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Songs of Vicenza: Palladio and its Music

Entrance to Teatro Olimpico designed by Palladio, Vicenza, Italy

Story and Photos by Julie Maris/Semel

Vicenza, a World Heritage Site, is all about Andrea Palladio who in the 1500s designed palaces, churches, and villas. Referring to classical Roman architecture, Palladio’s unique style influenced architecture from Venice to Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, and to today’s contemporary American houses. Vicenza is Palladio.

For a student of Palladio’s work or anyone interested in Italy’s history and art, Vicenza is imperative. The Palazzo Barbaran da Porto, now the Center for Architecture Studies and the Museo Palladiano, is dedicated to Palladio and to architectural history.

Palladio designed a majestic building for Barbarano and made architecture democratic by demonstrating the beauty of buildings using less costly materials. He rusticated or used rough surfaces on the ground floor exterior walls and smoothness on the upper floor, the contrast accentuated by strong sunlight.  Columns made of bricks were coated with marble plaster in mortar. The result: grand illusions without great expense.

Interior of Teatro Olimpico designed by Palladio, Vicenza, Italy

For the Accademia Olimpica, Palladio designed Teatro Olimpico –– Europe’s oldest interior theatre –– an archaeological version of the Roman amphitheatre. The rectangle proscenium with Corinthian columns, a central arch, and two smaller side gates is elaborately decorated with statues, friezes, and pilasters.

After Palladio’s death, Scamozzi completed a perspective background, trompe lʼoeil, The Seven Streets of Thebes, seen through the proscenium arch. During performances, to maintain the spatial illusion, children stood in the rear of the set. In the spring and fall, the Orchestra del Teatro Olimpico presents classical concerts and jazz.

Palladio designed Palazzo Chiericati, now the Musei Civici with works of

Tintoretto, Veronese, and Tiepolo. His most important commission, with the support of his patrons, was the Logge of the Palazzo della Ragione, the Basilica on the main square of Vicenza.

Students at Piazza dei Signori, Vicenza, Italy celebrating the graduation of student with flippers singing, "Dottore, Dottore." Celebratory students that just completed their university degrees singing “Dottore, Dottore,” the hawking of vendors, covered stalls, and locals shopping for food and crafts at the market in the Piazza dei Signori, the city’s historic center from Roman times, momentarily distract one from noticing the imposing white marble Basilica with its keel-shaped roof and repetition of Serlian windows.


Palladio incorporated classical architecture in modern terms. He was a cutting edge architect with wealthy patrons. His styles included a simple loggia façade; Greek temple façades with pediments and columns for houses; and double columned fronts. Brick, stucco, and terra cotta and interior frescos cut building costs. The Villa Rotunda’s and the Basilica’s interior spaces and harmonic proportions established Palladio as the foremost architect of the Veneto and of his time.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library and City Hall, and the United States Capital in Washington, DC are studies in Palladio’s bilateral symmetry. Pattern books that American architects and builders used in the 17th and 18th centuries and Jefferson’s University of Virginia Rotunda exemplify the great influence of Anglo-Palladianism through the 20th century.

Gondolas and the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore by Palladio, Venice


The exhibition celebrating the 500th anniversary of Andrea Palladio’s birth, Palladio and His Legacy: A Transatlantic Journey organized by the Royal Institute of British Architects Trust will be at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania until December 31, 2011.

View Julie Maris/Semel’s slideshow of Vicenza



Julie Maris/Semel, with camera in hand at age seven, discovered travel photography as a teenager. Following her passions, she worked with Bill Maris, a well-known architectural photographer, and subsequently for editorial clients, that include Traditional Home magazine and Design New England, producing stories about gardens, architecture, and travel. Her sense of adventure turned to the Antarctic, the Arctic, Asia, and Africa while working for Quark Expeditions, TCS Expeditions, and national tourist boards. Her photographs, Images of India, were exhibited at the New India House sponsored by the Consulate General of India. See more photos at http://www.juliemarissemel.com
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