Teorema 003: Sketch page for the Baths of Agippa, and Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli, by Andrea Palladio

Teorema 003: Sketch page for the Baths of Agippa, and Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli, by Andrea Palladio


Palladio was born in Padua, near Venice, in 1508, as Andrea di Pietro dalla Gondola. His early exposure to architecture came both as a stonemason and a craftsman of ornamentation, working in the studio of Giovanni di Giacomo in Pedemuro. Later influenced by ideas of humanism, he studied the work of Vitruvius, Alberti, and other Renaissance treatises, writing his Quattro libri dell’architettura in 1570. His meeting with Sanmicheli strengthened this knowledge of classical structures, and his later association with Barbaro and Vasari helped him establish his ideas based on rules of proportion.

Palladio’s prestige in the architectural community was evident by his becoming a member of the Academy of Design in Florence in 1566. In 1570, after the death of Jacopo Sansovino, he became the architectural advisor to the Venetian Republic (Puppi, 1973; Wittkower, 1980; Murray, 1978).

Andrea Palladio’s villas of the Veneto were based on harmonic proportions, symmetry, and the images of classical temple fronts. This antique monumentalism was influenced by his visits to Rome and by the work of Giulio Romano around the environs of Vincenza. In developing his architecture, he adapted the use of proportional ground plans and utilized a strong axis of penetration (front to rear) through his buildings. In his urban projects, the loggias reflected classical proportions, such as the Basilica in Vicenza (Palazzo della Ragione), where his new loggia was based on lessons of antiquity.

This page of sketches shows images crowded across the page, as if one idea led quickly to the next, the sketches bleeding into one another and overlapping. These sketches seem to be variations on a theme, as they all contain similar floor area and organization. Some sketches seem more complete, while others were rejected and abandoned early in the process of exploration. In many places on the page, the lines are adjusted (drawn over) to suggest a form of pentimento – regret, or the recalibration of an idea. This technique references the comparison and adjustment of what is seen on the paper with what is seen in the mind’s eye.

Specifically, on this page are found mostly symmetrical building plans, very distinctive of Palladio’s architecture. As in many of his villas, there is a strong axis running through the center of the building. The columns are drawn very quickly and read as ovals and incomplete circles, showing the hurry of his thinking to sketch and visually evaluate the design. Included on the page are several elevations that seem to resemble a heavy column base, or altar, and a pediment/entablature detail. If indeed this sketch is meant to be a column base, it may be reminiscent of those heavy bases he used in the Palazzo Porto-Breganze, which are distinctive of his later, more sculptural, work.

Palladio seems to be manipulating combinations of circles and squares into various alternatives, without concern for the beauty of the sketch. In contrast are the wavy lines of x’s that convey a slow, thoughtful movement of the pen. The technique and the possible purpose of these marks suggest that these x’s were added later, at a time when Palladio was more intently evaluating the design, or when he began to think three-dimensionally.

Although decisively symmetrical, these building plans are each slightly warped and off-center.

This reinforces the idea that the page of sketches was drawn in a state of concentration and, consequently, reveals a thinking process. It was not necessary for Palladio to view the plans square or lined up, it was more important to see the proportional relationships as he was designing. He was concerned with the relationships between these spaces and how they related to the whole.

From Kendra Schank Smith, Architects Drawings, Architectural Press, Oxford, 2005

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