Palladio: Palazzi Iseppo Porto, Barbaran da Porto and Thiene

Palazzo Iseppo Porto

Paolo Veronese ‘Giuseppe Porto and son       The family Porto

‘This is one of the two palazzi that Palladio designed for the Porto family, one of the rich and powerful families of Vicenza (the other being Palazzo Porto in Piazza Castello). It was commissioned by Iseppo da Porto, who had just married Livia Thiene, [the family] probably to compete with his brothers-in-law Marcantonio and Adriano, who had begun to build the Palazzo Thiene in 1542 only a stone’s throw away (project probably by Giulio Romano, revised by Palladio in 1544). Palladio develops a close friendship with the nobleman, which, given Porto’s high position in the town council, helps him to win several important public commissions later on.’ Source: Jürgen Järvik

Paolo Veronese 'Giuseppe Porto and son  

Raphael’s House      THE MET

Palladio designed the Palazzo Iseppo Porto (often called Palazzo Porto for short) in a style that he assumed was authentic classical Roman. This facade is a personal interpretation of house types like Bramante and Raphaël constructed in Rome, namely

  • two floors with a mezzanine attic.
  • semi-columns on the second floor.
  • high windows with alternating pediments: segmented and triangular with a balustrade at the bottom of the high windows.

Palazzo Iseppo Porto      Upper floors       Map and cross section 

Palazzo Iseppo Porto  Palladio

But the facade of Porto is much more mature than his Casa Civena. The boring monotony of Civena is avoided. For this facade, Palladio made clever use of centralisation in the way that he developed for his villas. For instance, Palladio placed Michelangelo-like figures from the new sacristy on the segment-shaped pediments in the centre, with garlands and statues. The corners were marked in a similar way. If you look closely, you will see peculiar heads that function as capstones. Each head is different. All palazzi in narrow streets are variations of the palazzo Iseppo Porto prototype, with the horizontal dominating above an axial symmetry. These include palazzo Thiene, Valmarana and Barbarano. The layout of Iseppo Porto is even more original than the construction.

Two nearly identical blocks [model] were placed opposite of each other, connected with a courtyard and a colossal colonnade. This courtyard has columns bearing the piano nobile, which was later applied for the Villa Sarego. While the three parts are not connected optimally, the idea is still novel and completely separate from architecture at that time. But again, for this palace too, the only thing built according to Palladio’s design is the facade. 

Palazzo Barbaran da Porto

The Palazzo Barbaran da Porto (Contrà Porti 11) was designed in 1570 on the same narrow street where the Palazzo Porto (Contrà Porti 21) is located.

Palazzo Barbaran da Porto

Palazzo Barbaran da Porto  Palladio
photos: Wikimapia and Wikipedia

Palazzo Barbaran da Porto      Window first floor     Drawing of the façade 1903

Palazzo Barbaran da Porto  Palladio

When Palladio began his work on this palace, a financial crisis swept the land that halted the construction of other palazzi. Even the aristocratic owner, Barbarano, struggled to purchase a suitable plot for his palazzo. The plot was irregular. Two more bays were likely added in the late 16th century, and thus the entrance portal is no longer in the centre. The relief above the windows on the ground floor are based on palazzo Valmarana. Palladio wrote that he also changed the facade when he changed the layout. The first design had massive columns. Palladio likely saw this order as too drastic for a street as narrow as the Contrada Porti. The current design lacks a colossal order, but the column is still the same height as the width of the street. 

Many merchants in Vicenza have become rich through the silk trade. Without the proceeds from this trade, Palladio would not have received orders for the palazzi. As a reminder of this trade, a mulberry tree can be seen in the courtyard. Silkworms use the leaves of this tree as food.

The Palazzo Barbaran museum also hosts exhibitions about Palladio and its influence on architecture and other architects. In 2008, for example, there was a large exhibition 500 years after the birth of Palladio.

Palazzo Thiene gothic facade facing on Contrà Porti      Entrance

Palazzo Thiene gothic facade facing on Contra' Porti
photos: jpmm

Facade Palazzo Thiene facing on Contrà S. Gaetano Thiene 11 

photo: Alain Rouiller

 Marco Moro ‘Palazzo Thiene’ Contrà S. Gaetano Thiene 11      Entrance

 Marco Moro 'Palazzo Thiene' Contra S. Gaetano 

Titian ‘Giulio Romano’

The Casa Civena has little to do with the second palazzo, Palazzo Thiene, which Palladio constructed two years after the Civena. The design of the Palazzo Thiene did not originate in Vento, but is traced back to Mantua with the Palazzo del Té. Thiene is very Roman. It is the product of a two-month stay of Palladio in Rome where he met with Giulio Romano. Thiene’s style is also very similar to that of Giulio Romano.

Titian 'Giulio Romano'

Giovanni Battista Naldini ‘Elevation of Giulio Romano’s house’

Giulio’s own home and the Palazzo del Té has a lot of elements that were also used in the Thiene palace, like

  • an obvious use of rustication with the lower floor having heavy rustication and the top floor having a much smoother version.
  • the architrave or frames are actually very smooth.
  • the strange columns at the aediculas around the windows (a design of Giulio Romano  in front of a house in Rome)

Given how Palladio was never one to copy elements obediently and the Thiene palace has a scintillating design, it is plausible that Giulio did some work on it as well.  It is likely that Giulio made some sketches. In 1542, Giulio was in Vicenza for the basilica. What’s more, Giulio also signed a contract for a palace Thiene. We can gather from the contract that Palladio is the stonemason. What we also know is that the contract for Thiene was closed in 1542. The sculptor Alessandro Vittoria decorated all the rooms. He left in 1553. We know nothing with certainty of the period in between. There are, however, inscriptions in the post and lintel that separate the two floors: the courtyard east lists the year 1556 and the northern one lists 1558. A map from 1570 shows Thiene: it fully depicts its east wing, but the north wing is not complete. The map was clearly designed in accordance to Palladio’s views.

1. four wings
2. symmetry
3. different room shapes

Palazzo Thiene courtyard

Palazzo Thiene courtyard Palladio
photo: Didier Descouens

What’s Roman about the design is the spacious courtyard; it would engulf an entire city block. In addition, it alludes to towers, protruding corners that are also reminiscent of Rome, in particular the uncompleted palaces of Bramante: Palazzo dei Tribunali and the Cancelleria (courtyard). The design of the main facade, with a view on the main street of Vicenza, is not really known.

The entire front was likely designed after the Palazzo del Té as an ‘afterthought’. Palladio wrote that the stores on the ground floor were his idea, while this is in fact a very classic element, see: Ostia or Pompeji.

What’s unique about the Thiene layout is:

  • the projecting middle part of the main facade, breaking the monotony. This was widely copied in the 18th century by Ledoux and others.
  • a very high arcade on the second floor while the bottom arcade is not as high. The height of the arcade allows light to pass through the windows and there is the additional light from the courtyard. Furthermore, the high arcades bestow on the building a kind of monumentality that was entirely novel. Read more about the Palazzo Thiene? Click here at the Beth Stubbs blog.

Corso A. Fogazzaro       Corso Palladio

The Corso A. Fogazzaro Vicenza
photos: David Nicholls and Corso Palladio: Zairon

We head west through the central street that was named after Palladio: the Corso Andrea Palladio. We take a right turn into the Corso A. Fogazzaro, the location of the Palazzo Valmarana.

Continuation Vicenza Palladio: Palazzi Valmarana, Porto in piazza Castello and del Capitaniato