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    Pseudo-palladian elements in English Neo-classical architecture Essay

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    The academic architects of the Burlington circle felt themselves to be the custodians of the tradition formed by Palladio and Inigo Jones, in whose works they believed that they had discovered the eternal rules of architecture. In theory and practice they attempted to restore this great art to its former glory, and it is well known how closely they followed the precepts of their models. We tend to look at their works in the light of their endeavours rather than with an eye on their achievements. In reality, their Palladianism is a good deal more English than is generally realized. These men could neither ignore the development of the previous hundred years in English architecture nor their own national tradition, and it can be shown that they gave a new meaning to almost all the elements which they derived from Palladio: to his planning, to the ‘monolithic’ character of his structures as well as to his orders and detail. Moreover, certain recurrent motives of importance in English academic architecture between 1720 and 1760 arc not Palladian at all, and others occur only as ephemeral experiments in his work. It is with two such motives that this paper is concerned, and its aim is to study their translation from Italian into English idiom, and thereby to throw new light on the movement as a whole.

    The ‘Venetian window’ is the one motive which everybody associates immediately with English Palladianism. It consists of three lights, the large central one being arched while the two smaller ones are covered by a straight architrave. The Basilica at Vicenza is the famous example of Palladio’s use of the motive on a grand scale, and from there it received its name of “Palladian Motive.” In the Basilica a continuous sequence of the motive in two stories, each framed by a large order, screens the mediaeval town-hall. By the regular repetition of the monumental motive the wall is reduced to a minimum, and a rhythm based on the approximately equal alternation of arched and straight parts prevails. In English 18th century architecture the motive was hardly ever employed in this way.1 It is, however, common in a less monumental form for windows and in isolation. Could English architects quote Palladio’s authority for such a usage? Palladio was not at all fond of the “Palladian” motive for isolated windows and only one precedent exists, the Villa Angarano near Bassano. This was never finished and cannot have been known to Palladio’s admirers except in the small illustration in his Qpattro libri dell’arcki Uttura.

    Moreover, the villa belongs to Palladio’s juvenilia (1548), and he never returned to the simple type of the three-light window in his later periods. In the Basilica, as well as in the Villa Angarano, Palladio was influenced by Serlio who in the fourth book of his Architecture, published in Venice in 1537, prominentlyillustratcs the motive in the form of a gallery and also as a window in a house front (PI. 42a).4 Serlio, on his part, popularized a conception which had a long pedigTee and was almost consistently in use from the and or 3rd century a.d. onwards.6 Reduced to its essentials the motive is concerned with the bridging of voids between columns, and its novelty consists in the reconciliation of the straight architrave of the Greeks with the arch of the Romans. But it was not before the early 16th century that the motive received a definite rhythm. Its author seems to have been Bramante, judging from the fact that his pupil Dolcebuono used it in a monumental sequence for the galleries of S. Maurizio in Milan , and that it appeared in Raphael’s circle after Bramante went to Rome. After that, we  find it isolated as a single window and employed by Raphael himself in S. Eligio degli Orrfiti (designed 1509) and in his fresco of the Rorgo Fire (1514). Even earlier Antonio da Sangallo the elder had used it as the central feature for his facade of S. Maria dcllc Lacrimc at Arezzo, and during the next 20 years it is frequently used as a window, as well as in the monumental sequence, by Peruzzi, Giulio Romano, Antonio da Sangallo the younger, Girolamo Genga, Cristoforo Solari and many others.4 From this list of names it is evident that the motive had been completely incorporated into the repertory of Italian architects when Palladio took it up at the end of the ’forties.

    Leaving aside the monumental use of the motive as being unimportant from the English point of view it appears that as a window it was often designed for church facades, where it was brought into a functional relationship with the entrance.3 Only at a later dale, towards the middle and in the second half of the century, docs it occur frequently, in palaces by Vignola, Ammanati, Vasari, Cigoli, Giacomo della Porta, and in the north with Giovanni da Udine, San- micheli, Serlio and Scamozzi.4 It is used to emphasize the centre of the facade and, as with Palladio, it is frequently framed by a large order. Even when this is not the case, as in Giovanni da Udine’s Palazzo della Provincia at Udine, entrance door and “Palladian” window form a compact group firmly tied together, and the window appears immovably fixed in the surface of the wall. When Inigo Jones introduced this type of window into English architecture, he reverted, not to Palladio, but to Scamozzi for whom he seems to have had a dislike mixed with admiration.6 Scamozzi’s Idea della Architettura uititersale4 contains a selection of palazzi with this centre motive, all of which are translations of Serlio’s prototypes into a later style (PL 42b). The “Palladian” motive appears prominently in most of the drawings for Whitehall Palace (PI. 42c, d),7 and the way in which it is firmly bound up with the wall between tle vertical frames of the big order and the horizontals of two tiers corresponds exactly to its use by Scamozzi.

    But particularly in the schemes which were used by Colin Campbell and by William Kent there are important differences which were to bear fruit. In the block-shaped Italian palazzo the Venetian window, applied in one or two stories above the entrance door, forms with it a middle axis, the climax of the steady rhythm of the side bays. In the long drawn-out fronts of the Campbell plates symmetrically arranged pavilions alternate with lower receding parts, and the pavilions with the Venetian windows and loggias stand out not only by virtue of their greater height but also, and even mainly, through being conceived as isolated decorative accents (PI. 42d). The receding parts are left plain so that they do not in any way prepare for the new motives in the pavilions. That the Venetian window has been chosen for its decorative and festive quality and not for its intrinsic functional value, can be shown by a further and stricter analysis. In the Italian palazzo it bridged the central bay, the great width of which is due to the entrance door; at the same time, by repeating the arch of the entrance in the middle light and the straight lintels of the windows in the side lights,it had become the ideal point of intersection between the horizontal and the vertical tendencies in  the facade. Most of the Whitehall drawings follow this conception, but those used by Kent arc dif ferent (PI. 42c).1 Nothing can be more revealing for the character of the “Palladian” motive than the fact that here the Venetian window does not result from a particularly wide bay, and that instead of accentuating an entrance-door it stands above the unbroken sequence of the ground-floor windows.

    Thus, the Venetian group in the first and second floors appears, from a functional point of view,.as a casual element, and not necessitated by the structural logic of the building itself. ‘Campbell plates show this same use of the motive, whereas it docs not appear in the original drawings from which Campbell derives. Theoretically Palladio demands that “the void must be over the void and the solid upon the solid,”2 and Scamozzi discussing the question of the “suitability of windows to the quality of the building” states explicitly that windows above one another in different storeys should have the same width.3 Tins point docs not occur in English theory. On the other hand, Isaac Ware, in the most comprehensive architectural treatise in the English tongue,Complete Body of ArcMtectun (1756), says about Venetian windows that they are “a kind calculated for shew, and very pompous in their nature; and, when executed with judgment, of extreme elegance.’ The enthusiasm for the Venetian window displayed l»y Inigo Jones and his school was short lived ; Sir Christopher Wren used it exclusively—and on very few occasions -in the east end of churches. It is an unsettled question who initiated the widespread use of the Venetian window in the early 18th century. Not a single Venetian window Is to be found in Campbell’s first volume of the Vitruvius Britarmicus, published in 1715.

    But shortly afterwards the motive appears almost simultaneously in the Vanbrugh-Hawksmoor group and in the Burlington circle. Campbell may have preceded Vanbrugh by a slight margin with his Venetian windows in the facade of Burlington House, designed in 1717 (PI. 43a). But as these windows were not executed before 1719,5 it is likely that Vanbrugh, between 1718 and 1720, hit upon the same idea in the towers of Eastbury and Seaton Delava!. The Venetian windows in Burlington House are framed by a double order as in some of Scamozzi’s designs, and they reveal immediately their kinship with the Whitehall Palace types. The ground floor windows under the three-light windows correspond again with the other windows in the same storey and the “Palladian” motive appears isolated. Moreover, the application of this major feature not in the centre but in the projecting comer bap, centrifugally one might say and not centripetally, is quite foreign to Italian usage. Finally, the windows are set in the wall in such a way that a comparatively large piece of solid surface is shown above them. In other words, the Italian method, which is to reduce this wall as much as possible, in order to tie the arched top of the window to the entablature above, was not followed here. In spite of the completely different  character of Seaton Dclaval, Vanbrugh’s use of the motive is very much on the same lines. But it is important that here the Venetian windows arc not framed by an order; they appear as relatively small voids in the plain wall of the upper part of the towers.

    The next step in the development towards a conventional English use of the Venetian window is Campbell’s large house at Wanstcad which was demolished in 1822. Campbell published two designs for it in the first volume of Vitruvius Britannicus (1715) which both show a six-column portico in the centre and six bap in each of the almost bare wings.1 But between 1715 and 1720 there occurs a characteristic development, and we witness the growth of a style. In the third volume of Vitruvius Britannicus Campbell re-published his second design with the “addition of the new towers” planned in 17203—each tower decorated with a Venetian window on the level of the main storey (PI. 43b). The tripartite windows are used to emphasize the comers as in Burlington House; but they arc loosely placed in a large ’empty’ wall without a ‘framing’ order as at Seaton Dclaval. Vanbrugh again follows with very similar Venetian windows in the wings of his last work, Grims- thorpe Castle, designed c. 1723.

    But from a neo-classical standpoint the final design of Wanstcad is more progressive, for wc find here for the first time equal emphasis placed on the Palladian temple motive of the centre and on the Venetian windows of the corners, a trinity which very soon was to become the accepted pattern of such facades. Two years after Wanstcad it was taken up, and elaborated by Campbell in the design for the west front of Houghton Hall (PI. 43c). The string-course between the Venetian windows and the small windows above them is dropped, with the result that the two windows of each side-pavilion form a decorative configuration on the large plain surface of the wall. This configuration should be seen together with the window of the rusticated ground-Hoor below and that of the tower above the comice,5 and be compared with the central axis of a Scamozzi design. Then it will be realized what a difference separates a conception in which every architectural member is charged with functional energy from one which tends towards the arrangement of linear patterns on a surface. The grouping of Wanstead and Houghton was repeated most notably in Kent’s south side of Holkham (1734) and Flitcroft’s Woburn Abbey (1747). Alderman Bcckford’s house at Fonthill, Wiltshire, was an almost exact copy of Houghton, combining features of Campbell’s original design with elements of the structure as carried out by Ripley.

    The same model was followed by Sanderson Miller in the garden front of Croome Court in Worcestershire (r. 1750); but the proportions were changed by replacing the rustic ground-floor by a basement (PI. 43d).In the Duke of Bedford’s scat, Stratton Park in Hampshire, the type was reproduced without the mez- zanine.10 Gopsal in Leicestershire, on the other hand, has three storeys in its middle block, and only two in the strongly projecting comer-wings with the Venetian windows, the result being a complete lack of relationship between the main block of the building and the wings. These must be  regarded as the frame of a picture (PI. 43c).1 The appeal of this type was so strong that even Robert Adam succumbed to it in the Register House at Edinburgh (1769). In all these cases the variations on the archetype are slight. In other examples, however, the departure from it is more considerable without its essential features being sacrificed. In Isaac Ware’s Wrotham Park (c. 1754) the Venetian windows frame the tetrastyle feature, and the constituent trinity—portico and Venetian windows is closely joined (PI. 44a). Isaac Ware used the same arrangement in another of his designs,and so did lib greater suc cessor, Robert Adam. Applying it in his designs for Witham Park, Somerset, for the completion of King’s College, Cambridge, and for the main block of Stowe (south front, PI. 45g) he gave it new life.6 These last four projects have a peculiarity with which so far we have not met: the Venetian windows appear under a relieving arch.

    This conception has its own long and interesting history. The idea of placing a small arch within a large one was an old Italian device which Renais sance architects had found in Roman Thermae and other classical structures. It became an ever recurrent theme from the days of Brunelleschi’s Cappclla Pazzi. Its development and fate cannot here be followed up; it must suffice in this connection to say that the motive is extremely rare in its application to the Venetian window, and it seems probable that Palladio was the first to use it in this combination. The only executed example occurs—with a fascinating simplification—in the entrance door to his Villa Pojana (r. 1560),* and the consequences for later Italian architecture remained negligible. But Lord Burlington possessed a number of Palladian drawings7 which exploited the theme in various directions. Of these drawings, the one which Lord Burlington himself copied in General Wade’s house, is perhaps the most important for England (PI. 44b). The relieving arch applied to the Venetian window made it possible for Palladio’s design to attain a measure of concentration and unification which far surpassed Scamozzi’s achievement. The large arch of the window almost corresponds to, and repeats, the arch of the entrance, and the small arch is of identical height and width to the relieving arches of the other windows.

    This type of Venetian window helped to create a structure of unsurpassed lucidity. On the other hand, the use in both stories of rusticated arches, between which the windows appear set in a smooth wall surface, reveals another tendency. The rustication is attached to the wall like a strengthening scaffolding. The two surfaces which thereby become visible on different levels give this system an ambiguity which occurs only in the Mannerist phase of Palladio’s develop ment, and it is characteristic that the idea had come to him from Giulio Romano. Thus, when this drawing with its combination of rustic and smooth surfaces was used in England, architects were following a Palladio who, from a classical point of view, was least himself. Is drawing exerted an extraordinary influence on English architecture, not only through the copy of it embodied in General Wade’s house which became the prototype of a number of houses on this and the other side of the Atlantic, but also through the transformations which it underwent in the course of time. These reveal that neo-classical architects had no eye for the tension of this design. William Kent’s Treasury and Horse Guards provide proof of it. In the top storey of the Treasury project (PI. 44c)2 the old pattern -tetrastyle motive and Venetian windows was combined with the rustication and the relieving arches from Palladio’s drawing. But without Palladio’s Doric order the rustication has considerably gained in importance and appears as a continuous wail, and not as applied framework. The decorative character of the rusti cated surface with the hollows for the Venetian windows is still more striking in the Parade side of the Horse Guards (PI. 45c). In both these buildings another idea appears which was not Kent’s own.

    The Venetian windows are not confined to the comer pavilions but one is also used in the centre. With the abandoning of the tetrastyle feature in the Horse Guards the three Venetian windows remain the chief accents of the facade. Behind this conception lies another Palladian project. Burlington’s collection con- tained a design with three recessed Venetian windows in a plain wall (PI. 45a); this design was quite exceptional for the South, it was probably never meant to be executed, and nothing like it is to be seen in Italy. It is significant for Lord Burlington’s own development and the severe turn in English neo-classicism that a few years after the building of General Wade’s house the Earl applied this arrangement to a building intended for liimsclf. He used it for the garden front of his villa at Chiswick (PI. 45b).4 The relieving arches of the Venetian windows appear here as if cut out of the flat wall with a knife, and the strongly linear character of the design has a restraint not to be found in Houghton and its derivatives. The triple emphasis on the centre and the sides was now, perhaps for the first time, achieved with the same “Palladian” motive, and it is this peculiar and essentially un Italian arrangement which had such a strong appeal in this country. Kent applied this system in the north front of Ilolkham and anticipated here in a plain wall the Parade front of the Horse Guards.5 This makes it obvious that the employment of a different surface medium did not necessitate a great change of design.

    The garden front of Chiswick formed also the basis of Isaac Ware’s design for the Mansion House,5 and derivatives may be found in a long series of buildings such as Vardy’s street front of Spencer House,7 Paine’s house for Sir Matthew Fcatherstonchaugh in Wrhitchall (PI. 45c)8 or Robert Adam’s Gosford House, East Lothian. But the design for the park front of Sir Matthew’s house which was published by Paine but not executed shows an interesting version of the three-window type. Each window is framed by large Corinthian double columns, and the wall has shrunk considerably, so that a continuous sequence of windows replaces the isolated accents of earlier designs. We are much nearer a genuine Italian conception than in the earlier phase of nco-classicism and, indeed, the design was inspired by another Palladian drawing in Burlington’s collection (PI. 43d)1 which, characteristically, was not used in Burlington’s own generation. Robert Adam relumed to it in the design of the side blocks of Stowe and Kedlcston. In dealing with the use of the Venetian window in two important house types represented by the west from of Houghton and the garden front of Chiswick, this survey leaves out the innumer able buildings in which the Venetian window, more or less loosely connected with these types, plays an important part right down to the end of the 18th century. It appears in the centre alone under a tetrastyle motive and without it, in the wings alone with or without any middle accent, and in both forms, simple and recessed. Yet in almost all these fronts the same law of a decorative relationship between wall and voids remains binding. Quite often such aberrations from the main types are occasioned by the shape and size of the building, and in a small and high front like Isaac Ware’s house in South Audlcy Street, London,4 three variations of Venetian windows one above the other form the only axis. Moreover, this motive was so completely absorbed in England that it sank down from the level of ‘high art’ and was widely used as a decorative feature of popular architecture.

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