Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Theme and Variations

Palladio's Villa Capra or 'Villa Rotunda'
I've been wrestling with Palladianism for some time, working my way through Palladian Style in Canadian Architecture by Nathalie Clerk (Parks Canada,1984). Palladianism is the backstory for much of the architecture we see around us, but its name is seldom mentioned. It's the complicated little secret of Western Architecture. Now this is where it's fun to be an amateur and not a scholar, because I can say (to myself, as this blog is my personal study journal) things like 'Palladianism is a British variation on a Renaissance variation on a Roman theme'.

Although the word 'Palladian' doesn't often cross the lips of folks like me who love (and try to classify) architecture, its elements and principles endure. Clerk defines it as "the architectural style that flourished in England from 1710 to 1750." In the Canadian context, it describes "the influence of this style of architecture on the English colonies after 1750." Clear?

Renaissance architect Palladio (Italian, 1508-80) was taken with the ruins of ancient Rome - I don't need to dwell on the classical elements he touted - and wrote his massively influential Four Books of Architecture in 1570, based on the writings of  Roman architect Vitruvius. The main theme was the rules for proportions producing harmony.

Mereworth Castle, Kent
Palladian style is manifested in some iconic buildings; their images thanks to Jimmy Swales and the folks at Wikipedia. First we have Villa Capra in Vicenza Italy.  Palladio was working on a design for working farms and country villas - the most typical style had long lateral wings with the farm buildings on either end (at a palatable distance from the dining room). However Villa Rotunda (as it's often called) is the one that Palladio is most remembered by.  A few British lookalikes survive, like Mereworth Castle  in Kent.

Queen's House Greenwich early 1600's

However, it's the villa with wings -the 'House of Parade' - that most says "Palladian" to me. Oddly, the form appeared early in England, but got lost in the shuffle. Inigo Jones expressed the ideas of classical Roman architecture in Queen's House at Greenwich back in 1616-35.

Wanstead 1715, demolished 1825
The style returned in the 1700's in the great country houses. Although the aristocracy possessed great wealth, war had depleted the public purse, so the massive buildings of that time which endure are the indescribably rich country houses like  Wanstead, and Houghton Hall in Norfolk (architect of both, Colen Campbell.)

Houghton Hall, Norfolk (1735)
Colen Campbell officially launched the movement, according to Clerc, in 1715 with his book Vitruvius Britannicus; big names in Palladianism reworked the vocabulary over two generations.

St. Martin in the Fields, 1722-24

Church architecture was influenced by the simplified Palladian designs of James Gibbs (St.-Martin-in-the-Fields, London, being the most famous) and his many publications led to wide-spread emulation.

Palladianism shows up in 'the colonies'  only in the Maritimes and Quebec, as those were the earliest developed. Of course, in those early days, fine homes were beyond the reach of most, so the Palladian ideas were manifested in the only structures with a budget - civic and religious buildings. Even at that, the ideas were simplified due to exigencies of climate, materials, skills and expense. But key elements persisted: projecting centre section and sometimes lateral wings, a horizontal emphasis, raised basement with rusticated stone, columns, central pediment, symmetry, Palladian window (arched central section, flanking rectangular ones), sometimes lateral staircases rising to a loggia, roof parapets, regularly placed tall main floor windows/ smaller square ones up, emphasis on the centre portico, flat or hipped roof.
Holy Trinity Cathedral 

I don't have photos of any Palladian public buildings in Canada - the aloof severity of examples I've likely walked by like the Colonial Building St. John's, or the Customs Building in Montreal didn't invite approaching for a snap or two; then again, in those travels my fascination with built heritage was less... entrenched.

 And then I haven't touched Palladian inspired churches! My closest brush with one of them was the first Anglican cathedral built outside Britain, inspired by St.-Martin-in-the-Fields and as true to Palladian principles as thwarting local conditions allowed: Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral (1800-1804) in Quebec City. Here's my quick capture 'en caleche.'
Osgoode Hall, Toronto
Osgoode Hall, west pavilion

Toronto's Osgoode Hall (original iterations of 1829 and 1844/6) presents lots of Palladian features, Clerc explains: the regular form and spacing of the openings, three distinct horizontal divisions, columns supporting pediments in the side wings, rusticated ground floor, small square upper floor windows.

Campbell House 1822

Clerc's monograph features several grand homes I have visited: The Grange home of Family Compact poster boy D'Arcy Boulton in Toronto, and Campbell House, home of more early Toronto aristocracy.

Each of the homes (though much reduced from the likes of Houghton Hall) exhibits the symmetry and calm reserve, rectangular form, horizontality, projecting frontispiece topped with pediment containing an oculus, portico with columns of Palladian buildings.
The Grange c1817

Palladian vocabulary is what we use when we talk about Georgian architecture (although, an academic footnote here: Clerk asserts that it is inaccurate to speak of a Georgian style; it is merely the  term for the reigns of the four Georges, 1714 to 1830, during which a number of styles evolved - Palladianism, Neoclassicism, the Picturesque, and Gothic Revival.)

Back to sitting at the feet of Nathalie Clerc. "Georgian is used to describe a building type that is classical in spirit and derives from the British architectural tradition. This building type, peculiar to England during the Georgian period, was introduced to the English colonies during the eighteenth century."

When lay people identify a building as 'Georgian', I suppose we are noting the Palladian features which have trickled down to influence even modern subdivision architecture (somewhat) - calm symmetry, emphasis on the central entry and one or more features of the classical vocabulary originating with ancient Rome. Long story. Think I'll go look at some houses.

No comments:

Post a Comment