Palladian Architecture: Classical and non-Classical Features

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the various elements of Palladian architecture and discover how Classical and non-Classical features interplay in these buildings. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Andrea Palladio

As an architect, I can't imagine a much better compliment that having an entire style of architecture named after you. Andrea Palladio was just that influential. A 16th-century Venetian architect, Palladio devoted himself to creating architectural masterpieces that reflected the order, harmony, and reason of Classical architecture: the architectural styles of Ancient Greece and Rome.

Palladio spent years researching the texts and designs of ancient architects, notably the Roman Vitruvius, and was part of a larger movement in the Italian Renaissance committed to classical forms. However, Palladio's style of classical traditions with the introduction of new Renaissance elements was called Palladian architecture, and it has influenced Western nations from France to England to the United States. Palladian architecture was especially popular in the former British colonies, influencing nearly every one of our own national government buildings and national monuments in the US.

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  • 0:08 Andrea Palladio
  • 1:09 Classical Elements
  • 2:45 Non-Classical Features
  • 4:52 Lesson Summary
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Classical Elements of Palladian Architecture

The basis of Palladian architecture was the use of Classical elements from ancient Roman and Greek architecture, notably a use of balanced, rational, and geometric forms.

A great place to see how Palladio used these themes is in the Villa Rotonda, a large home near Vicenza, Italy. The Villa Rotonda is built as a perfect square, with four identical entryways. The entryways are modeled after a Roman temple, with Ionic columns. Directly over the center of the building is a dome, modeled on the Roman temple called the Pantheon. The entire structure is mathematically perfect, with each part reflecting geometric ratios between other parts, exactly as the Romans would have done. This villa breathes a sense of order, reason, and balance.

Another prominent work of Palladio was San Giorgio Maggiore, a Catholic cathedral in Venice. The interior of San Giorgio is carefully and clearly organized to reflect the most rational and mathematical use of space. Clearly Classical features, such as columns and arches, are highlighted by the immense amount of natural light that reflects off the marble-white surfaces. The interior of San Giorgio is calm, harmonious, and contemplative, creating a meditative place of worship.

These sorts of elements define the classical aspects of Palladian architecture: a rational, mathematic use of classical elements and calm organization of space.

Non-Classical Features

For as much as Palladian architecture reflects Classical themes, Palladio was not an ancient Roman, nor did he want to be. Palladio was living and working in the 16th century and he designed his buildings to reflect the needs and tastes of people at that time.

For example, the Villa Rotonda uses aspects of Roman temples, but its overall form is in no way Roman. It is not a temple, but a large house for a rich Italian to throw parties. The four entrances each face towards a different direction, giving party guests a panoramic view of the beautiful Italian landscape. The functional purpose of the building is what directed its layout. Yes, it is mathematically and rationally designed, but it breaks from Classical traditions in the use of four entryways rather than one, the interior layout focused on creating a good space for parties rather than living or business, and the use of temple designs for a private residence.

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