From Vicenza to Virginia linking Palladio to Jefferson

The famous architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) was closely bound up with the region he came from, the Veneto. While Padua was the city where he was born, Venice gave him the best locations for his magnificent churches. Treviso offered him the stunning hilly landscape for his most acclaimed countryside “Villas”, while in Vicenza he found powerful patrons, considerable opportunities, generous clients and the urban dimension of his work. Actually, to people living in the Veneto Palladio represents Vicenza and Vicenza means Palladio as well. His mecenate, patron, was the rich and learned humanist Gian Giorgio Trissino, a noble from Vicenza who payed Palladio his first travel to Rome and then introduced him to the rich Venetian nobles.

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The woodden model of Villa La Rotonda, Architect Andrea Palladio
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The model of Palladian Villa built by Palladio at Fanzolo di Vedelago, close to the Montello DOCG Prosecco area
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The palladian Temple of Villa Barbaro at Maser, in the heart of Prosecco DOCG Colli Asolani

At the time when Spain financed the venture of an Italian navigator, Christopher Columbus, Venice was at the acme of its flourishing and expansion thanks to the precious routes to the East, when the Venetian dialect was the lingua franca, Palladio created marvellous Villas (in the attractive countryside of Treviso and Vicenza), sumptuous Palaces (particularly in Vicenza) and churches (mostly in Venice) that are undoubtedly architectural masterpieces. In 1994 UNESCO inserted ‘the city of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto’ on the World Heritage List.

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Inside Palazzo Barbarano where the Palladio Museum is located

The temporary exhibition Jefferson and Palladio. Constructing a New World, arranged by the Palladio Foundation, is actually hosted in a Palladio Palace in Vicenza. Open until March 28th, 2016, it is a good chance to learn more about the works of the architect Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), the third President of the United States of America. The exhibition relates the story of a man who really constructed a new world. More than anyone else, Jefferson shaped the face of the USA through art, architecture and a rational division of the land. A visionary but with a pragmatic approach, he was both a man of action and an intellectual who knew Latin and Greek. Moreover, he was convinced that the New World could be built according to the tenets of reason and beauty. To achieve this aim he looked at his own time but also at the past, at the splendours of the ancient Roman civilization and at the architect who had succeeded in reproducing them in the Modern Age: Andrea Palladio.

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Thomas Jefferson facing Andrea Palladio at the beginning of the exhibition

At the entrance of the exhibition, a mirror reflects the busts of Palladio and Jefferson. This effect raises the initial question in the visitors: How are forms and ideas “reflected”? Why was an architect from Northern Italy adopted as a model (and as a master) for the construction of architecture in the New World?

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American History VIPs of the end of the 18th Century
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Mount Rushmore within a palladian frame

Jefferson’s Villa in Monticello, for instance, was designed after a detailed study of Palladian architecture. The name ‘Monticello’ itself comes from the description of the small hill (‘monticello’ in Italian) where Palladio’s Villa La Rotonda lays, as mentioned in the Four Books of Architecture written by Palladio. To fathom the importance of Palladian style in the USA we can just consider that the Villa in Monticello is depicted on the Five Cent Dollar coin.

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The Jefferson’s house at Monticello (VA)

Jefferson carefully studied The Four Books of Architecture, in the French translation. He chose the classic architectural Ionic order as it had been illustrated by Palladio in the books after his journey to Rome.

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A Jefferson’s model for the President’s House, 1792
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Virginia State Capitol, Richmond

In 1791 Jefferson designed a plan for the new capital on the banks of the river Potomac. The idea to link the White House and the Capital with a public park, the National Mall, belongs to him. Botany was one of his greatest passions but he was much more than a passionate amateur as in 1792 a plant was named “Jeffersonia diphylla”.

Unfortunately, when in Europe, he only visited France and Piedmont, in Northwest Italy, so he never tasted Prosecco from the vineyards around the Palladian Villas (see video here).

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Palladio: “You visited Europe. So why you never come in Vicenza to see my architectures?”

Jefferson and Palladio. Constructing a New World is the first exhibition in Europe dedicated to the great American Palladian. It enables visitors to explore Jefferson’s world, his art collections, architectural designs, dreams, as well as his contradictions, through drawings, sculptures, precious books, architectural models, films and multimedia (see a video here).

The link between Monticello and the hills around Palladio’s Villas would be established, that is my hope, by a “Glera” vineyard grown in Monticello in honour of both Palladio and Jefferson. Why not drinking a special unique Virginia Monticello’s Prosecco? I would ask for it to the DOCG Prosecco Consortium!

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