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Italianate Architecture: Definition & History

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Can a country house influence urban architecture? How do styles become popular? In this lesson, explore Italianate architecture and learn about its history.

What Is Italianate Architecture?

Have you ever driven along a rural country road, only to see a large brick farmhouse with decorative porch and roof line embellished with carved wood details? It might have been an example of a Victorian-era architectural style known as Italianate.

Example of Italianate architecture used on a house in Upstate New York
Italianate architecture

Italianate architecture developed in England as a reaction to the then-dominant Neoclassical style. Italianate architecture came from a specific influence, the rambling asymmetrical brick medieval farmhouses found in northern Italy's countryside. This style appealed to people who were looking for a more romantic and less formal architectural style than that reflected in the clean, cold, and symmetrical lines of classicism.

History of Italianate Architecture

Italianate architecture developed in the early 19th century in England as an outgrowth of the picturesque movement, an art and philosophy movement that began to give consideration to buildings and their surrounding landscapes.

By the 1830s, the style spread to the United States, where it continued to evolve, getting farther and farther away from its Italian origins. The popularity of Italianate architecture was aided by landscape gardener and writer Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852), who had grown up in the rolling hills of New York's lush Hudson River Valley. Downing published two pattern books about Italianate and related styles that spread the idea across the country. Pattern books included architectural plans, drawings, and examples that craftsmen and builders could use to replicate popular styles.

Page from a pattern book by Andrew Jackson Downing, 1842
Page from a pattern book by Downing

By the 1860s, Italianate was the most popular style in America. It was used on many urban and rural structures built immediately after the Civil War. That's why you can drive through the countryside in states such as New York and Pennsylvania and see Italianate farmhouses, and then head into cities and see the same style used for residential and commercial buildings. Italianate began to decline in the eastern half of the United States in the 1870s. But it remained standard in the West, especially in growing cities such as San Francisco.

Row of Italianate homes in San Francisco
row of Italianate homes in San Francisco

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