Year of Palladio

The Palladian Arch

We cannot end a discussion of Palladioís influence in America without mentioning one of the most ubiquitous of architectural features, the so-called Palladian arch. This device, consisting of a compass-headed or semicircular arched opening flanked by narrower flat-topped openings, was not Palladioís invention. It was known to the Romans and was particularly favored by the Emperor Hadrian, as seen in the Temple of Hadrian in Ephesus, and in a repeated series in the colonnade that surrounded the pool at Hadrianís villa in Tivoli. As an ancient device it became better known to the world through the illustration of the arch of the Aqueduct of Hadrian appearing in Stuart and Revettís Antiquities of Athens, Vol. III (1794) _. Prior to Palladio, Renaissance architects such as Bramante and Serlio made use of the device in their works. Serlio employed it so frequently in his designs of Venetian palaces, illustrated in his _LíArchitettura (1537-75) that the device came to be known as the serliana _. It is still referred to by that name in Italy, although itís just as frequently termed the _Venetian arch. Palladio made it famous, however, when he used a multiplicity of serlianae to screen the galleries he added to the medieval basilica in Vicenza, and later published the design in The Four Books (Figure 93 and Figure 94). Surprisingly, he employed the device only sparingly in the rest of his schemes. It appears on only two of his published villa designs.

It was during the 18th-century Anglo-Palladian movement in England that this architectural motif was really exploited. Colin Campbell illustrated in Vitruvius Britannicus (1715-25) some one dozen buildings using the device. In his A Book of Architecture, James Gibbs showed an equal number of plates of building schemes incorporating this three-part feature, including the rear elevation of St. Martin-in-the-Fields _. Because it became so associated with the Anglo-Palladian movement the serliana became known in much of the English-speaking world as the _Palladian arch or the Palladian window. It was through the pattern books of James Gibbs, Batty Langley, William Pain, and others, that the Palladian arch was transported to 18th-century America, where it can be found on scores of buildings from that period. A most famous example is that on Philadelphiaís Independence Hall _. Other handsome uses of the motif are seen on Mount Pleasant in Philadelphiaís Fairmont Park and Mount Clare in Baltimore _(Figure 97 and Figure 98). An interesting interpretation of the Palladian arch is the front porch of George Masonís home, Gunston Hall, in Virginia _. A beautiful example from the Federal period is the 1800 Read House in New Castle, Delaware _(Figure 100). The Palladian arch became a favored accent for houses of the American Renaissance. A walk through New Yorkís Upper East Side reveals several early 20th-century town houses made distinctive by bold Palladian windows _. In recent years the Palladian window has unfortunately become a clichÈ, particularly for many of the McMansions gobbling up the countryside _(Figure 102). It reached the status of over-kill with one of the structures of Johnson & Burgeeís One International Place in Boston (Figure 103). Let us hope this beautiful signature device, with its impressive pedigree will be treated with more respect in future American works.

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Houses | The Palladian Arch | ICA&CA

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