Palladianism - some definitions


Chiswick House, London elevation of the entrance front

RIBA Library Drawings and Archives Collection
Copyright: RIBA Library Drawings Collection

Neo-Palladianism is the term used to describe the style of architecture developed in Britain in the early eighteenth century, led by Lord Burlington and his circle of architects. On the whole, it drew on Palladio's villas and palaces, rather than his church architecture. It also consciously sought to revive the work of Inigo Jones and his contemporaries.

This re-emergence of a new Palladian style was the result of many factors. Chief of these was the energy and vision of Richard Boyle, the third Lord Burlington. He acquired a major collection of drawings and writings by Palladio, and brought together a talented group of architects including Henry Flitcroft, Colen Campbell, and William Kent

Burlington wished to cultivate a new taste for Palladianism in Britain. In doing so he banished the Baroque influence of Wren, Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor which had been dominant for over fifty years.

Model buildings such as Chiswick House showed the refined nature of this new architecture. Equally essential were new English translations of Palladio's writings. These, as well as the publication of other style guides, such as Vitruvius Britannicus, appealed to a growing market generated by the Grand Tour – which stimulated an appetite for all things classical.

However, Burlington's promotion of Palladio's work and the dissemination of ideas through architectural treatises and builders' companions led to a quite different style of architecture.

Neo-Palladianism emphasised certain building types and stylistic features. Villas and palace-terraces were busily erected across Britain, with columns, pediments and Palladian windows deployed repeatedly on their façades. This was quite different to focusing on the rational understanding of a building advocated by Palladio.

While at times this focus on building features gave rise to a repetitive and predictable approach, the achievements of Neo-Palladianism cannot be understated. It gave rise to the quintessential eighteenth-century British country house, plus the ordered streetscapes that form the heart of numerous British cities, punctuated by grandiose civic buildings.