The First Starchitect

Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) launched himself into history by designing for the landed gentry of the Veneto region near Venice. He reworked the architectural grammar of ancient Rome to suit their needs, and via his Four Books of Architecture showed the world how to do it.

Palladio had already reworked his own name. He was born in Padua as Andrea di Pietro dalla Gondola, a miller's son, and apprenticed as a stone mason. Count Giangiorgio Trissino, his patron in nearby Vicenza, minted the new name, showed him the writings of Roman architect Vitruvius, then took him to Rome, where the budding designer studied the classical landmarks. Palladio lived mainly in Vicenza, in or near which stand most of his nearly 70 country villas, urban palaces and civic structures, and churches.

In 1570, he published his Four Books, a compendium of designs and their Roman inspirations. English versions of the books proved popular in Britain, which caught Palladian fever and spread it to America.

Palladio's finest works, all found in Italy, include: Villa Cornaro, a village mansion with two-tiered porticoes front and rear; Villa Rotonda, his most known and copied building, with four matching porticoed facades; Villa Barbaro, a temple-front pavilion with arcaded wings and Veronese frescoes; Villa Malcontenta, a riverside residence with striking staircases rising to a grand portico; Vicenza Basilica, medieval structures slip-covered with elegant stone arcades; Palazzo Chiericati, an opulent urban palace, now an art museum; Teatro Olimpico, a Roman-style amphitheater reborn as an interior space; and San Giorgio Maggiore, a majestic church rising across the water from the Doge's Palace in Venice.

The Palladio quincentenary is being marked in Europe and the United States with shows, tours, and symposiums. You can learn more at cisapalladio.org and yearofpalladio.classicist.org.

For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.