Day 10: Palladio in Vicenza

Vicenza is in the Veneto region about 60 kilometres west of Venice and about 150 kilometres north of Bologna. The city with a population around 115,000 straddles the Bacchiglione River. The name comes from the ancient Romans who called it Vicetia or Vincentia, meaning “victorious”. From 1404, it was primarily ruled by the Republic of Venice.

Tourism in this city focuses on Palladio. Despite the cancelled UBC tour, we came here to look at Palladio’s architecture. I wrote about Palladio before as his churches in Venice were part of my November 2018 trip. See Intro to Renaissance art and Venice churches.

Below, one of his churches in Venice.

However, some of Palladio’s greatest architectural works were villas and public buildings on the mainland, not easily reached without a car. As we do not plan to drive when travelling in Europe, we have not been to the Veneto, the mainland near Venice. Now that we are not going to be able to go on the UBC tour, we are looking at Palladio’s works on our own.

Here’s a brief introduction to Palladio.

Palladio was born in 1508 in Padua given the name Andrea di Pietro della Gondola. He began in his teens as a stonecutter and stone mason in Padua but later moved permanently to Vicenza. In his 30s, he was employed by the humanist poet and scholar Gian Giorgio Trissino. Trissino was studying ancient Roman architecture, particularly the work of Vitruvius. In the 1540s, Palladio went to Rome with Trissino three times to study the classical ancient Roman monuments which inspired his future buildings. Trissino nicknamed him “Palladio”, an allusion to the Greek goddess of wisdom Pallas Athene.

The basic elements of Italian Renaissance architecture had been used before Palladio by Brunelleschi, Bramante and Michelangelo among others. Palladio’s contribution was to refine, simplify, and use elements such as Doric columns, central plans, domes, ornate cornices, multiple stairways and lateral wings in innovative ways.

Palladio expressed the function of each part of the building by its form, such as elevating the piano nobile (the ceremonial floor) of his villas and palaces to give precedence to it. He simplified the forms, as at Villa Capra “La Rotonda”, by surrounding a circular dome and interior with perfectly square facades, and placing the building on a pedestal to be more visible and more dramatic. We plan to visit La Rotonda.

Palladio was inspired by classical Roman architecture but chose elements and assembled them in innovative ways appropriate to the site and function of the building. As mentioned, his buildings are often placed on pedestals to make them more visible and to offer a view. The villas often have loggias, covered arcades or walkways on the outside of upper levels, which gave a view of the scenery or city, and also provided variety to the façade.

The Sarlian window, or Venetian window, also known as a Palladian window, is a common feature of his style. It consists of an arched window flanked by two smaller square or rectangular windows, divided by two columns or pilasters and often topped by a small entablature (horizontal band) and by a small circular or semicircular window or hole, called an oculus. These features appear in Roman triumphal arches and had been used earlier in the Renaissance by Bramante, but Palladio used them in novel ways, for example, in the façade of the Basilica Palladiana in Vicenza.

In his later work, his style became more ornate and more decorative, with more sculptural decoration on the façade, tending toward Mannerism. The later buildings begin the transition to what would become Baroque architecture.

You don’t need a car to see Palladio’s works within the city as you can’t walk far in central Vicenza without walking past a building built by him or designed by him or attributed to him even if the historical record seems to be lacking.

This is the facade of the Palladian building we are staying in.

Before looking at another Palladian work, we went to Santa Maria Corona where there is a Giovanni Bellini and a Veronese altarpiece.

The Bellini family are the most famous of early Renaissance artists in Venice. Jacopo (c. 1400 – c. 1470) was a founder of the Renaissance style of painting in Venice and northern Italy. Few of his paintings still exist, but his surviving sketchbooks (one in the British Museum and one in the Louvre) show an interest in landscape and elaborate architectural design and are his most important legacy. Giovanni Bellini (ca. 1426/1430 – 1516) thought to be his son, but more recent scholarship argues he was a much younger half brother and Gentile Bellini, (1429-1507) was his son and his son-in-law was Andrea Mantegna.

During their lives, Gentile received more of the prestigious commissions and was sent on a diplomatic mission by the Venetian government to Constantinople. But Giovanni is considered to have revolutionized Venetian painting with a more sensuous and colouristic style. Using clear, slow-drying oil paints, Giovanni created deep, rich tints and detailed shadings. His sumptuous coloring and fluent, atmospheric landscapes had a great effect on the Venetian painting school, especially on his pupils Giorgione and Titian.

The above Baptism of Christ was restored in 2022 resulting in vibrant colours. It’s a relatively rare work still in its original setting.

I’m hoping to see a lot more Veronese. To me, no one paints textiles better than him. I’m also going to see how many dogs he has painted in the works I see. I’m guessing he’s a dog person as his Wedding at Cana had a lot of dogs but only one cat. The above Three Magi painting has two dogs, no cat, but a cow, horse and it looks like the nose of a donkey.

Scott thinks the lighter coloured dog with his tail facing the viewer is a poodle.

We then went to look a Palladio’s last work, the Teatro Olimpico.

The space is used for performances but the decoration is based on the play of Oedipus and the streets of Thebes.

This would have been a great space to record a video or take a panorama shot but a huge group came in and someone started lecturing, so we left.

For lunch, we went to Il Ceppo, which has a deli and a small bistro or bistrot as the Italians spell it. Weather had improved so we sat outside.

Fried bacalà
Mancini spaghetti with seafood

After we went to the Palazzo Chiericati museum which is a building by Palladio.


Gelato and wine followed to balance out the art and architecture

Street in front of Capo di Latte, a gelateria

Dinner was at FuoriModena, a Vicenza restaurant that has a modern take on traditional dishes.

Egg with black truffle
White and green asparagus with Parmesan
Pork chops with a piccante sauce
Tagliatelle with ragù

The above dessert was called Double Bridge or Doppio Ponte and involved semifreddo which is kind of like ice cream or gelato. So I had gelato twice in one day. I also had pasta twice in one day. I’m definitely in vacation mode.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s