Palladianism - some definitions

Seventeenth-century Palladianism

Queen's House, Greenwich, London the south front

Colen Campbell. Vitruvius Britannicus (London, 1717), vol. I, p. 15
Copyright: RIBA Library Photographs Collection

At the beginning of the seventeenth century British architecture was at odds with most of Europe. Elizabethan and Jacobean architecture delighted in lavish decoration, complex plans and fairytale profiles.

This was far from the careful control of Palladianism, based on rules from Roman and Italian Renaissance architecture distilled by Palladio. For Palladianism to be accepted in Britain, nothing less than a revolution in architecture was needed, and a remarkable leader to direct it. One man led the way: Inigo Jones.

Jones studied extensively in Italy, and was especially captivated by the work of Palladio. On his return, he designed The Queen's House, Greenwich, his first significant commission. Principally inspired by the villas of Palladio, it also looked to other sources, such as Renaissance Florentine villas. He also built the Banqueting House, Whitehall, and together these are considered the first Palladian buildings in Britain.

This early British Palladianism was fairly varied. Like Palladio before him, Jones combined a number of sources, ancient and modern, to create his own style. He was influenced by the work of Italian architects such as Sebastiano Serlio and Scamozzi, and French designers including Jean Barbet.

Jones was also practical, adapting features such as windows and chimney pieces to cope with the very different climate and social conditions of seventeenth-century Britain.

Jones's chief patrons were King James I and Charles I, and so Palladianism was regarded as a royal style. With the Civil War and Commonwealth, ambitious architectural projects were abandoned: the first growth of Palladianism in Britain lost momentum.

In 1660, the Restoration of the Monarchy brought a return to indulgence across the arts. The latter part of the 17th century saw the ascendancy of Baroque architecture, its chief practitioners being Sir Christopher Wren, John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor.

Thus, it was not until around 1710 that there was to be a return to Palladianism, and the results were to be very different.