Palladio

Andrea di Pietro della Gondola’s path to greatness really began during his time working for Gian Giorgio Trissino, a leading writer of the day. Trissino became his mentor and introduced him to the principles of classical architecture. He even bestowed upon him a nickname that would become famous the world over – ‘Palladio’ after Pallas Athene, the Greek goddess of wisdom.

I recently wrote about 2009 being the 150th anniversary of the Great Westminster Clock. ‘Big Ben’, as regular readers may recall, first chimed in 1859. Had I been more attentive to dates, I would have noticed at the time that 2008 in fact marked the 500th anniversary of the birth of Palladio, one of architecture’s most influential characters.

Palladio was born in 1508 in Padua, then within the Republic of Venice. Although he only built in that part of Italy, his influence stretched much further afield. His first book was in fact a guide to the classical ruins of Rome but his masterwork, I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura (The Four Books of Architecture), was published in 1570 and set out strict rules for other architects and builders to follow.

A typical Palladian building is characterised by a variety of classical elements; particularly Roman detailing – Palladio actually knew little about ancient Greece. Although his buildings were grand, they did not depend on expensive materials with many being brick covered with stucco, much like our local classically-inspired compositions such as Lewes Crescent and Sussex Square.

The first Palladian building in England was the Queen’s House in Greenwich which was built by Inigo Jones in 1614-17. The style didn’t really take off until the 18th century though and that’s when Marlborough House and Patcham Place were remodelled and Stanmer House built locally. Each was hugely influenced by Palladio’s design for agricultural villas. Their huge pediments couldn’t be more prominent.

It was Robert Adam who transformed Marlborough House from a very different red-brick structure into the wide symmetrical structure that it is today. He was also responsible for two famous examples of English Palladianism – Syon House and Osterley Park, both in Middlesex. As is the case with any good style of architecture, poor imitations exist though. I wonder what Palladio would say about the naff mock-Palladian buildings of Chalfont Drive in Hove.

I may have forgotten Palladio’s 500th birthday but anybody who remembers mine may wish to add I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura to my list.