Teorema 011: Sketch page for the Baths of Agippa, and Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli, Andrea Palladio

Andrea Palladio’s villas of the Veneto were based on harmonic proportions, symmetry, and theimages 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.

Those sketches show 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 sketch 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 sketch 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.

Sketch approximately 7×10 inches, ink on paper

Text and image from Kendra Schank Smith, Architects Drawings, Architectural Press, Oxford, 2005

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