosters a new understanding of the villa as “country house”.

    By being inserted in the urban fabric, the villa states the status of the villa as connection of the urban life to a more rural lifestyle. Thus, the villa can be part of the city and remain in direct connection with nature, even though it is not implanted directly in the countryside. This remarkable approach reestablishes the legacy of the villa as new building type, constantly trying to bring rural life in the Renaissance everyday lifestyle. Hence, Palladio states that it is possible to escape the city not only literally, by having to live in the country, but also symbolically, by separating the living spaces from the “public” ground and by offering this visual connection to nature.

    [1] Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio. 2012. Palladio and the Veneto, in .
    [2] Andrea Palladio, The Four Books on Architecture, translated by Robert Tavernor and Richard Schofield (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002), Book II, p. 130.

    Other references
    [/] Wittkower, Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism (London: Tiranti) 1962:72.
    [/] Sally Gable and Carl I. Gable, Palladian Days: Finding a New Life in a Venetian Country House (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005).

    November 13, 2012 at 3:24 pm

  4. Amalin

    My first observation in I quattro libri dell’architettura, as it has been noted in Trebuh’s post, was the lack of context in Palladio’s drawings. This omission would suggest that he neglected the natural environment, choosing to deal with the villa as an object, unrelated to the context. However, in the Four Books, Palladio sheds light on his architectural intentions with regard to the landscape: “At Lonedo, a place in the Vincentino, is the following building belonging to Signor Girolamo de’ Godi, placed on a hill with a wonderful view and beside a river which serves as a fishpond. In order to make this site suitable for a farm, courtyards and roads have been built on vaults at no small expense. The building in the middle is for the master and his household to live in.” [1] In this passage, Palladio seems to be greatly concerned with the natural environment and he is certainly conscious of the watercourse, topography, and views of the Villa Godi. Further, “in reflecting on the ways in which villas respond to the landscape, one must remember to look not only at them, but out from them.” [2]

    Nevertheless, “Palladio’s description and design of the Villa Godi in the Four Books differ somewhat from what we see today. […] For example, the flanking pavilion and barchessa arrangement appear only to the left of the main residential block, the matching arrangement to the right in the woodcut apparently drawn in for the appearance of symmetry. But the design and description in the Four Books offer idealized images of the patrician landscape Palladio conceived and sought to achieve in the villa.” [3] One could argue that Palladio had two projects: the first being a theoretical proposal unencumbered by the site, conveying a direct execution of his ideas – and the second, an altered villa confronted with the setting. In that regard, I think it is important to note that Palladio consciously decided to omit the landscape as a way to clarify his proposals – celebrating the simplicity of the villa as a paradigm in his writings.

    1 Palladio, Andrea, The Four Books on Architecture, translated by Robert Tavernor and Richard Schofield; Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1997, 143

    2 Ackerman, James, The Villa as Paradigm, Perspecta, Vol. 22, Paradigms of Architecture (1986), 24

    3 Cosgrove, Denis E. The Palladian Landscape: Geographical Change and Its Cultural Representations in Sixteenth-Century Italy. University Park, Pa: Penn State University Press, 1993.

    November 13, 2012 at 9:52 pm

  5. VDSY

    The Villa Valmarana in Lisiera, also know as the Villa Scagnolari Zen, as been commissioned initially as a restoration of an existing building in a gothic style. In the case of this villa, the chosen site on the Valmarana’s country estate was predetermined, it may not be located next to a navigable river but it is close enough to a water source, following Palladio’s recommendations in his Quattro Libri : “ […] if one cannot have navigable rivers, one must try to build near other forms of running water […]”.[1] The water being essential for the life in the country.

    The realized villa does not correspond entirely to the illustrated drawings in Palladio’s treatise. Initially, two superimposed loggias topped with a pediment were planned to compose the main body of the facade, framed between two towers on the corners . Due to the death of the landlord in the middle of the construction, and other circumstances, the second loggia has never been built and a story similar to an attic replaced it, resulting in a building with a lower height and a less elegant facade. As Palladio explains it; “This building has two courtyards, one at the front for the owner’s use, and the other at the back where the grain is threshed; it includes the covered outbuildings [coperto] in which all the places useful for farm life are housed.”[2] Palladio’s villa are often seen as objects in the landscape, but the relation here with the main garden on the front of the house and the water source could be seen through the description of Pier Vittorio Aureli, where the main space of the loggia and the entrance acts as a frame for a specific point of view of the garden, and the villa, seen from the landscape, acts as an activator, a “theatrical frame”.

    Aureli also refers to the relation of Palladio’s villas in their landscape as a counterpart of the city: “[…] Palladio’s villas are not simply objects enclosed within a reconstructed context […], but are specific objects that frame and redefine the existing landscape as an economic, cultural, and political counter to the city“.[3] The landscape in the villa Scagnolari Zen, is redefined with the presence of the villa, its relation with the garden on the front, the forest, and on the rear, the court for the farming activities and the fields in the distance. This landscape can no longer be associated with the normal country, and the villas are as “splendid and convenient for the gentleman” [4], as those houses in the cities.

    1 Andrea Palladio, The four books on architecture (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002). Book II, p. 122.

    2 Ibid., Book II, p. 137.

    3 Pier Vittorio Aureli, The possibility of an absolute architecture (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2011). 64.

    4 Palladio, The four books on architecture: Book II, p. 121.

    November 13, 2012 at 10:33 pm

  6. reckon

    Andrea Palladio first encountered his mentor, Count Gian Giorgio Trissino, during the construction of Trissino’s villa at Cricoli. Trissino saw potential in Palladio as a young man and took on his training. It was him who then gave him the name “Palladio” and while many theories exist as to its origins, one suggestion is that he is “named after Palladius, the fourth-century writer on agrarian economy; certainly it was the rich farmland of the Veneto, especially around Vicenza, which provided Andrea’s numerous patrons with their wealth and him with the opportunities to design farm estates and the villas at their heart.” (ix) This foreshadows the future importance of the natural environment in Palladio’s architecture.
    Later on in his career, Francesco and Ludovico Trissino (relatives of Count Gian Giorgio Trissino) became important patrons to Palladio and for them he designed a villa at Meledo. Similar to Villa Rotonda that Labyrinth discussed, Villa Trissino is located “on a hill which is bathed by a pleasant little river,” wherein the top of the hill houses the main circular hall in monumental fashion (in fact, Palladio reused the main concepts of a cross-axis to articulate the surrounding landscape of villa Trissino in his design of villa Rotonda). “The hill gave Palladio the very opportunity he needed to design a true free-standing temple set within a larger complex of subordinate buildings,” [2] thus he created, in his terms, a country house as a “little city.” Contrarily to villa Rotonda, villa Trissino is bordered on one side by a “very busy road,” hence it is sited at the edge with a town to one side and agrarian nature to the other. Unfortunately, the project was never fully realized and the foundations along with a single barchessa are the only indications that it was ever begun. Nevertheless, the “fragments that are visible today are tantalizing allusions to the grandeur that might have been.” [3]
    As with many of his villas, Palladio enthusiastically describes the site in The Four Books on Architecture: “The site is stunning […] And because the face of the house has wonderful views, there are four Corinthian loggias, above the pediments of which looms the cupola of the hall.” [4] Palladio not only optimizes the siting of his villas for the views that can be seen from them, but for how they themselves will be seen by others from a distance; even “the loggias which follow a circumference make an immensely pleasing sight.” Villa Trissino is thus a grouping of elements that are interrelated architecturally, as well as carefully coordinated with the topography of the site and the agricultural setting in which it exists. “Palladio’s villas are not separated from the working countryside by elaborate gardens, statuary and ornamental waterworks. At most are provided a small garden surrounded by a low wall and a pathway or axial line of planting int the field sufficient to emphasize and dignify the main entrance.” [5] The “nature” in Palladio’s villas is the natural and existing one, not a recreated landscape menat to simulate the country in the city. “The full theatricality of the villas can only be appreciated in terms of their relations with the ‘theatre of nature’, the landscape in which they are set.” [6]

    [1] Palladio, Andrea. The Four Books on Architecture. Trans Robert Tavernor and Richard Schofield. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997. p.138.
    [2] Williams, Kim. The Villas of Palladio. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2003. p. 100.
    [3] Ibid. p.100.
    [4] Palladio. p.138.
    [5] Cosgrove, Denis E. The Palladian Landscape: Geographical Change and Its Cultural Representations in Sixteenth-Century Italy. Philadelphia: Penn State Press, 1993. p.102.
    [6] Ibid. p.102.

    November 14, 2012 at 12:07 am

  7. Trebuh et Amalin remarqué l’absence de contexte dans les dessins de Palladio . Dans le corps du texte cependant, le site, le programme et le client sont décrit très clairement. Il semblerait qu’il y ait plutôt complémentarité que redondance entre les médiums employés par Palladio. Comme Alberto l’avait soulevé pour le cas de la Basilica Palladiana, une différence notable existe entre le projet présenté dans les Quatre Livres de l’Architectvre et le projet réalisé.[1] Cette différence a priori contradictoire entre le projet théorique est pratique m’apparaît simplement comme issue d’une intention distincte entre le traité et le l’œuvre.

    Pour Daniel Barbaro Patriache d’Aquilée, Palladio crée une villa en bande, qui négocie une fine relation entre les champs et le monticule dans lequel elle vient creuser. La partie centrale de la façade « s’avance un peu en dehors, [et] a deux étages de chambres. »[2] À l’arrière, une petite cour situé un étage plus haut que le sol est crée sur trois flans par la villa et le dernier est creusé dans le roc. Une fontaine y est présente et coule jusqu’aux cuisines, arrose le verger et sert d’abreuvoir aux écuries. La sensibilité du projet aux contraintes du site et à sa topographie indique le sens aigu de Palladio pour le contexte, bien qu’il les représentent sans.

    – – –

    [1] http://www.msa.mmu.ac.uk/continuity/index.php/2008/11/30/five-hundred-years-of-andrea-palladio/

    [2] Palladio, Les Quatres Livres de l’Architecture, p.120.

    November 14, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    • Basically what Amalin said. 🙂

      November 16, 2012 at 10:11 am

  8. UVN

    Palladio’s Villa Cornaro is an interesting one to examine both for its character as palace-villa, thus juxtaposing the urban to the rural, as well as for the variations in his design of the loggia. He designed two loggias, one on the façade facing the town, and the other facing the garden to the south – and both of these are treated differently as a response to their respective surroundings: “a projecting two-story loggia surmounted by a classical pediment marks the major entry, while that facing the garden is recessed.” [1] While both of these two-story galleries offer a roofed exterior space open to the air and beautiful views, I would argue that the one facing the urban landscape stands as an imposing symbol of the villa, pompously projecting outwards and demanding to be seen by the rest of the world, whereas the one in the back is recessed, quiet and relaxed, and is meant as a vantage point looking out to the world. The latter is a more appropriate demonstration of the rural movement encouraged by Palladio in the sixteenth century. Being inset in the building, it offered protection from southern exposure. Moreover, the building’s central hall, sandwiched between the two loggias “in the moft inward part of the houfe, that it may be far from the heat and cold” [2], even mainly “[reinforces] the axial connection to the garden”[3], thus emphasizing the importance of the garden over the connection with the town. How the environment is addressed in the design of the Villa Cornaro is therefore representative of Palladio’s 16th century tendency to shift the attention to an architecturally rural ideology, further emphasizing the building’s connection with nature: “The Villa Cornaro engages the context of the town with tremendous power, and simultaneously gathers the garden and park beyond into its domain.”[4]

    [1] Constant, Caroline. The Palladio guide / Caroline Constant. Princeton, NJ : Princeton Architectural Press, c1985. p.63

    [2] Palladio, Andrea. 1508-1580. The four books of architecture / Andrea Palladio ; with a new introd. by Adolf K. Placzek. New York : Dover, 1965, p.50

    [3] Constant, Caroline. The Palladio guide / Caroline Constant. Princeton, NJ : Princeton
    Architectural Press, c1985. p.64


    November 14, 2012 at 1:32 pm

  9. For Trebuh, the Villa Emo is significant in terms of how it frames views and accentuates the horizon. Are any views in particular being framed? How would placing the building at 90° to its current location not accentuate the horizon too? Labyrinth sees the Villa Rotunda as playing a part in the beauty of the site. For the villas to “see and be seen” suggests the importance placed on theatricality. Esiolé analyzes how the move from city to country is symbolically recreated within the Villa Pisani itself. For Amalin there are two Villa Godis, the ideal one and the one embedded within nature. Hills with views certainly seem to be a recurrent theme for Palladio. VDSY recognizes that the idea of nature in the Villa Valmarana no longer stands for a found landscape but for a highly articulated set of gardens.

    November 14, 2012 at 2:48 pm