One of the most gifted, professional, and intelligent of architects working in Italy in C16, whose work provided the models for the Palladian style (Palladianism) and had a profound effect on Western architectural thinking. Palladio's studies of the architectural remains of ancient Rome led him to attempt to emulate its nobility and grandeur. Interpreting the texts of Vitruvius in his architecture and theories, he further explored the potential of symmetry in design, and developed various other concerns of the Renaissance, including the theory of harmonic proportions. He also drew on precedents provided by Italian architects, notably Bramante, Raphael, Giulio Romano, Sanmicheli, and Sansovino.
Born Andrea di Pietro della Gondola in Padua, Palladio began his career as a stonemason, and joined the Guild of Masons and Stonecutters of Vicenza in 1524. Around 1536 he became the protégé of Count Giangiorgio Trissino (1478–1550), the leading intellectual in Vicenza, who stimulated the young man to appreciate the arts, sciences, and Classical literature, granted him the opportunity to study Antique architecture in Rome, and called him ‘Palladio’ (from Pallas, a name for Athene, the Greek goddess associated with Wisdom).
Palladio won the competition to recase the municipal ‘Basilica’ (or Palazzo della Ragione) in Vicenza, and construction started in 1549. The design consists of a screen composed of two storeys employing a version of the arcuated theme at Sansovino's Biblioteca Marciana in Venice (from 1537) and from Serlio's L'Architettura of 1537 (although ultimately originating with Bramante). Consisting of arches flanked by smaller rectangular openings beneath the entablatures from which the arches spring, the motif is in essence the serliana, also called Palladian or Venetian window. An elegant tour-de-force of Classical elements put together with verve and élan, the Basilica made Palladio's name, and from 1550 he was fully employed as a designer of churches, palazzi, and villas.
His first grand house in Vicenza was the Palazzo Thiene (commenced 1542 to designs probably by Giulio Romano), in which the Mannerism of the heavily rusticated exterior is combined with an interior plan drawing on themes from Antiquity (e.g. the sequence of rectangular rooms with an apsidal-ended hall and octagonal spaces with niches, clearly derived from the precedents of Antique Roman thermae). For the Palazzo Iseppo Porto (c. 1548–52), Palladio planned two identical blocks on each side of a central court around which was to be a Giant Order of columns, evoking the atrium of a Roman house and the Capitoline palaces of Michelangelo in Rome. The symmetry and the sequence of rooms (each in proportion to the adjoining) were to become features of Palladio's work. Of the other Vicentine buildings, the Palazzo Chiericati (1550, but not completed until late in C17) deserves mention as it was designed to be a side of a great ‘forum’, with loggie as public amenities arranged as two storeys of colonnades, an unusual and highly original design for C16. The Loggia del Capitaniato (begun 1571), opposite the ‘Basilica’ in Vicenza, again employed a Giant Order, giving the impression that the building was constructed within surviving remains of a Roman temple, and there are Mannerist touches, including windows breaking into the entablature, triglyphs acting as brackets carrying balconies, and the side elevation in the form of a triumphal arch. The last, Roman Antiquity, and tricks of perspective are evoked in the Teatro Olimpico, Vicenza (begun 1580 and finished by Scamozzi), where even the painted sky of the ceiling suggested a theatre of the ancients.