The Drawings of Palladio

At the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University.

(Originally published in Art Xpress, May, 1982.)

Of Andrea di Pietro della Gondola (1508-1580), called Palladio in a Renaissance conceit honoring both the architect and Pallas Athena, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote:

“There is something divine about his talent, something comparable to the power of a great poet who, out of the worlds of truth and falsehood, creates a third whose borrowed existence enchants us.”

This wonderful assemblage of Palladio’s drawings in sienna and umber inks, washes, and pencil describes in the master’s sure and graceful hand the ruins of ancient Roman buildings, idealized reconstructions of baths and temples, details of the Orders and architectural ornaments, and his own designs, plans and elevations for palaces, churches, and other projects in sixteenth century Venice and Vicenza.

A pure, harmonic sense of order illuminates the drawings. Palladio’s feeling for proportion was both a science and an art. Arches, circles, rectangles, and, above all, the Orders – leafy Corinthians, elegant Ionics, noble Dorics – move through the architecture with a grace which is both mathematical and musical. Tiny numbers affirm a geometric system, transformed through his art to give the compositions a pure, elated vision of perfection.

This delightful little show made me long to visit Venice and Vicenza again and see  the harmonies suggested in the drawings singing through the stones.

There, these perfect little drawings are transformed by Palladio’s feeling for the sensual reality of the materials, his luxurious Venetian colorism, and the countless small variations from the ideal geometrics of the plan in relation to the light and the land and the sea.

They seem almost alive, part of Nature,  an architecture of enchantment, bathed in an infinite, golden light.

by Rebecca Nemser for

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