Palazzo Thiene is the fifth city residence to be featured in Book II of Andrea Palladio’s Four Books on Architecture. In 1542, brothers Marc’Antonio and Adriano Thiene hired prominent Renaissance architect Giulio Romano to begin an extensive remodel and expansion of the family’s earlier, 15th century palazzo. Palladio came on to the scene at some point – it is not clear exactly when or in what capacity – making revisions to the design, and eventually taking over the project following Romano’s death in 1546.
Even though family dynamics amongst the Thiene clan led to the venture’s premature end, Palladio writes of the design in Book II as if it had fully materialized, and interestingly, with no mention of Giulio Romano.
The house is situated near the square in the center of the city, and so I thought it a good idea to put some shops in the part facing that square because the architect must also take into account what is useful for the patron, which he can do comfortably when the site is large enough. Each shop has a mezzanine above it for the use of the shopkeepers and above are the rooms for the master. This house forms a block, that is, it is surrounded by four streets. The main entrance, or as we may call it the master gate, has a loggia in front and is on the busiest street of the city.
(In his wildest dreams, could he have imagined that the busiest street in Vicenza would one day be named after him – the Corso Andrea Palladio?!)
He follows with the only sentence written in the future tense – his single hint that the building was not finished:
The great hall will be above and will project flush with the loggia.
The area of Palladio’s plan outlined in red indicates the only portion of his design that was actually built. The area in blue represents what exists of the original Thiene family palazzo from 1490. This is one time I am not too disappointed that Palladio’s design was only partially realized. What remains is the best of both worlds: a sampling of the Classical design both Palladio and Romano had envisioned on one side of the block, and the Gothic façade of the original building on the
other – an architectural mullet, if you will, but I digress.
The lower story is credited to Romano, while the upper story is considered the signature work of Palladio.
Although the loggia openings are now filled with glass and some ornamentation is omitted, the completed section of the courtyard is largely as Palladio intended.
However, the original 15th century palazzo and its 16th century addition clash at the other end.
Palladio’s section of the palazzo was eventually purchased by the Banca Popolare di Vicenza in 1872, where it continues to serve as the bank’s headquarters and a venue for art exhibitions. The original palazzo also houses banking operations. The rest of the block does indeed consist of shops with living quarters above, as Palladio had envisioned for his patrons, but their architecture is not of his doing.
If anyone were to wonder what a more complete design of Palazzo Thiene would have looked like, a mere 1,600 miles to the northeast is a striking replica: the Tarasov House in Moscow, Russia.
Even so, the great hall projecting flush with the loggia remains in the future tense.