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    Palladio's Four Books on Architecture


    I Quattro Libri was a product of the Italian Renaissance, which flourished initially in 15th-century Florence, and matured in late 15th- and early 16th-century Rome, before slowly spreading to the other major city-states of Italy. Renaissance architecture was a reinterpretation of the classical tradition of architecture and relied on the built and literary remains of the ancient Roman civilization for its example.

    To illustrate his text, Palladio made spectacular drawings of pagan temples and shrines, basilicas, and the vast Roman baths and arenas, reconstructing the ruins as entire buildings, as he imagined they had been designed. The drawings were turned into woodcuts for publication in I Quattro Libri and presented the ancient monuments, not as damaged or imperfect relics of the past, but as potent symbols of civilized virtue, perfect and complete.

    The four books include his examples of built and projected designs for country houses and farm estates (ville); for small, medium, and large townhouses (palazzi) in Vicenza; and in Venice designs for a monastery (or convento), and (without being explicit in the text) for a bridge across the Grand Canal accommodating shops and lined with colonnades for the comfort of those it conveyed.

    Book I outlines the preparations necessary before building can commence and those relating to foundations and materials; Palladio then proceeds to a description of the orders of architecture: from Tuscan and Doric through to Ionic, Corinthian, and Composite. Palladio concludes this book with an account of the main parts of a building.

    Book II characterizes the ancient Greek and Roman private house, and Palladio illustrates through his own designs for palazzi and villas how he reinterpreted these for his patrons.

    Book III is concerned with public works-public spaces, roads, bridges, and basilicas-and is again a balance of ancient example and Palladio's own project work.

    Book IV describes the forms of ancient Roman temples, though it also includes one exemplary modern building by the architect to Pope Julius II, Donato Bramante.

    Ultimately, Palladio may have intended there to be six more books, so as to describe every ancient building type—theaters, amphitheaters, triumphal arches, baths, tombs, and bridges. Palladio certainly made provision for related books—a large number of good-quality measured drawings by him can be found in the Drawings Collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), London.

    The popularity of Palladio's I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura continues undiminished to the present day. Its optimistic and timeless message about the potential unity of society and architecture transcends style and national boundary. It provides intellectual and visual enjoyment for its reader, and—more profoundly—a reminder of the power and authority of architecture of quality.

    Robert Tavernor is an architect and a professor of architecture at the University of Bath in England. He is the author of "Palladio and Palladianism" (London: Thames and Hudson, 1991) and of the commentary for the Octavo edition of I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura, from which this article was excerpted.

    Octavo's Palladio CD-ROM also includes high-resolution images of the original edition, as well as a searchable, printable, cross-linked translation of the entire text of the book, by Robert Tavernor and Richard Schofield, licensed from MIT Press.



    ArchWeek Photo

    Staircases from Book One.
    Photo: Octavo

    ArchWeek Photo

    The Villa Foscari and the Villa Barbaro from Palladio's Book Two.
    Photo: Octavo

    ArchWeek Photo

    The Basilica in Vicenza from Book Three.
    Photo: Octavo

    ArchWeek Photo

    The Temple of Concord from Book Four.
    Photo: Octavo

    ArchWeek Photo

    The Temple of Mars from Book Four.
    Photo: Octavo

    ArchWeek Photo

    The Temple of Vesta from Book Four.
    Photo: Octavo

    ArchWeek Photo

    The Bramante Tempietto, Temple of Jupiter from Book Four.
    Photo: Octavo

    ArchWeek Photo

    A Temple at Nimes, Maison Carree, from Book Four.
    Photo: Octavo


    Click on thumbnail images
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