Italian architect's work lives on at U of M exhibitby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis, Minn. — Architect Andrea Palladio may have lived half a millenium ago, but a new exhibition at the University of Minnesota shows how his design ideas live on. A new organization in the Twin Cities hopes the show will spur local interest in Italian culture.
Andrea Palladio was born in Padua in what was then the Republic of Venice, now Italy, in 1508. Initially trained as a stonecutter he switched to architecture in later life, where he became a favorite designer for the Venetian nobility.
He studied classical architecture in Rome, and became famous for the classically inspired symmetry and perspective in his designs. Palladio often included exterior columns in his work.
University of Minnesota Professor Leon Satkowski said even as Palladio looked back, he was also designing for contemporary needs.
"He very often places pediments, the triangular shape above a temple porch, on his buildings," Satkowski said. "Because he said in his treatise it's an appropriate place to put your patron's coat of arms."
He built what became known as the Palladian villas, beautiful homes for wealthy landowners. They looked grand, but he kept costs down, using where possible local materials. Satkowski said he also took extreme care to make sure his plans made the best possible use of where they were to be built.
"As one art historian put it quite cleverly, Palladio's buildings are not on the land, they are of the land," said Satkowski.
Palladio's villas were spread across the countryside at a time when it was hard to get around. Not a lot of people could go see them. He would probably be languishing in obscurity now if he hadn't hit upon a brilliant idea and wrote a book. It's called "Four Books on Architecture" outlining his ideas.
"With his treatise being one of the earliest printed architectural books, it was published in 1570, Palladio made his work known to an extremely wide range of individuals, including Thomas Jefferson here in the United States," said Satkowski.
Jefferson was so taken by the book he designed his first home at Monticello using Palladian principles. Meanwhile the architect's ideas took hold in England and Ireland, generating their own Palladian styles. These also crossed the Atlantic and are apparent in many major U.S. buildings including the White House.
The Palladian style eventually fell from favor, but has enjoyed revivals periodically, most recently when 20th century modernists such as French architect Le Corbusier found useful elements in their architectural ancestor's work. Leon Satkowski said the process continues.
"I think you can say that each age finds its own Palladio," he said.
Satkowski said there are examples of Palladio's influence in the Twin Cities, most notably the Coffman Apartments on Larpenteur Avenue in Falcon Heights.
Satkowski will speak about Andrea Palladio and his influence at the opening of the exhibit on Saturday evening. The show "Andrea Palladio - 500 years" is being displayed in the Rapson building at the University of Minnesota. It's sponsored by the Goldstein Gallery and a relatively new Twin Cities organization, the Italian Cultural Center.
Massimo Bonavita is on the board of the ICC. It runs language classes and other cultural activities including an Italian film festival. He said there is a big effort to promote Italian culture all over. For all Palladio's importance, Massimo Bonavita makes a surprising declaration about his status in Italy.
"Andrea Palladio is probably better known abroad than in Italy," he admits.
Which, given how little Palladio in known here, may not be saying much. The diminished global stature of Italian culture is actually a concern of the Italian government. The Palladio exhibit was originally displayed by the Italian Consulate in Chicago, which is now sharing it with the ICC.
Bonavita said that while there used to be a thriving Italian community in the Twin Cities in decades past, time and assimilation has changed that. Both Bonavita and Satkowski hold high hopes that the Palladio show will ignite new levels of interest in Italian culture in Minnesota.
- All Things Considered, 01/13/2010, 5:54 p.m.