The Four Books on Architecture: Book II

I have come to the end of Book II of Andrea Palladio’s Four Books on Architecture: 27 chapters containing 60 woodcuts of his palazzo, villa, and conceptual designs.  I understand his relief when he begins the last paragraph of Book II by saying,

With this project we may bring to a close, praise the Lord, these two books…

(Palladio explained in his “Foreword to the Readers” that these first two books would comprise his discussion of private houses before moving on to public buildings in Books III and IV).

He continues:

… in which I have used my ingenuity to gather together and convey with the greatest possible brevity and simplicity through words and illustrations all the things that seem to me to be crucially important for building well, and especially for erecting private houses that are inherently beautiful and are both useful and a credit to the patrons.

After a 450-year test, let’s see if Palladio has achieved his objective.

  • Inherently beautiful – his designs have been emulated for centuries, sparking the Palladianism movement that spread throughout England, the United States, even to places as far-flung as the Phillipines, and continues to be replicated today.
  • Useful – most of his buildings are still in use today as financial institutions, event spaces, museums, apartment rentals, private homes, or government offices
  • A credit to his patrons – 47 of Palladio’s buildings are included in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage List, still known by the names of their original owners.

I would say Palladio far exceeded these expectations he set for himself, leaving a credit to his city, as well.

The ‘City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto’ is a serial site including the city of Vicenza and twenty-four Palladian villas scattered in the Veneto area. Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1994, the site initially comprised only the city of Vicenza with its twenty-three buildings attributed to Palladio, as well as three villas extra muros. Twenty-one villas located in several provinces were later included in the 1996 site extension.

Vicenza is widely, and with justification, known as la città di Palladio. However, he was the central figure in an urban fabric that stretches back to antiquity and forward to Neoclassicism. As such, Vicenza has acquired a world status that has long been recognized and reflected in the literature of architectural and art history.

~ UNESCO World Heritage Convention, “City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto”

While the World Heritage List is full of architectural sites, none is named for a specific individual architect other than Palladio.  As long as these structures remain on the list, the World Heritage designation will protect his works indefinitely via international treaty.

Only thirty buildings are actually included in Book II, which Palladio spent at least twenty years writing and illustrating.  Many were not finished as he had shown, some he chose not to include in his book, and significant works, such as Teatro Olimpico and the Basilica of Vicenza (Basilica Palladiana), were designed after its publication.  Palladio’s legacy is a testament of what can be accomplished through committed, diligent work, to say the least.

To leave just one inherently beautiful and useful building that was a credit to my patron, and my city, would be the ultimate life accomplishment for me.

But I do like to exceed my expectations.