Author(s) Palladio, Andrea
Title I quattro libri dell’architettura...
Imprint Venice, D. De Franceschi, 1570
Localisation Paris, Ensba, Les 1338
Subject Antique buildings, Domestic architecture, Orders
Transcribed version of the text


     The treatise that Palladio published in 1570 was the achievement of his life; the obscure stonecutter from Padua had become one of the greatest figures of the Cinquecento. The work, theoretical and practical, one of the most complete ever written, deals with the orders (Book I), the private residences the architect constructed (Book II), public buildings, roads and bridges (Book III) and antique temples (Book IV). It is abundantly and superbly illustrated with xylographs which are the equal of Vignola's copperplates. The author was a recognized architect, up to date with the most recent developments in the art of building, but also a humanist, acquainted with Vitruvius' De architectura and in possession of a remarkable archeological culture acquired during several stays in Rome as well as a good knowledge of contemporary architecture.
Palladio consecrates the grammar of classical ornament or theory of the orders, expressed by Serlio, perfected by Philandrier and formulated by Vignola. In this fundamental area, he distinguishes himself from previous theoreticians on certain points: specific distances between columns for each order, new proportions for the Corinthian order, an original process to trace the abacus of Corinthian capitals. As a counterpart to Vitruvius' version, he gives variations on bases and capitals he judges more harmonious (the Tuscan order). Above all, he personalizes his orders with a characteristic base plinth, carved in cavetto, or by the addition of a supplementary baguette on some bases.
But the real originality of the treatise lies in the presence of Palladio's works (Book II), private houses built in the Terraferma countryside for Venitian or Vicezan aristocrats (villa Rotonda, villa Maser...) or built in Vicenza (palazzo Chiericati, palazzo Thiene, palazzo Valmarana...). The plans and elevations of some villas and palaces are even more precious since most of the projects were not brought to completion, with the slight difference that Palladio idealizes the engraved plans more (palazzo Valmarana in Vicenza).
In Book III, Palladio takes on public works. This book gave him the possibility to prove his erudition, as he cites Caesar, Tacitus and Titus-Livy on bridges and antique edifices at the same time as he shows his inventiveness, with the project for a magnificent stone bridge for the Grand Canal in Venice, or the completed project of the Basilica at Vicenza. They are presented as modern interpretations of antique edifices.
Book IV, with the largest number of illustrations, is a selection of the most remarkable temples of Rome and its surroundings (Tivoli), those of Italy (Naples, Trevi, Assisi) and beyond the borders of Italy (Pola, Nîmes). As Serlio did in the Terzo libro, he places the modern paragon of good architecture, Bramante's tempietto at San Pietro in Montorio, next to the most prestigious Roman buildings (the temples of Peace, of Mars Ultor, of Jupiter Stator, the Pantheon...).
The quality of the plans and elevations is remarkable. But one must not fail to emphasize the archeological clairvoyance of a Palladio who knew how to see the great quadrangular temples in the vestiges (the temple of Mars Ultor, the temple of Antoninus and Faustina, the temple of the Sun and the Moon, the temple of Serapis...). His familiarity with Roman architecture often led him to make very significant corrections, as seen in the case of the Maison carrée at Nîmes, which Palladio had never seen. Drawing his inspiration from the detailed architectural plans by Jean Poldo d’Albenas (Discours historial de la ville de Nîmes, Lyon, 1559), he modernizes them with orthogonal profiles and projections, and above all completes them thanks to his deep knowledge of the religious architecture of the beginning of the empire.
Unlike Serlio's Quarto libro, of capital importance for the development of the European Renaissance, and unlike Vignola's Regola, which had unfailing success in France and more generally in Europe during the 17th century, the Quattro libri had only a limited and specific influence. In fact, Book I aroused great interest. It was translated into Spanish in 1625 and twenty years later Pierre Le Muet produced a revised and corrected version of it, "à la française", put out in a small format (octavo), which made for a handy manual for practitioners. Like his small Vignole (Paris 1632), the Palladio for French use met with notable success. Pirated editions came out in Holland (1646, 1679, 1682) ; it was also translated into Dutch (1646) and English throughout the century (1663, 1668, 1676, etc.). We know how much Inigo Jones was inspired by the Quattro libri in his architectural work. In 1650 Fréart de Chambray published an unabridged translation.

Frédérique Lemerle (Centre national de la recherche scientifique,
Centre d'études supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours) – 2006
Revised in 2011

Critical bibliography

K. Anderson, Inigo Jones and the Classical Tradition, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2007.

P. Gros, Palladio e l’antico, Venice, Marsilio, 2006.

F. Lemerle (ed.), Andrea Palladio Les quatre livres de l’architecture d’Andrea Palladio, Paris, Flammarion, 1997, pp. I-XI (new edition: Paris, Flammarion, 2002).

F. Lemerle, "L’Accademia di architettura e il trattato di Palladio (1673-1674)", Annali di architettura, 12, 2000, pp. 117-122.

F. Lemerle, "À propos des trois planches de Palladio insérées par Fréart de Chambray dans sa traduction des Quattro libri", Annali di architettura, 9, 1997, pp. 93-96.

F. Lemerle, "À l’origine du palladianisme européen : Pierre Le Muet et Fréart de Chambray", Revue de l’art, 178, 2012-4, pp. 43-47.

F. Lemerle & Y. Pauwels, Architectures de papier. La France et l’Europe (XVIe-XVIIe siècles), Turnhout, Brepols, 2013, pp. 116, 141, 144-145.

L. Magagnato, Introduction in A. Palladio, I quattro libri dell’architettura, L. Magagnato & P. Marini (ed.), Milan, Il Polifilo, 1980, pp. XI-XLVI.

C. Mignot, "Palladio et l’architecture française du XVIIe siècle", Annali di architettura, 12, 2000, pp. 107-115.

G. Beltramini, H. Burns, K. W. Forster, W. Oechslin & C. Thoenes (ed.), Palladio nel Nord Europa. Libri, viaggiatori, architetti, Milan, Skira, 1999.

L. Puppi & D. Battiloti, Andrea Palladio, Milan, Electa, 2006.

R. Wittkower, Palladio and english Palladianism, London, Thames and Hudson, 1974 (It. ed. : Turin, Einaudi, 1984; 1995).