Utility is the key to understanding Palladio’s villas. In sixteenth-century Italy a villa was a farm, and in the Veneto agriculture had become a serious business for the city-based mercantile aristocracy. As the Venetian maritime empire gradually crumbled before the advancing Ottoman Turks, Venetians compensated by investing in the terra firma of their hinterland.
But beauty was equally the determinant of form, though beauty of a special kind. Palladio was designing buildings for a clientele who, whether princes of commerce, traditional soldier-aristocrats or gentlemen of leisure, shared an intense admiration for ancient Rome. They were children of the High Renaissance and steeped in humanist learning. Palladio was the first architect regularly to apply the colonnaded temple fronts to secular buildings.
But the beauty of his villas was not solely a matter of applied ornament. As can be seen particularly in his low-budget, pared-down villas and auxiliary buildings, there is a geometric order which arises from sophisticated systems of proportion and an unerring intuitive sense of design. It is little wonder that Andrea Palladio became the most influential architect the western world has ever known.
Many of his finest surviving villas and palaces are included on this tour, as well as some of the lesser-known and less accessible ones.
Fly at c. 2.00pm (British Airways) from London Gatwick to Venice. Drive to Vicenza where all five nights are spent.
See in Vicenza several palaces by Palladio including the Palazzo Thiene and the colonnaded Palazzo Chiericati. His chief civic works here are the Basilica – the mediaeval town hall nobly encased in classical guise – and the Teatro Olimpico, the earliest theatre of modern times.
The Villa Pisani at Bagnolo di Lonigo, small but of majestic proportions, is considered by many scholars to be Palladio’s first masterpiece. The Villa Poiana, another early work, has restrained but noble proportions. The Villa Badoer at Fratta Polesine, from the middle of his career, is a perfect example of Palladian hierarchy, a raised residence connected by curved colonnades to auxiliary buildings.
The hilltop ‘La Rotonda’, a 10-minute drive from Vicenza, is the most famous of Palladio’s buildings, domed and with four porticoes. In the foothills of the Dolomites, Villa Godi Malinverni is an austere cuboid design with lavish frescoes inside. Some free time in Vicenza.
At the lovely town of Bassano there is a wooden bridge designed by Palladio. The Villa Barbaro at Maser, built by Palladio for two highly cultivated Venetian brothers, has superb frescoes by Veronese, while the Villa Emo at Fanzolo typically and beautifully combines the utilitarian with the monumental.
Drive along a stretch of the canal between Padua and the Venetian Lagoon, which is lined with the summer retreats of Venetian patricians. The Villa Foscari, ‘La Malcontenta’, is one of Palladio’s best known and most enchanting creations. Explore one of Palladio’s most evolved, most beautiful and most influential buildings, the Villa Cornaro at Piombino Dese. Fly from Venice to London Gatwick, arriving c. 6.30pm.
Many of the villas on this itinerary are privately owned and require special permission to visit. The selection and order may therefore vary a little from the description above.
Dr Michael Douglas-Scott
Associate Lecturer in History of Art at Birkbeck College, specialising in 16th-century Italian art and architecture. He studied at the Courtauld and Birkbeck College, University of London and lived in Rome for several years. He has written articles for Arte Veneta, Burlington Magazine and the Journal of the Warburg & Courtauld Institutes.
Sarah PearsonArchitectural historian and writer specialising in Italy. Her MA focused on the architecture of Andrea Palladio and her PhD investigated convent building in Northern Italy with particular reference to the Duchy of Urbino and the Sienese architect Francesco di Giorgio Martini. Other interests include Renaissance art and English Brutalist architecture. She has taught at the Universities of Reading and East Anglia, and currently lectures at Madingley Hall at the University of Cambridge.
Price – per person
Two sharing: £2,070 or £1,910 without flights. Single occupancy: £2,350 or £2,190 without flights.
Two sharing: £2,160 or £1,980 without flights. Single occupancy: £2,460 or £2,280 without flights.
Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus A319); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation; breakfasts; 2 lunches and 3 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer.
Hotel Campo Marzio, Vicenza: just outside a city gate of Vicenza, this 4-star hotel is well located and comfortable, with decent-sized rooms.
The tour involves a lot of walking, sometimes uphill and over unevenly paved ground, as the coach can rarely get close to the villas or enter town centres. There is a lot of standing outside and inside villas. Fitness is essential. Some days involve a lot of driving. Average distance by coach per day: 58 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Suggested travel for combining with Gardens & Villas of Campagna Romana (9–14 April 2018)
8 April: The Palladian Villas group is due to fly from Venice at 17.30. Transfer with the group to Venice airport to catch an Alitalia flight to Rome at 19.40-20.40. Stay overnight near Rome Fiumicino airport, where you meet the Campagna Romana group at 14.10 on 9 April. You would need to book the Venice-Rome flight and Fiumicino hotel yourself. See tripadvisor.com for public reviews on hotels.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
'The itinerary was absolutely perfect. We saw much more than anticipated. The days were full but not tiring. The coach was very comfortable with great visibility.'
'I’ve wanted to see these buildings for many years. The opportunity you offered was much better than we could have done ourselves.'
'The evolution of Palladio’s work became clear as the tour evolved.'
'Our lecturer really made this tour by treating us as his students and not a bunch of geriatrics – there were no little cliques formed.'
'It was exactly what it said on the tin! A delightful mixture of education and aesthetic pleasure.'