Palladio, the greatest architect of sixteenth century Northern Italy, was probably born in Padua in1508. At birth his name was Andrea di Pietro; he didnot take the classical name Palladio until he was middleaged. Around the age of 13 he worked as an apprenticeto a local stone mason, but he apparently did not stay in this workshop long. By 1524, records show that he hadenrolled in the stonemasons’ guild in nearby Vicenza, where he joined a local workshop. Eventually, his talents came to the attention of the local aristocrat, Gian Giorgio Trissino.
Trissino was a humanist scholar and he soon became the young stonemason’s patron. Under Trissino’s influence, the future architect acquired some knowledge of Latin and studied Vitruvius’ ancient treatiseon architecture. At Trissino’s urging, Andrea di Pietro changed his name to the Latin, Palladio, and with the elder aristocrat’s support the designer made several study trips to Rome during the 1540s. On one of these journeys he met Michelangelo, and during all his stays in Rome he spent a great deal of time in the ancient center of the city, studying and drawing the monuments of the ancient Roman Empire.
Around 1540, Palladio had already begun to design buildings in and around Vicenza. His earliest commissions were for domestic palaces in the city and country villas. These works do not yet show a secure understanding of ancient Roman architecture. During the course of the 1540s, though, his mastery of classicism grew more assured. The most important commission Palladio received at this early stage in his career as an architect was for the reconstruction of Vicenza’s Basilica. This complex, a series of local government offices,had been joined together in the later Middle Ages with a series of Gothic arcades.
In 1496, one of the sestructures had collapsed, and during the following decades the government at Vicenza searched for an architect who might rebuild the structures on a more secure footing. Palladio won the commission, and there sulting building he created established his reputationas an architect of merit. Palladio continued in the 1550sto design domestic palaces, government buildings, and country villas in and around Vicenza. In his country villas especially, Palladio’s works display his certain mastery over classical building styles and his ability to adapt those elements to contemporary situations. His structures were notable as well for the great harmony they achieved between interior spaces and the surrounding exterior gardens.
Before his death in 1580, the architect had populated the region around Vicenza and the Veneto (Venice’s mainland possessions) with a number of graceful and harmonious structures. Palladio’s classicism wasres trained and, in contrast to the great Venetian architect Sansovino, he used relatively little ornament. Porticos that made use of the region’s gentle climate were one common feature, as was the so-called Palladian window,a structure in which side columns supported a hemispherical shaped arch. In later years Palladio used his relativelysevere but graceful style in two churches he designedin the city of Venice.
Trissino had introduced Palladio to circlesof humanists in Northern Italy, and Palladio nourished his scholarly interests even as he was busy designing his many domestic and public projects. His career testifies to the rising status that was accorded Italian architectsin the sixteenth century. When his friend Trissino died in 1550, Palladio began to develop his own contacts among Northern Italian humanists. One of the most avid friendships of his later life grew to become afruitful collaboration. In the years following Trissino’sdeath, the humanist Daniele Barbaro influenced Palladio,and the two cooperated to produce an Italian translationof Vitruvius’ ancient architectural work. Palladio wrote a commentary for this new edition and prepared a number of illustrations of the works that Vitruvius haddiscussed in his text. Both the illustrations and the translation were of undeniable importance in spreading knowledge of Vitruvius’ architectural ideas. Few architects at the time had the advantage of Palladio’s Latin education, and thus the edition became an indispensable tool for those hoping to design classically styled buildings.
In his later years, the friendship with Barbaro, amember of a distinguished Venetian family, also helped to gain Palladio several commissions in the city of Venice. At this time Palladio also published his own work on theoretical treatise, the Four Books on Architecture. Palladio’s work was just one of many produced bysixteenth-century designers. Its author had written sections of the work over a long period of time, and thenin 1570 he rushed to get the book into print. As a result, the work contained numerous internal contradictions,and its illustrations sometimes defy the canons that the author sets out in the text. Later the artist’s most accomplished student, Vincenzo Scamozzi, expanded the work and clarified its arguments.
But even in its imperfectstate, Palladio’s text influenced architects throughout Europe, and somewhat later in America. In England,the famous designers Inigo Jones and Christopher Wrenwere disciples of Palladio’s elegant style of building. Their influence, in turn, spread knowledge of his systems of design everywhere where English was spoken. Elsewhere in Europe, interest in Palladio’s architectural treatises and in his villa projects gave rise in the seventeent hand eighteenth centuries to structures that continueto show his influence. It is for this reason that some scholars have argued that Palladio was the single most important architect in spreading the ideas of Renaissance classicism to the rest of Europe.