If you have already read my previous post about Vicenza please click here to skip the general introduction and jump directly to the main content of this post.
1. A general introduction to the city of Vicenza
1.1 Who is he that made Vicenza famous?
What is Vicenza famous for? Well, this city is not famous for a specific building or monument. Instead, it’s famous for a person, who became the inspiration for a movement without parallel in architectural history. Now I’ll give you a brief introduction and you can try to guess who he is.
He was born in Padua in 1508 and first gained his working experience as a stonecutter in the sculpture laboratory of Bartolomeo Cavazza da Sossano. However, because of the hard working condition there, he decided to run away to Vicenza, where he worked in the sculpture laboratory of Pedemuro San Biagio. Between 1535 and 1538, the meeting between him and Giangiorgio Trissino changed his life. It was Giangiorgio Trissino, a poet and humanist, who christened him “(his most popular name, which is also a reference to the Greek Goddess of wisdom, Pallas Athena)”, and guided him through his education, which was mainly based on the study of classical buildings. Giangiorgio Trissino even took him to Rome several times so that he could not only observe in reality the classical monuments, study their materials, their building techniques and their spacial ratios, but also meet the great people of his time such as Michelangelo, Sebastian Serlio, Giulio Romano, Bramante and so on.
In around 1540 he started his own building business and designed works such as Palazzo Civena in Ponte Furo and Villa Godi in Lonedo. In 1549, another great opportunity made him famous and popular not only among the noble families in Vicenza but also in Venice, which was the reconstruction of the loggias of the Vicenza Basilica to replace the original ones from the 14th century. In fact, it might be improper to say that an opportunity made him so because it sounds like he got the project because of luck. I believe he already proved his talent at that point because some of the competitors for the same project were Serlio, Sansovino, Sanmicheli and Giulio Romano, who were all renowned Italian architects during the Renaissance period. Right after this point, the busiest period of his career came and he designed many spectacular buildings from Palazzo Chiericati to Villa Barbaro di Maser, from Villa “Malcontenta” in Mira to the well-known “Villa Rotonda” and to the Venetian churches of the Santissimo Redentore and of San Giorgio Maggiore, which ensured his position in history as one of the greatest and most influential architects. In 1570, he also published his treatise, “The Four Books of Architecture“, expressing his ideas and experience. His final design is the Teatro Olimpico, which was requested by the Accademia Olimpica to perform classic tragedies. The construction work started between February and March in 1580 but unfortunately he passed away on 19th August in same year and wasn’t able to see the completion of the theatre, which is nowadays one of only three Renaissance theatres remaining in existence.
If you can pick up the key clues in the brief introduction above I believe you can guess who he is already. If not, I’ll give you one last clue. The style of architecture, “Palladianism“, based on the writings and buildings of this architect and theorist, is named after his surname (and the only architectural style in history which is named after an architect’s surname). Yes, he is Andrea Palladio, a great architect who influenced generations of artists and architects not only in Europe but also around the world.
1.2 What’s the connection between Palladio and Vicenza?
As the UNESCO comments:
Founded in the 2nd century B.C. in northern Italy, Vicenza prospered under Venetian rule from the early 15th to the end of the 18th century. The work of Andrea Palladio (1508–80), based on a detailed study of classical Roman architecture, gives the city its unique appearance. Palladio’s urban buildings, as well as his villas, scattered throughout the Veneto region, had a decisive influence on the development of architecture. His work inspired a distinct architectural style known as Palladian, which spread to England and other European countries, and also to North America.
Now I believe you have the same question as I did when I first googled about Vicenza on the internet: why is this specific city so closely connected to Andrea Palladio? Well, first of all, Vicenza is commonly known as the city of Palladio because it has the highest number of works designed by him as well as the ones inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage. For example, in 1994, 23 monuments, palaces, public and religious buildings in the town center together with 3 villas outside the city wall comprised the original list. In 1996, 21 villas (of course also designed by him) in several provinces in Veneto were also added as an extension to the the general property. You might have heard about a lot of Palladian villas but please note that many of them were not designed by Andrea Palladio himself, instead, they were actually designed by the followers of him who were inspired and deeply influenced by his style. It is only in the Vicenza province and the Veneto region that you can find Palladio’s original designs, or in other words, the models and source of Palladianism.
The second reason why Vicenza is closely connected to Palladio is that it’s the birthplace of an movement without parallel in architectural history after his intimate study of classical Roman architecture. It was him who designed the town houses in the medieval city and fitted them to the urban texture. It was him who created the picturesque ensembles and continuous façades and harmoniously combined the Veneto Gothic style with his own Classicism. It was also him who, while designing the country villas, “synthesized both figuratively and materially the functional aspects of management of the land and the aristocratic self-gloration of the owner”. All in all, the survival of Palladio’s originally buildings in the city center as well as in the Veneto region (mostly villas) is the survival of a “humanist concept based on a living interpretation of antiquity“, which has been applied to both rural and urban contexts.
Last but not least, what’s also noteworthy is that the movement started in Vicenza and was later spread all over the world. For example, scholars such as Inigo Jones and Thomas Jefferson (one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, who once even referred to Palladio’s book “Quattro Libri” as his bible) were enlightened by the main principles emphasized by Palladio, under which the branches such as English Palladian architecture, Irish Palladianism and North American Palladianism also developed. It was said that for the competition to design the President’s House in Washington DC, Thomas Jefferson anonymously submitted a design that was a variation on the Villa Rotonda (designed by Palladio as the picture shows below). What’s more, the East facade of the Stourhead House, the Woburn Abbey designed by Burlington’s student Henry Flitcroft, the Chiswick House designed by Richard Boyle and William Kent, the Russborough House in Ireland designed by the German architecture Richard Cassels, the former Irish Houses of Parliament in Dublin designed by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce, the Rotunda at the University of Virginia designed by Thomas Jefferson, the Hammond-Harwood House in Annapolis, Maryland, the palaces of St. Petersburg and many other examples all testify to the ingenious architectural concepts brought up by Andrea Palladio.
1.3 A general introduction to my posts about Vicenza
Having learnt so much about Andrea Palladio and his relation to the city of Vicenza, I’m sure that you can’t wait anymore to see his original buildings in the historic city center as well as his villas in the Veneto region. In the following four posts about Vicenza, I’m gonna introduce to you first of all a planned route to visit all the 23 works (In fact, as shown on the official brochure of the itinerary and as I experienced by myself, there are only 22 works in the city center, but I read from the official website of the UNESCO that there are in total 23. My guess is that maybe the cupola and the portal of the cathedral count as two works) in the city center designed by Palladio and inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list. In the second post, I’m gonna take you to have a close look at three of the buildings (Teatro Olimpico, Pinacoteca di Palazzo Chiericati and Palazzo Barbaran da Porta, also hosting the Palladio Museum) because you can visit the interior of them. Also in this post, I’m gonna write about the Valmarana Chapel, which is designed by Palladio and is located inside the church of Santa Corona. Please note that the church itself is also worth visiting because it was built to house the relics of the Holy Thorn and some works of art by Giovanni Bellini, Paolo Veronese and so on are also presented here. Why do I place these four attractions in one post? It is because you need to pay a fee to visit the interior but if you buy the Museum Card, you can enter them for free and it’s a really good deal. In the third post, I’m gonna show you two villas, one of which is the probably the most famous villa inscribed in the World Heritage list, Villa Capra “La Rotonda”. As I mentioned above, this villa is said to have inspired a thousand subsequent buildings, including Thomas Jefferson’s version of the White House in Washington DC. The other villa I visited is located in the Comune of Caldogno and it is called Villa Caldogno. It was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1996 and though located outside the town of Vicenza, it is still accessible by public transport. Last but not least, in the fourth post, I’m gonna introduce to you one more villa, Villa Valmarana ai nani, located in the town of Vicenza and very close to Villa Capra “La Rotonda”. Though it was neither designed by Palladio nor inscribed in the World Heritage list, it is still one of the most popular tourist attractions in Vicenza because of the rooms decorated by Tiepolo the father and the son. Trust me, you won’t regret visiting it.
1.4 Some tips about traveling in and around Vicenza
Before starting the Palladian route, there are some general tips that I wanna give to you concerning traveling in and around Vicenza. First of all, the city is not that big so if you live in or close to the city center, you can basically walk everywhere. Nevertheless, if you wanna visit the villas as I will mention in my 3rd and 4th posts, you should take buses. (If you have a car while exploring Vicenza and its surroundings, it’s even better because there’s quite some parking space around the limited traffic zone and you can reach the villas much faster and more conveniently.) If you plan to take buses, please note that there are two kinds of tickets, one of which is green and is only valid for the town of Vicenza and you can use it for 90 mins from the time you validate it. The other one is red, which you can use to travel to other towns and is valid for 120 mins from the time you validate it (in my case, I only used this type of ticket to travel to the Comune of Caldogno to visit Villa Caldogno). How to tell whether the place you are going to is out of the town of Vicenza or not? Well, you can take a close look at the the bus route board at the bus stop and if there’s a dividing line between the stops, it means the bus is going out of the town of Vicenza and if you are going to the stops after the line, you should buy the red card. You can either buy the bus cards in the tobacco shops, where they cost around 50 cents less per card or buy them from the bus driver directly (2 euros for both types of cards). DON’T forget to validate the card EACH TIME you board a bus.
If you travel at night (for example after 21:00) or want to save some time and trouble on the way, taxi is a great option (4 euros + 1.6 euros/km). You can book it in advance online at www.taxivicenza.com or by calling the number +39 0444 920600.
2. Vicenza Museum card
Before elaborating on the four attractions in this post, I’d like to advertise the Vicenza Museum Card again. If you plan to visit the interior of the three works by Andrea Palladio (Teatro Olimpico, Palazzo Chiericati, which hosts the Civic Art Gallery and Palazzo Barbaran da Porta, which hosts the Palladio Museum) as well as the Valmarana Chapel located inside the church of Santa Corona, buying the Museum Card is a very good deal. The standard price for an adult is 15 euros and for students up to 25 years old, you can get it for 12 euros. Please note that if you buy the tickets separately, entering the Olympic Theatre plus the Palazzo Chiericati already costs 18 euros. With the Museum Card you can also visit some other attractions such as Gallerie d’Italia in Palazzo Leoni Montanari (which I do recommend though it’s not designed by Palladio), Vicenza Diocesan Museum and so on. For more information about the discounts, advantages as well as the opening hours of these attractions, please click here to check the PDF profile.
Now, starting with Teatro Olimpico, let’s take a closer look at Palladio’s architectural concepts as well as his life experiences.
3. Teatro Olympico/Olympic Theatre
Before entering the Olympic Theatre, you are gonna pass two rooms first, which are called the “Odeo” and the “Antiodeo” with the former being the hall for meetings of the Accademia. As I said in my previous post, the Olympic Theater was commissioned by the Accademia Olimpica, a cultural group of nobles and artists including Palladio himself, to stage the shows. Did you know that during the Renaissance, a theater was not a building itself but a temporary arrangement (mostly just a wooden structure) in an outside space or an existing building. For example, these “theaters” in Vicenza used to be the courtyards of some palaces and the hall of the Palazzo della Ragione. Finally, in 1580, the Accademia decided to build a permanent theater and the project was entrusted to Palladio, who was already 72 years old at that time.
Please note that the two rooms I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph were not designed by Palladio. Instead, they were designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi, another great Vicentine architect who is frequently referred to as the spiritual heir of Andrea Palladio. Palladio designed the theater in 1580 and the construction started right away in February. Unfortunately, only a few months later, Palladio passed away and the project passed on to his son Silla, but soon it was entrusted to Vincenzo Scamozzi. The two rooms were created in 1582 and the “Odeo”, the main room, was decorated with frescoes by Francesco Maffei and his workshop which depict the Olympian gods and allegories. Among them July is depicted as Hercules, patron of the Accademia Olimpica. The “Antiodeo” room shows monochrome frescoes attributed to Alessandro Maganza and his workshop which depict the most important theatrical events of the Accademia such as the inauguration in 1585 with Sophocles’ tragedy “Oedipus Rex”.
Another two of Scamozzi’s contributions to the theatre include the archway and the elaborate stage set for the Greek tragedy “Oedipus Rex”. The archway leads from the street through an old medieval wall into the courtyard of the old fortress and in order to make the it fit with its surroundings, and to prepare visitors for the transformation from medieval to classical surroundings, Scamozzi built the archway to be the same size and shape as the triumphal arch at the center of the scaenae frons. However, the entrance archway was rusticated to make it fit with the rough and well-worn wall into which it was being inserted. As for the stage set, we will talk more about it in the next paragraphs when we see it.
Now let’s keep walking and once you pass the two rooms you will arrive at an exhibition hall featuring sculptures (portraits of the members of the Accademia), drawings (sketches of the clothes that would be worn by the protagonists of tragedy “Oedipus Rex” staged on the night of 3rd March, 1585) and costumes (worn in the 1948 performance of “Oedipus Rex”). Be patient, the next room you are going to enter is the actual theatre and do keep in mind that it is one of the only three Renaissance theatres remaining in existence. (The other two are the Teatro all’antica in Sabbioneta and the Teatro Farnese in Parma, which were based, in large measure, on the Teatro Olimpico).
Finally we have arrived at the actual theatre and now let’s look into the reason why it is called “an absolute peak of the creativity of Andrea Palladio“. The design was clearly inspired by Roman theaters because it is very similar to the ones defined by Vitruvius (“a terraced auditorium, framed by a colonnade with a frieze topped by statues…”). Why a semi-elliptical auditorium instead of a semicircular one? Please remember, the theatre was to be built in an old fortress, the Castello del Territorio. Therefore, in order to fit a stage and seating area into the wide, shallow space, it was necessary for Palladio to flatten the semicircular seating area of the Roman theatre into an ellipse. Besides the auditorium, the full Roman-style scaenae frons made from wood and stucco imitating marble also combines what he learnt from his close study of Roman architecture and his ingeniousness. It is made up of two orders of architecture and appears as a triumphal arch with the central arch being the “Port Royal” (the Royal Gate). Resembling certain façades of the palazzos designed by Palladio in town, the scaenae frons is called by critics “Manneristic” because of the intense light and shade effect achieved by a series of optical solutions. For example, the progressive diminishing of the façade (vertically) is visually compensated with protruding statues and at the same time, the use of overhangs and niches increases the sense of depth.
I’m sure you have already noticed the “houses and streets” behind the scaenae frons. They are not part of the original design of the theater but a stage set created by Vincenzo Scamozzi. Scamozzi again? Yes, in fact Scamozzi had already stepped in to complete Palladio’s other great unfinished projects, one of which being the famous “Villa la Rotonda”. Aren’t these works, which have been regarded as Palladio’s most successfully executed projects, proof of Scamozzi’s genius as well? Back to the stage, Scamozzi’s most famous and most original contribution to the theatre is actually this very stage set with its remarkable trompe l’œil street views. It was installed in 1585 for the very first performance held in the theatre, “Oedipus the King” by Sophocles, and is the oldest surviving stage set still in existence. The stage design reproduces the seven streets of the ancient city of Thebes and can be seen from the five openings of the scaenae frons. If you are wondering where the other two openings are besides the 3 arches in the façade, well, each of them is located on each side of the stage. In fact, it also took me some time to notice them. As the audience look through the arches, the floor rises, the sky falls and the buildings decorated with statues made of plaster and gauze draw closer and become smaller. Scamozzi played a clever game of perspectives so even though the main street seems very long, it’s only 12 meters in reality. What’s more, he also put considerable effort into designing the lighting that permitted the “houses” of the stage scenery to be lit from within, creating the illusion that these were real streets.
Aside from a single sketch of the scaenae frons, Palladio left no plans as to what kind of scenery should be used onstage. The reason for the absence of any street scenes in this drawing is that the Accademia had not yet obtained the land on which the scenery would later be built. This land was acquired in 1582, after Scamozzi had taken charge of the project. Therefore, Palladio can be given credit for having inspired the remarkable perspectives which are visible to the audience through the central archway of the scaenae frons and through the smaller side openings, but it is also reasonable to regard Scamozzi as the technical genius behind their remarkably successful execution.
Though with a glorious start, the service of this theatre was interrupted until the end of the Second World War. Nowadays, it is still used several times a year for plays and musical performances mainly in two theatre seasons, classical plays in the autumn and the festival Il Suono dell’Olimpico in the spring. Nevertheless, the audience size is limited to 400 for conservation reasons. Imagine how amazing it would be to watch “Oedipus Rex” in such a wonderful and original setting!
Now let’s move a few steps and visit the nearby Palazzo Chiericati, which hosts the Civic Art Gallery.
4. Palazzo Chiericati (Civic Art Gallery)
In 1550, Palladio gave the design of Palazzo Chiericati to Girolamo Chiericati and the construction started in the same year. However, it was not finished until around 1560. As commented in the book called “Andrea Palladio, journeys into imagined harmony in Vicenza and the Veneto region”, it is the most spectacular civil residence designed by Palladio.
The palazzo was built on Piazza Matteotti, which at that time was an area called piazza dell’Isola (“island square”) so Palladio designed it at an elevated position to prevent it from frequent floods. The entrance could be accessed through a triple Classic-style staircase. Standing in front of it, you will see clearly that the principal façade is composed of three bays, with the central bay projecting slightly and the two end bays having loggias on the piano nobile level. The façade is at the same time composed of two superimposed orders of columns, Tuscan on the lower level and Ionic above. The roof is decorated by statues.
In 1839 the Vicenza municipality acquired the palazzo from the Chiericati family to host the community art collections. Once restored, expanded and adjusted to its new function, the museum was opened to the public on 18th August, 1855. In fact, the current museum is composed of three building, that is to say the Palladian body with two expansions made in the 1800s and 1900s. Now it hosts one of the greatest collections in Veneto including paintings, sculptures and applied arts from the 1200s to the beginning of the 2000s (nevertheless, only the works from the 1200s to the 1600s are open to the public).
Once you start your visit in the palazzo, you will first pass three rooms called “Sala del Firmamento” (with fresco decorations by Domenico Brusasorzi), “Sala del Concilio degli Dei” (with fresco decorations made by Battista Zelotti) and “Sala d’Ercole” (with fresco decorations by Domenico Brusasorzi). What I like the most about this museum is that you can learn about artworks and architecture at the same time. Why do I say so? In this museum, there are two types of info boards, one of which focuses on the explanation of the paintings or sculptures (art collection) while the other one focuses on the introduction of the rooms (interior of the Palladian building). For example, the three rooms that I mentioned above are not for exhibiting paintings or sculptures, but they themselves are worth knowing about considering their architectural features and decorations. Some other rooms (as shown in the gallery above in this paragraph) that you are gonna see later include the “South Tower Room”, the “Room of Moral Virtues”, “Room of the Trajan’s Column” “The Grand Hall” (I’ll talk a bit more about this hall later), the “Room of Apollo and the Muses”. the “Room of the Apotheosis of the Chiericatis” and so on.
After walking through the first three rooms, you will come to the beginning of the art collection. On the ground floor, this hall exhibits seven lunettes made by Bassano, Maffei and Carpioni and tells the story of Vicenza in its golden age (between the 1500s and 1600s) under the supremacy of Venice. Now let’s climb the stairs and go to the first floor.
On this floor you will start with the Medieval section that hosts masterpieces by Paolo Veneziano, Battista da Vicenza and Hans Memling. The following rooms are dedicated to Bartolomeo Montagna (founder of the Vicenza school) and his school with the great hall recreating the demolished church of Saint Bartolomew. In this particular hall, you can admire the altarpieces by Montagna, Cima da Conegliano and Giovanni Buonconsiglio. According to my experience, the best way to visit and learn about the paintings on this and the next floor is, when you enter a room, you read the info board first to have a basic understanding of the specific topic presented here. Then, with certain paintings (as shown on the info board) exemplified by the representative artist(s), you can look more deeply into the themes in a more concrete way. For me personally, sometimes it’s rather difficult to understand certain points (or theories) in art but when they are explained with examples, I find them much easier to comprehend. Last but not least, on this floor I recommend you paying special attention the artworks such as “Dormition of the Virgin; Saint Francis of Assisi; Saint Anthony of Padua” by Paolo Veneziano (as shown in the first pic in this section), “Crucified Christ with the Virgin, Saints John Apostle and John the Baptist, the Magdalene and two cistercian abbots” by Hans Hemling (the middle pic in the gallery), “Madonna adoring the Christ between the Saints Monica and Mary Magdalene” by Bartolomeo Montagna (as shown in the fourth picture in this section) and so on.
The second floor of the museum hosts a collection of the 16th-century works by great Venetian masters such as Bassano, Tintoretto, Veronese as well as some 17th-century artworks by Luca Giordano, Pietro della Vecchia and Giulio Carpioni. In fact, the theme that I was most interested in on this floor is called “the Revolution of Light” and as shown in the first picture in this section, Jacopo Robusti (also called il Tintoretto) set a perfect example while painting “Saint Augustine heals the crippled”. The second and third paintings shown above are “Madonna with Child, a Martyr Saint and Saint Peter” by Paolo Caliari (also called il Veronese) and “Allegory of the Fragility” by Giulio Carpioni.
It is also on this floor (the second floor) that you can visit in the Palladian building the “South Tower Room“, the “Room of Moral Virtues“, the “Room of the Trajan’s Column” “The Grand Hall“, the “Room of Apollo and the Muses” and the “Room of the Apotheosis of the Chiericatis“. Now I’d like to say a bit more about the “Grand Hall” because it’s mentioned in Palladio’s “Four Books of Architecture”. This hall encompasses the area of the adjacent portico and is larger than the vestibule below. It was the central element in the layout of the building and also the focus of the social and ceremonial activities of the owners. It was used for weddings, theatrical performances and as Palladio wrote, also for other “such live recreations“. For this reason, this hall “ought to be larger than the others and to have the most capacious form, to the end that many persons may therein be commodiously placed and see whatever is done there”.
If you keep going up, you can visit the three rooms of the attic in the north wing. Here you can see Giuseppe Roi’s personal collection of paintings, drawings and etchings from the 15th to the 20th centuries in the setting of a house-museum.
The last part of our visit will be the basement, which was opened in 2012 thanks to the successful restoration work. This restoration brought back to light the bases of the antique “casette Chiericati”, dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries. Besides the kitchens and cellars where the servitudes worked, you can also see the well and the fireplace. Furthermore, you can see the “roggia del Collo“, a secondary branch of the Bacchiglione river covered by a barrel vault of the 13th century, which delimited the west area of the “island”. This space is now used for hosting temporary exhibitions.
Now let’s keep moving and our next destination will be Palazzo Barbaran da Porto, the only palace in Vicenza which was finished in its entirety according to the design by Palladio, .
5. Palazzo Barbaran da Porto (Palladio Museum)
This palazzo was designed by Palladio in 1569 in Mannerist style (typical for his late period) and was constructed between 1570 and 1575 for the Vicentine noble Montano Barbarano. What’s worth mentioning is that it is the only palace in Vicenza which was finished entirely according to the plan. The designing and construction process of it was really difficult and complicated because Barbarano requested Palladio to respect the existence of various houses belonging to the family on the area of the new palace and once the project was finalised Barbarano acquired a further house adjoining the property, which resulted in the asymmetrical positioning of the entrance portal. Though confronted with constraints of the site and a demanding patron, Palladio took the opportunity and made full use of his talent while designing the “whole complex”, thus making Palazzo Barbaran da Porto one of his greatest accomplishments. Once standing in front of the building, we can notice easily that the main façade stretches over nine bays and is enriched by a double order, with the Ionic one on soft ashlar work on the lower band and the Corinthian one on the upper band. The sides of the windows on the piano nobile are also richly decorated. This design was applied by Palladio to best cover the walls of the existing buildings. Now let’s enter form the main portal and you will see the four-columned atrium.
This is not a simple atrium but a sophisticated structure that Palladio invented for blending the diverse pre-existing buildings into a unified edifice. In realizing this scheme, Palladio was confronted with two major problems. One of them was how to support the floor of the great hall on the piano nobile and the other one was how to restore a symmetrical appearance to the atrium which was compromised by the oblique course of the walls of the pre-existing houses.
Now please stand in the middle of the atrium and look around. It’s easy to notice that the interior is divided into three aisles with the central one surrounded by four Ionic columns. In this way, the span of the central cross-vaults, set against lateral barrel vaults can be significantly reduced, thus providing a statically efficient framework capable of bearing the floor of the hall above without any difficulty. Furthermore, Palladio tied the central columns to the perimeter walls by pieces of rectilinear entablature, which absorb the irregularities of the atrium plan. If you have read my previous post, does this stratagem remind you of some structure that I’ve mentioned many times there? In fact, he realized here some sort of the system of the Serliana, or in other words, the Palladian window, which can be seen clearly from the loggias of the Basilica Palladiana. Last but not least, in order to mask the slight but significant rotations needed for successful alignment of the four central columns with the engaged columns, Palladio also adopted the unusual type of Ionic capital.
Really amazing, isn’t it? To be honest, if I didn’t read about the atrium I would definitely have ignored it as it didn’t look spectacular at all. Nevertheless, this plain-looking space testifies to Palladio brilliant and static solutions and is absolutely worth being admired by every visitor.
I know now you’re probably attracted by the courtyard but please first turn around and enter the palazzo through the your right-hand-side door. We’ll visit the courtyard after going through the ticket office.
From the first two rooms, with the latter one being the ticket office and gift shop, you can already catch a glimpse of the rich decorations of the palace. I suggest that when you are upstairs and are visiting the exhibition about Palladio’s life and architectural concepts, don’t forget to look up and admire the wonderful stucco ornaments and painted ceiling panels. (Please note that the third picture in this section is of the room located on the main floor)
In fact, in order to decorate the palazzo, Montano employed some of the greatest artists of his time such as Anselmo Canera, Andrea Vicentino and Giovanni Battista Zelotti, who had already involved himself in adorning the interiors of Palladio’s Villa Emo at Fanzolo. The stuccoes were entrusted to Lorenzo Rubini, who at the same time executed the external decorations of the Loggia del Capitanio, and after his death in 1574, the work was entrusted to his son Agostino. All these spectacular artists made Palazzo Barbaran da Porto a sumptuous palace comparable with residences of the Thiene, the Porto and of the Valmarana, a palace which showed to the city of Vicenza Montano Barbarano’s social as well as cultural status.
After going through the gift shop and the lockers’ room, we will be at the courtyard, which is partially surrounded by a majestic arcade on two orders. You might feel that the arcade is unfinished, but as I said above, it is the adjacent buildings that limited the development of it. Since you’re standing in the courtyard, please turn towards the atrium that we talked about before and I’d like to draw your attention to the left corner between the ground and first floors. This is the exact point where Palladio joined the existing balcony and the new one that he added. Note how he replaced the long brackets with solid elements that project from the frieze like the ends of beams.
Having said a lot about the palazzo itself, now let’s take a look at it as a museum. Another two important roles that Palazzo Barbaran da Porta plays are the seat of the Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio (CISA) (International Center for Architecture Studies “Andrea Palladio”) and the Palladio Museum. The considerate deign and arrangement of the museum take visitors on a fantastic journey into the life as well as the masterpieces in the Veneto region of Palladio. With various models and multimedia devices, this museum is a must-visit attraction if you wanna have a comprehensive understanding of Palladio and his architectural concepts. Now let’s climb up the staircase with walls marked by the important moments of Palladio’s life.
By walking up the stairs, you will have the opportunity to learn about some most significant moments in this great architect’s life. For example, from the year he was born to the year he first came to Vicenza, from the year he met Giangiorgio Trissino to the year he designed the Basilica Palladiana, from the year he went to Venice to the year he designed Villa Capra “La Rotonda”, from the year he published his “Four books of Architecture” to the year he designed the Olympic Theatre and so on.
When I was visiting the Palladio Museum, the first room to the right on the first floor was for a temporary exhibition called “Tiepolo Segreto” (3rd Nov 2017 – 17th June 2018), which depicts the spectacular art of the Tiepolo family. For sixty years, seven remarkable frescoes by Giandomenico Tiepolo were preserved in the houses of their owners. Now they have been revealed and presented to the public thanks to the generosity of the owners’ heirs.
In fact, I have been to Villa Valmarana ai nani and I was really honored to have been welcomed by one of the owners of the villa who is also a member of the Valmarana family. (I’ll talk in detail about this villa in the fourth post about Vicenza.) For his frescoes in this villa, Giandomenico (the son of Giambattista Tiepolo) adopted a lighthearted, playful register in depicting rural life. Two decades later, he was summoned again to work for the Valmarana family and this time, it was the son of the first patron who commissioned him to paint frescoes for his palazzo in Vicenza. What surprised me most was that Giandomenico changed his tone dramatically between painting for these two clients. As exhibited here, instead of depicting peaceful and relaxing rural life, these frescoes reflect Giandomenico’s bold reinterpretation of the magnificent stage scenery of the Teatro Olimpico. Whichever scenery or tone he chooses, I have to say Giandomenico’s skillful use of light and shadow is incomparable, representing the “Palladianism in painting”.
The permanent collection of the Palladio museum is held in 8 rooms and it not only tells the story of Palladio’s architecture but also illustrates the 16th-century society, the construction techniques and the village life assisted by historical and modern drawings, architectural models, photographs, videos and multimedia installations. First, let’s get to know Palladio as a reader and a writer.
In the “Four Books of Architecture“, Palladio summed up his experience acquired during the designing and construction processes as well as his knowledge acquired in the study of ancient and modern authors. Among the ancient authors, his principle reference was always Vitruvius and among the modern ones, Leon Battista Alberti was his favorite. He even referred several times to Alberti’s “De Re Aedificatoria” in his own four books. Other great architects that he also mentioned include Bramante, Michelangelo, Sansovino, Peruzzi, Sangallo, Sanmicheli, Serlio and Vignola. Despite the rich input, Palladio didn’t simply copy the information to form his own school of architecture. Instead, he made original critical interpretations of them based on his own experience.
Though with his most famous works being the “Four Books of Architecture”, Palladio helped illustrate Vitruvius’ “Ten Books of Architecture” published in 1556 by Daniele Barbaro. This was indeed a win-win situation because Barbaro relied on Palladio to make illustrations because of his lack of knowledge in drawing and Palladio took this opportunity to explore Vitruvius’ treatise thoroughly and critically. In 1570, Palladio published his best-seller “The Four Books of Architecture” with each book dealing with certain specific themes. For example, Book 1 is about the rules for designing and constructing, Book 2 is about a catalogue of Palladian buildings, Book 3 is about bridges and basilicas and Book 4 is about ancient temples. Besides architecture, Palladio also made contributions to engineering, topography and the art of war.
Now here comes my favorite part of this museum. Distributed in various rooms, the models not only of the major works by Palladio in the historic center of Vicenza but also of his most significant villas in the Veneto region are exhibited with well-planned and detailed explanations. It was indeed a pity that we couldn’t visit the interior of most of the buildings designed by Palladio in the city center and many villa scattered in the Veneto region were also not easily reachable by public transport. Nevertheless, these models here demonstrate to us the interiors of these masterpieces and bring those villas close to us. Palazzo Chiericati, Palazzo Barbarano, Loggia del Capitaniato, Basilica Palladiana, Villa Almerico Capra (which I’m gonna introduce to you in detail in the next post), Villa Emo, Villa Sarego, Villa Pisani, Villa Foscari and so on are all manifested here and in the next paragraph I’m gonna show you how they are elaborated.
First of all, when you see a model, you should check the black “brick” located close to it showing the name of the building. Below the black “brick” there should be a piece of paper showing some basic information of the building such as the name, the patron, the site, the coordinates, the year of the deign, the year of construction, materials of the elevations and whether there are existing autograph drawings of it or not. Located close to this info sheet, another paper with colorful rectangles can be found easily. In fact, on this piece of paper, different colors represent different materials and by matching them with the colorful cardboard in front of the model, you will understand which part of the elevation is constructed with which material. Of course, if you have particular interest in certain buildings, there are always more detailed info sheets available on the tables.
All in all, I want to say that if like me, you are not a professional architect or you have never studied architecture, don’t worry and your visit to the Palladio Museum could be even more worth it because you can learn and understand so much assisted by the clear and easy-to-understand explanations. Now, let’s move to the fourth attraction, the church of Santa Corona and visit the Valmarana chapel designed by Palladio.
6. The Church of Santa Corona and the Valmarana Chapel
The Church of Santa Corona was founded in 1270 and is the core of a Dominican monastery complex. It was built in the form of a Latin cross by the Dominicans to preserve the relics of the Holy Thorn given by the king of France Louis IX in 1259 to bishop Bartolomeo da Breganze. Unfortunately the relics will only be presented to the pubic on the Good Friday so I wasn’t lucky enough to see it. Palladio was buried in the church in 1580 and in the mid-19th century, his remains were moved to the Temple of Fame in the Maggiore cemetery. The Valmarana Chapel designed by Palladio is located in the crypt and once you enter it, you can enter the chapel from your right-hand side. While visiting the church I strongly recommend you a free digital guide which can be downloaded on your smartphone or tablet. The guide features the church plan, the artworks and the artists with in-depth explanations assisted by photographic details. To use it, you can go to www.chiesadisantacorona.vicenza.it or scan the QR code on site. Considering I’m focusing on writing about Palladio’s works inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list, let’s take a look at the Valmarana Chapel first.
This chapel, creating a classical setting with a square two-apse layout, was commissioned by Leonardo Valmarana between 1576 and 1597 in memory of his brother Antonio. As explained in the guide, “the architectural rhythm in the chapel with cross vaulting is set by the four corner Corinthian pilasters and the horizontal lines of the altar stab and capital. The two windows in the niches and the circular windows in the spandrels of the arches provide lighting for the basement chapel, which preserves the original two-tone terra-cotta flooring.” Although there are no written documents proving that this is a work by Palladio, experts firmly attribute this structure to him and even see it as a prototype for the side chapels in the church of the Redentore in Venice.
Probably also designed by Palladio, the altar is framed by two fluted columns supporting a pediment with the family crest surmounted by a helmet. The altarpiece is the “Virgin and Child Appearing to Saint Hyacinth”, a signed work by Alessandro Maganza.
Now let’s come back to the church itself and explore it with the explanations of the guide. The interior of the church is austere and solemn and it features three naves with a presbytery designed in 1480 by Lorenzo da Bologna. In particular, I suggest you spend some time learning about the Porto Pagello Altar featuring an altarpiece called “Saint Mary Magdalene with Saints Jerome, Paula, Monica and Augustine” by Bartolomeo Montagna (please also note that under this altar is the tomb of the Vicentine nobleman Luigi da Porto who first wrote the novel “Romeo and Juliet” from which Shakespeare had the inspiration”); the Chapel of the Rosary with paintings by Alessandro Maganza and his workshop; the Chapel of Saint Vincent Ferrer (the Barbarano Chapel) with an altarpiece called “the Virgin and Child, adored by Saint Vincent Martyr and Saint Jerome, appear to Saint Vincent Ferrer” by Antonio de Pieri; and in the Main Chapel the high altar and the wooden choir.
Last but not least, I’d like to finish the introduction to the Church of Santa Corona with my two favorite paintings here. One of them is the “Baptism of Christ” by Giovanni Bellini hosted in the Garzadori Altar, designed by Rocco da Vicenza. This altar dedicated to John the Baptist was raised as the result of a vow made by Battista Graziani during his trip to the Holy Land. In fact, it is one of the earliest works in Vicenza with recognizable elements of the emerging Classism, which at that time was getting more and more popularity in the field of sculpture. The other painting is the “Adoration of the Magi” by Paolo Veronese, which is kept in Saint Joseph’s Chapel. Until around 1850, bishop Bartolomeo da Breganze’s mortal remains were kept here together with the relics of the Holy Thorn. Then they were moved to the chapel under the campanile. If you are interested, there are more detailed analyses of the paintings in the guide.
As you have probably realized, one day is definitely not enough for visiting both the interior and the exterior of the monuments, palaces, public and religious buildings designed by Palladio and located in the historic center of Vicenza. I suggest that you should stay at least one night in or close to the city center to make the most of your time here. I recommend a 4-star hotel called SHG Hotel De la Ville because by bus it’s only 3 mins away from the train station and 4 mins away from the starting point of the limited traffic zone in the city center. The bus stop is also located right in front of of the hotel. For me personally, I loved the cosy and quiet room as well as the breakfast there. In fact, I was rather surprised when I found that they even provided disposable slippers for the guests. I guess this is rather rare in the hotels in Europe. Oh, by the way, if you are from China or are interested in Chinese food, a Chinese supermarket and a Chinese restaurant (though the food there is 30% westernized) are located around 2 mins away by foot. All in all, I think this hotel is worth your money in terms of the location, breakfast, facilities, comfort, quietness, cleanliness and the staff.
Finally, after taking the designed route to explore Palladio’s masterpieces in the historic center, we are going to move a bit further to explore the nearby villas in the city of Vicenza as well as in the town of Caldogno. Don’t miss the next post because in it I’m gonna give you a detailed explanation about the famous Villa Capra “La Rotonda”, a variation of which was anonymously submitted by Thomas Jefferson for the competition to design the President’s House in Washington, DC.