= The Crawford Arts Review: November 2015

Sunday, 29 November 2015

RIBA Gallery, 66 Portland Place 
Palladian Design: The Good, The Bad and the Unexpected
Until Saturd
ay 09 January

This reviewer, admirer of all things minimalist and well proportioned, was nonetheless taken aback by Palladio's particular take on the subject.
Consider No.28 in this moving architectural exhibition at RIBA. It's Palladio's design for the Villa Valmarano. It seems to be of and arise from the comely landscape of the Vigardolo on which it stands. The fact that this early Villa was never quite finished and lacks the ornamentation of later work adds to its simple allure.
Palladio, I would suggest, to reach the heights of renaissance harmony which he achieved, was above all the observer; the disciple of natural form.
But there can be few architects, I think, who speak the name Palladio (Andrea Palladio, architect, born 1508 in Padua) with anything less than reverence. If they do, they especially should hasten to this exhibition - it closes in just over a month. For students of architecture the exhibition is a MUST.

No architect I think worked out the ratio of void to solid so masterfully as Palladio. Possessed of a mind that grasped the principles of good proportion and classical symmetry and influenced by the works of the Greeks and Romans (especially Vitruvius) before him, he built the way forward for architecture after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

And Palladio was industrious enough not only to build but to write down the whole of his principles in I quattro libri dell'architettura (a copy is on display in the exhibition), translated as The Four Books On Architecture, an English edition of which is available from MIT Press. Many books, treatises and pattern books followed as designers and architects sought to follow his principles in England, America and elsewhere (see note below).

In terms of Palladio's original plan drawings, exquisitely executed in pen and brown ink and wash, thanks to one of our own great architects, Inigo Jones (1573-1652), these were purchased and form the backbone of this exhibition.

Together with architectural models and photographs,
these original drawings have been arranged with appropriate symmetry and devoted precision by the London and Zurich architectural practice (Adam) Caruso and (Peter) St John. Together the items show the influence on the built environment of what came to be known as Palladianism over the course of 500 years and counting.

Take care to read the curatorial notes. Palladio did iterate a universal architectural language but it was not one he himself stuck to with mindless rigidity. His work, like all architectural work, was site-specific, adjusted and modified to suit location, budget and the needs of the client. He still has plenty to teach today. 

Note: an example: The City and Country Builder's and Workman's Treasury of Designs: Or The Art of Drawing and Working The Ornamental Parts of Architecture (Batty Langley, published in London in 1740). Until the 20th century few architects had seen Palladio's buildings in his native Italy: they relied on his 'Four Books' and pattern books such as these.

Note 2: Nature, I would also suggest, is incapable of ill proportion because with proportion comes function. The long neck of the giraffe, for instance, is certainly a long neck but it's a well-proportioned long neck - and it enables the giraffe in  nature to reach the leaves on which it feeds.

Until Saturday 09 January 2016. Free entry. Details: architecture.com

Monday to Sunday 10am to 5pm
Tuesday 10am to 8pm