European Renaissance – Palladio and the Ideal Villa





European Renaissance – Palladio and the Ideal Villa


European renaissance is one of the most significant periods in the history of modernization due to its contribution to knowledge. This was the result of devoted artists, who sought to extend their knowledge and uplift the lives of people. One of the notable areas that still shapes contemporary world is architecture. Today, despite new architectural styles, renaissance ideas are still present and considered elegant. One of the most defining architectural styles from the renaissance period that continues to influence contemporary construction is Palladian Villas. In Los Angeles, it is not surprising to come across villas that have the same characteristics as those of renaissance period. One of them is Villa Getty that acts as a museum for arts. Another one is Wehba mansion that is in Beverly Hills, which is for residential purposes. Some of the most notable features of a villa include loggias, pediments and the Palladian windows and arches. Although there are differences in the shapes and design, the concepts remain almost the same especially symmetrical balance that Palladio always used.

History and Time Period of Palladian Architecture

Renaissance in the European region has been a defining moment in the history of modernity. This period brought forward a lot of knowledge that has fathered many developments since then. Additionally, it brought out many artists in many fields that continue to influence our society today. One of these artists is Andrea Palladio, who is perhaps considered one of the most influential and famous architects of this period. Today, his work continues to influence many architects around the world, including America, where his work has been reinterpreted in several ways (Ching, Jarzombek and Prakash 46).

Palladio was born in the year 1508 in Padua Italy. At the age of 13, he was an apprentice to a stonemason and grew up to be one of the most sought person by aristocrats, political and business leaders of the time. He was not only a dominant figure during his period, but also more than four centuries later. He is credited with the Palladian Architectural style that many reinterpret today. He was able to influence so many by focusing on past literature on education and contemporary needs of his time.

Contemporary Needs of Renaissance

During Palladio’s time, Venice commanded a lot of authority because it was at the center of an empire leading in commercial activities and military force around Eastern Mediterranean and Adriatic. It was also heavily populated although it did not encompass a part of the mainland. Venice got its power from its strategic point where its forces controlled the great-west trade route and northern land routes to Asia. However, this was soon to end in the fifteenth century after Vasco da Gama discovered a new sea route to Asia through sailing around Africa and Indian Ocean. In addition, Christopher Columbus had discovered that the western world was a more promising trade route than the Asian and Orient side. These discoveries brought an end to long periods of war (Gable 2004).

Peace came with its advantages such as ability to plant in large scale and the harvests could be transported to the populated centers such as Venice. In addition, the voyages of the explorers had brought new crops for planting such as corn. Only the noble families of Venice had the capital and means of clearing and draining the swamps for agricultural purposes. This saw many of these families start to leave the city for the mainland where there was piece of mind and calmness. This presented the problem of housing. These nobles needed houses to stay in, ones that would highlight their identity. Mud huts did not suit them considering what they are used to in the city (Gable 2004).

The problem was building palaces in the countryside. It did not seem practical, which further heightened the problem. The Venetian palaces were made of stone and marble collected from quarries found in the mainland. This would be very expensive and not functional for supervision of a large agricultural establishment and storage of harvest and wine produced. Therefore, something new and inexpensive yet magnificent was required for building the nobles new houses. The answer was to be found with Palladio, who used brick. It also turned out that this problem was prevalent in many areas and at the center of modern economics and architecture. Andrea Palladio provided the solution that became the cornerstone of architecture (Ching, Jarzombek and Prakash 46).

The Solution from Palladio

Palladio’s solution to this problem was based on three factors, based on the contemporary needs of the time. The problem he was tackling was to provide magnificent structures that were affordable, yet comfortable for the nobles and functional to suit the new agricultural establishments. Drawing from his insight and previous works by other people such as Vitruvius, Alberti and Serlio, he came up with three principle elements for his designs the first one was dramatic exterior motifs to suit the nobles, cheaper materials and internal harmony as well as balance to ensure comfort (Gable 2004).

Dramatic Exterior Motifs

Palladio developed three main types of exterior elevations, which today people call Palladian. The first type, which is the simplest and most popular amongst many constructions, is characterized by a loggia with three openings. The second type was characterized by a Greek temple front, where he adapted the pediment, as well as the columns for private purposes. This presented an audacious step then, which required confident and skilled architects to carry through. The third type, which was considered the most innovative during this period, was a double-columned loggia, with full columns on both floors (Gable 2004). The exteriors were also characterized by heavy volumes one both sides, that resembled fortresses constructed in earlier centuries. In addition, Palladian style was characterized by symmetrical balance on both sides of the loggia. These characteristics are crucial in defining the Palladian design, which shall be discussed later in comparison to modern reinterpretation found in Los Angeles.

Economical Materials

The second element to his solution was use of cheaper materials than ones used to construct the Venetian palaces were. The palaces were built using stone brought from the mainland and then dressed in marble from other regions such as Istria (Gable 2004). Transportation then was very primitive and only used horses, which meant construction, would take long, as well as cost a lot of money. This was a major problem in many regions then. Palladio had already attained a visual impact to the people, hence commanding a lot of respect. As such, he was able to build using brick. In addition, instead of cladding them in marble, he used stucco to cover the walls. For decoration, the Venetian palaces used tapestry, which was also expensive. The answer to this was frescos, which would be used to imitate the tapestry, but at a cheap price, yet effective. Due to cutting long journeys of transporting the materials used earlier, it was faster to build, as well as less expensive which allowed the nobles to establish their large-scale faming in the countryside.

Interior Balance and Harmony   

Although this sounds simple, it is one of the hardest for current architects to achieve. This element defines Palladio from others. It can be considered his unique architectural achievement. He was able to achieve harmony and balance through the floor plan from which one can easily access each room from the square in the middle. Palladio once said that parts of a house should correspond to the whole in order to achieve harmony and balance. This can be evidenced by the fact that sanding in one of his villas allowed one to view the rest the house from one point. Secondly, he varied the volume of his rooms in accordance with the Bath fugue, which was inspired by the roman baths (Gable 2004). Finally, the shapes of the rooms offered a variety from square, to circles and rectangles that were in different ratios of length to width. The ratio he favored was 6 to ten, which achieved harmony by corresponding to the human body proportions. The three elements were present in Palladio’s and continue to inspire contemporary architects to this day. Going through modern houses today, one cannot fail to notice these characteristics in many of them. However, there are variations to Palladio’s designs and the current interpretations where other features are added, including different ratios in room sizes and shapes (Gable 2004).

Comparison and Contrast of Renaissance and Contemporary Palladian Visual Design

As aforementioned, the name Palladio may be a bit obscure to home buyers in America today considering he lived more than 400 years ago. However, it is not hard to realize that many American homes today are shaped by his renaissance work. By reviewing the structural and formal elements of Palladio’s architecture, one can realize that is shapes many houses in the modern America. Some of the characteristics that make Palladio’s work noticeable include loggias, symmetrical balance, materials used, windows, rounded arches, columns and pediments that are still constructed today.

Palladio’s style was characterized by a loggia, which was the first main notable part of the structure. One of his most notable works is the Villa Godi, found in Lugo di Vicenza, Veneto. The work started in 1537 and completed in 1542 although there were modifications to the gardens and the rear side. The first notable thing is the elevated loggia that is pierced by three openings. On each side of the loggia, there are symmetrically arranged voluminous structures, which typify the arrangement of the apartments inside. At the center, a large hall allows access to most of the rooms, which as aforementioned, achieved the intended harmony. On each side, there four smaller rooms noticed from the four windows.

One also realizes that the building has no ornamentation from the outside, which was typical of buildings during this period. This highlights the solution Palladio used for minimizing costs. In addition, the interior does not have any marble as prior palaces. Rather, it is decorated out of fresco. The openings on the loggia have rounded arches, as well as the doors that are used. This can be seen in the two doors that are in the lower floor below the loggia on each side. This was one of his earliest works. In other works, such as Villa Barbaro, other features are notable.

In Villa Barbaro, one of the notable features is a portico, with columns and a porch entry. It is also sheltered by a pediment above that resembles the ancient Greek temples. It is not common to see this in many modern buildings. However, they are not always the same. The other feature in this villa is the symmetrical balance on both sides of the portico. However, unlike the Godi, the sides are lined with extended loggias with five opening on each side. These were called the barchessas. At the center, there are living quarters and on each end, there are additional pediments that shelter dovecotes use for storage.

Looking at another example of his notable work is Villa Cornaro where Palladio made two loggias with one on top of the other, supported by columns as seen in the following photograph.

Looking at the Wehba Mansion below that is located in Beverly Hills and designed by Frederick Wehba, one can realize the similarities that define it as a villa. Although there is a notable difference especially in the use of pillars, it maintains a symmetrical balance and arched windows on the ground floor. The entrance of the house does not have loggias. However, it has columns that run from the ground floor to the roof of the first floor. Additionally, it does not shelter the columns with a pediment. Rather, it has a portico that supports the roof, with an entry porch. In addition, the mansion is characterized by Palladian windows on the ground floor, which have a rounded arch on top with two tall windowpanes running to the bottom. The upper windows are the same, except they do not have an arch (Gebhard and Winter 45).

Other notable differences between this villa and those constructed by Palladio are materials used. Instead of brick and fresco, the modern construction used reinforced concrete to build the walls and divide the upper and lower floors. This achieves more strength. It is also easier to shape because one only needs formworks in which to pour the concrete and wait until it cures. Instead of fresco, this villa goes back to use of marble. Its columns are covered in onyx marble. It also uses antique mirrors and limestone (Gebhard and Winter 45).

Another house in Los Angeles that takes Palladian architecture is the Getty Villa, which was constructed in from 1950s but opened in 1974 as an antique museum. It was commissioned by an oil tycoon, J. Paul Getty. Although it is an educational center, much of Palladian architectural style can be seen. It was inspired by Villa of Papyri in Herculaneum that was uncovered in archeological excavation. The structure is characterized by columns that support the roof. Instead of opening to loggias, this villa has extensive use of the columns that allow long corridors. On the main gallery, it has achieved symmetrical balance as indicated in the photograph below that depicts a part of it. It also has a small pediment at the upper floor. The walls are stone and clad in marble in the inside. The interior rooms are different from other villas because of its functional purpose. Unlike the others that were supposed to be residential, this is educational and seeks to display antiques, hence the long corridors.



It is clear that Palladian architectural style from the renaissance period continues to influence contemporary houses. During the renaissance period, villas were a solution for cheaper yet magnificent houses for the nobles. Today, from the two examples provided, it seems that they are still favored by reach people considering the analyzed ones are quite expensive. In addition, it seems symmetrical balance has remained although other buildings could have variations. The windows have also remained the same with columns serving the same purpose. However, the materials used and interior decorations have changed significantly, where modern houses make use of marble, which Palladio never used. Therefore, Palladio and the Ideal villa still inspire many architectural structures today, more than 400 years later.


Works Cited

Ching, Frank, Mark Jarzombek, and Vikramaditya Prakash. A Global History of Architecture. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley, 2011. Print.

Gable L. Carl. Palladio’s Italian Villas., 2004. Web. March 19, 2014.

Gebhard, David and Robert Winter. An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles. Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith, 2003. Print.

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