Andrea Palladio's Architecture from the 1500s

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Villa Almerico-Capra (The Rotonda)

Palladio Picture Gallery: Villa Capra (Villa Almerico-Capra), also known as Villa La Rotonda, by Andrea Palladio.
Palladio Picture Gallery: Villa Capra (Villa Almerico-Capra), also known as Villa La Rotonda, by Andrea Palladio. Photo by ALESSANDRO VANNINI / Corbis Historical / Getty Images (cropped)

Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio lived 500 years ago, yet his works continue to inspire the way we build today. Borrowing ideas from the Classical architecture of Greece and Rome, Palladio developed an approach to design that was both beautiful and practical. The buildings shown here are considered among Palladio's greatest masterpieces.

About Villa Almerico-Capra, or Villa Capra:

Also known as: The Rotonda
Location: near Vicenza, Italy, west of Venice
Architect: Andrea Palladio  (1508-1580)
Time Period: Begun c. 1550 and completed c. 1590 after Palladio's death by Vincenzo Scamozzi
Architectural Style: Late Renaissance, now known as Palladian Architecture

Palladio's design for Villa Almerico-Capra expressed the humanist values of the Renaissance period. It is one of more than twenty villas that Palladio designed on the Venetian mainland. Palladio's design echoes the Roman Pantheon.

Villa Almerico-Capra is symmetrical with a temple porch in front and a domed interior. It is designed with four facades, so the visitor will always face the front of the structure. The name Rotunda refers to the villa's circle within a square design.

American statesman and architect Thomas Jefferson drew inspiration from Villa Almerico-Capra when he designed his own home in Virginia, Monticello.

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San Giorgio Maggiore

San Giorgio Maggiore by Andrea Palladio, Venice, Italy
Palladio Picture Gallery: San Giorgio Maggiore San Giorgio Maggiore by Andrea Palladio, 16th Century, Venice, Italy. Photo by Funkystock/age fotostock Collection/Getty Images

Andrea Palladio modeled the façade of San Giorgio Maggiore after a Greek temple. This is the essence of Renaissance architecture, begun in 1566 but completed by Vincenzo Scamozzi in 1610 after Palladio's death.

San Giorgio Maggiore is a Christian basilica, but from the front it looks like a temple from Classical Greece. Four massive columns on pedestals support a high pediment. Behind the columns is yet another version of the temple motif. Flat pilasters support a wide pediment. The taller "temple" appears to be layered on top of the shorter temple.

The two versions of the temple motif are brilliantly white, virtually hiding the brick church building behind. San Giorgio Maggiore was built in Venice, Italy on the Island of San Giorgio.

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Basilica Palladiana

Basilica by Palladio in Vicenza, Italy
Palladio Picture Gallery: Basilica Palladiana Basilica by Palladio in Vicenza, Italy. Photo © Luke Daniek/iStockPhoto.com

Andrea Palladio gave the Basilica in Vicenza two styles of classical columns: Doric on the lower portion and Ionic on the upper portion.

Originally, the Basilica was a 15th century Gothic building that served as the town hall for Vicenza in northeast Italy. It is in the famous Piazza dei Signori and at one time contained shops on the lower floors. When the old building collapsed, Andrea Palladio won the commission to design a reconstruction. The transformation was begun in 1549 but completed in 1617 after Palladio's death.

Palladio created a stunning transformation, covering the old Gothic facade with marble columns and porticos modeled after the Classical architecture of ancient Rome. The enormous project consumed much of Palladio's life, and the Basilica was not finished until thirty years after the architect's death.

Centuries later, the rows of open arches on Palladio's Basilica inspired what came to be known as the Palladian window.

"This classicizing tendency reached its climax in the work of Palladio....It was this bay design which gave rise to the term 'Palladian arch' or 'Palladian motif,' and has been used ever since for an arched opening supported on columns and flanked by two narrow square-headed openings of the same height as the columns....All of his work was characterized by the use of the orders and similar ancient Roman details expressed with considerable power, severity, and restraint."—Professor Talbot Hamlin, FAIA

The building today, with its famous arches, is known as the Basilica Palladiana.

Source: Architecture through the Ages by Talbot Hamlin, Putnam, Revised 1953, p. 353