Palladio: Basilica Palladiana

The basilica, like the Duomo in Florence, is a clear beacon that towers out above everything else.

Basilica Palladiana       Zoom in

Basilica Palladiana Vicenza Palladio
photos: Jorbasa Fotografie zoom: Nicomilano

Palladio’s first public assignment was the loggia, consisting of two floors of the Palazzo dei Signoria, also known as the Basilica Palladiana. This is where the council of five-hundred gathered. The original building had a wooden roof atop a large gothic hall. Padua still has a somewhat comparable Basilica Palladiana.

Palazzo della Ragione in Padua   

Palazzo della Ragione in Padua

The ground floor comprised a network of stone vaults, constructed circa 1450. By the late 15th century, the stores and storage facilities had a loggia of two floors, but it quickly collapsed after its completion. War was a culprit. It was not until 1538-1542 that the council convened for consultation.

Basilica Palladiana facade      Facade and side      Facade Piazzetta Palladio

Paladio Basilica Palladiana facade
photos: Didier Derscouens, side trolvag and Piazzetta: Aemy Van Haef

Basilica palladiana

Basilica palladiana
photo: David Nicholls

Bartolomeo Passarotti ‘Portrait of Serlio’

Famous architects were asked to design the reconstruction of the loggias. Established names like Sanmicheli,  Sansovino,  Serlio  and Giulio Romano were approached. Giulio proposed to rebuild the recently collapsed loggio, but fortify them, too. That idea was rejected. A majority vote in the council opted for a more classical design. Palladio was then involved in the standoff. He had already gained local fame and it was no secret that he knew all about classics. The council commissioned a wooden model for one bay.

Bartolomeo Passarotti 'Portrait of Serlio'
One bay of the Basilica palladiana Vicenza

One bay of the Basilica palladiana

In 1548, Palladio’s new drawings were accepted and the eventual model was completed. Palladio’s solution is not a building, but instead a screen surrounding the old core. Palladio was cleared to begin in 1549. The screen acts like a buttress or brace system. It also acts like a frame, while hiding the irregular layout of the inner core from public view. The layout depicted by Palladio in his Quattro Libri is a regular one, however. Many vaults that are now there are the vaults of the first loggia, so not by Palladio. Palladio had already decided on the total dimensions. The heavy antae that we see now likely contain the previous antae that were supposed to support the two-floor loggia but failed and collapsed.

The nearly square bays were not designed for classical orders, they all differ in size. Given how each bay was to be given an arch of the same size, Palladio faced a problem. He therefore required elements that allowed him to shift things around, making things a bit wider or narrower. Only the corner arches are wider. So Palladio used irregular bays.

Moreover, the frieze with the triglyphs and metopes have been manipulated cleverly enough for them to appear regular to the naked eye. Much like the bays that really are irregular when measuring from the base. One reason is that is that the distance between the antae was completely random.

The corner bays [‘Quattro Libri’] had to be narrower to keep the corner antae strong enough. Hence why two semi-columns were placed on these antae instead of one. The open oculi in the corner bays not only became smaller, but they were closed off. The irregular, slanted anta (instead of a ninety degrees angle) is hidden from view by the protruding semi-column.

Behind the screen ground floor      First floor

Behind the ‘screen‘, the bays of the gothic building are irregular. At the corners, too. This corner problem only applies to the north-west corner. It’s where you can see the two sides of the facade at once. That’s not the case for the other corners as they still have other construction elements.

It suffices to say that Palladio implemented visually appealing refinements. It shows on the first floor. The semi-columns stand out while the small order has been pushed back. The same applies for the gothic columns of the old core. The arch and architrave combination was implemented so beautifully by Palladio that this motif, the serlio motif, became very popular and was even named after Palladio. This motif, which you had to remember from the terminology list, was conceived by Bramante and made popular by Serlio, at least, on paper. 

Basilica palladiana loggia ground floor
photo: Elena Maculan

Jacopo Sansovino Biblioteca Marciana

Jacopo Sansovino Biblioteca  Marciana Venice

It is likely that Sansovino, with his library in Venice, inspired Palladio in coming up with this motif. Construction of the library started in 1537 and was not yet completed when Palladio visited Venice. Still, this library appears entirely different, that is, the motif discovered by Bramante. With its repetition of bays with protruding and pushed back construction elements, the library had a remarkable interplay of light and shadow. This can be found at Palladio’s loggias, although in a very different way. The light and shadow effects occur at the basilisk through the openings that capture a lot of shadow and the white marble planes on the wall that light up with sunlight.

Statue of Palladio

The aforementioned serlio motif cannot be found in Palladio’s drawings prior to his Venice visit, but they do appear afterwards. It is likely that Palladio learned a great deal from Sansovino’s library. When Palladio was constructing the loggia, he did not yet copy Sansovino’s  copious use of relief ornaments on the facade. The loggia is Palladio’s only building that is made entirely of stone. This also explains why the loggia’s construction lasted until 1617. This stone type isn’t as solid as the Istrian stone used in Venice. The design of the basilica like Palladio illustrated in his Quattro Libri does not match the loggia that was already under construction. For instance, on paper, the bays are regular and the corners are exactly ninety degrees.
We will have another look at the statue of Palladio that is situated near his Basilica Palladiana.

Statue of Palladio Vicenza
photo: David Nicholls

We continue our way further north first to the Contrà San Gaetano and then to the Contrà Porti. This street has two palazzi that were constructed by Palladio, namely the Palazzo Iseppo Porto and the Palazzo Barbarano.

Contrà Porti 21

photo: Andrzej Otrębski

Continuation Vicenza Palladio Palazzi: Iseppo Porto and Babaran da Porto, Thiene