Exhibit of the week: Palladio and His Legacy: A Transatlantic Journey
Andrea di Pietro della Gondola—better known as Palladio, or “Wise One”—created a style of classical architecture that reached near-perfection around the time of the American Revolution. It remains hugely influential today.
Morgan LibraryNew York, through Aug. 1
Few architects “have styles or movements named after them,” said Hugh Pearman in The Wall Street Journal. Yet half a millennium ago, an Italian stonemason named Andrea di Pietro della Gondola—but better known as Palladio, or “Wise One”—created a style of classical architecture that remains hugely influential today. The villas he designed for wealthy landowners featured elements adopted from Greek and Roman models, including intricate symmetries, domed halls, and porticoes with fluted columns. His influential treatise, The Four Books of Architecture, popularized the style. “Palladianism reached near-perfection around the time of the American Revolution,” which explains why most of the nation’s major public buildings—including the Capitol and the White House—are Palladian through and through.
“There are lots of gorgeous drawings” in the Morgan Library’s new exhibition dedicated to the architect and his imitators, said Nicolai Ouroussoff in The New York Times. In Palladio’s “exacting studies of Roman antiquity,” we see him internalizing ideas he’ll later re-create in stone. Yet in his own buildings, Palladio was practical enough to leave theory behind when circumstances required. “His greatest gift may have been his balance of a mastery of classical traditions with an almost casual ability to reinterpret them when it suited his own needs.” This exhibit provides a thorough introduction to the architect’s most famous structures, through exacting models and drawings from his own hand. “But despite its title, the show never conveys the sweep of Palladio’s influence,” which hasn’t always been benign. These days “an endless number of vulgar knockoffs,” from high-end shopping malls to ostentatious homes, use Palladian effects to create an illusion of sophistication.
True, he may be “the patron saint of every McMansion that has ever cluttered the American landscape,” said Paul Goldberger in The New Yorker. But “Palladio isn’t to blame” if later architects imitate him badly. In fact, the villas he built for clients very rarely included design elements simply for visual effect. “His porticoes were there at least as much to keep the owner dry as he went in and out as they were to add majesty to the facade.” Since most of these homes were on working farms, he also thought deeply about where to place stables, haylofts, and wine cellars. “At one time, a visit to the Palladian villas was considered an essential part of an architectural education.” If you can’t make it to Italy, this exhibition is the next best thing.