Was Palladio a Palladian? The “Palladian style” was celebrated throughout the Western world, yet the Master’s own works fit few of the formulas…
It is an odd thesis to assert that Andrea Palladio is unknown. If any architect has achieved universal fame and exerted world wide influence, it is this man, vaunted by Vasari, and who has been variously acclaimed as the raphael, Titian and Newton of his profession. If “Palladian” became in the eighteenth-century the byword for so much architecture, it was because so much architecture was “Palladian.” The Palladian facade spread across the Western world with a virulence of which only the post WWII proliferation of the iron curtain-wall can give any idea that approximates its spread. Palladianism overran Europe and America with the wildfire fury and unpredictable recurrences of an epidemic.
The tell-tale symptoms, especially the classical portico and pediment, appear not only in he region of Vicenza, Italy, where Palladio himself worked, but in such far places as Poland, Norway, Hungary,and Czarist Russia. Cases of Palladianism may be found even in France, as immunized against foreign intrusions as that country was by the strength of its native architectural traditions. The most conservative statistics would show Hogarth’s complaint to be in no way exaggerated: “Were a modern architect to buld a palace in Lapland, or the West-Indies, Palladio would be his guide, nor would he dare to stir a step without his book.”
The most fertile terrain for the disease, however, was provided by England. “This you must leave to the English,” noted Goethe; “they have long known how to appreciate what is good and they have a grandiose way of spreading it.” With the Queen’s house at Greenwich and the Banqueting House in Whitehall, Inigo Jones proved himself Palladio’s first non-Italian disciple, and his greatest. A century later, that great patron of the arts, the third Earl of Burlington, catalyzed a new Palladio vogue; Alexander Pope, in his greatest epistle to the noble dilettante, admonished rightly but, as usual, vainly:
You show us, Rome was glorious, not profuse,
And pompous buildings once were things of use.
Yet shall (my Lord) your just, your noble rules
Fill half the land with imitating fools; …
…Or call the winds through long arcades to roar,
Proud to catch cold at a Venetian door;
Conscious they act a true Palladian part,
And, if they starve, they starve by rules of art.