Palladio's buildings, chiefly town palaces and villas, were executed mostly in Vicenza and its vicinity. Usually they were made of humble materials that contrasted with their formal classicism. Palladio's first important work (begun 1549) was to rebuild the medieval town hall, the basilica at Vicenza. He designed arches supported on minor columns and framed between larger engaged columns. Each of these arch-and-column compositions formed what is termed a
Palladian motif and was much imitated. The characteristic facade of many of Palladio's country houses displayed the classic temple front—superimposed pilasters or columns or often a colossal order two stories in height and supported by a rusticated ground story. Generally in his buildings he systematized the ground plan, designing a central hall around which other rooms were grouped in absolute symmetry.
Among his best-known houses (built in the 1550s and 1560s) are the Villa Rotonda (overlooking Vicenza), the Chiericati Palace and the Valmarana Palace (both: Vicenza), and the Villa Barbaro (Maser). At Venice he adapted the classical motif to three church facades, in his designs for San Francesco della Vigna, San Giorgio Maggiore, and Il Redentore. Just before his death Palladio planned the Teatro Olimpico, in which he incorporated a permanent scenic background, built in architectural perspective.
Reviving and redesigning the ancient Roman villa for a new humanist age, Palladio set the vocabulary of architectural pattern, proportion, and ornament for much of Western domestic architecture for centuries to come. His books and buildings exerted an unparalleled influence on European and American architecture. In the 17th cent., Inigo Jones imported Palladio's classic grandeur of design into England and profoundly influenced the course of English architecture. Subsequently, William Kent, Colin Campbell, Sir Christopher Wren, Sir William Chambers, and others created a great body of works termed Palladian. In the United States his influence can be seen in the manor houses of southern plantations, e.g., Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.
See R. Wittkower, Palladio and Palladianism (1974); J. S. Ackerman, Palladio (2d ed. 1977); W. Rybczynski, The Perfect House (2002); G. Giaconi and K. Williams, The Villas of Palladio (2003); L. Capellini, The Hand of Palladio (2009).
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