With an extensive oeuvre of buildings and books, it's not surprising that Palladio intrigues historians. They want to unlock the secrets of his career, to understand his method, to get up close to Palladio.
However, studying this world famous architect is no easy matter. Over centuries, the evidence has disappeared: buildings have been adapted, burnt down or demolished; drawings and papers lost. Palladio's voice seems ever-more distant, some 500 years after his birth.
Having said this, it is surprising just how much survives. Apart from his buildings, the main source for research is the Burlington Devonshire Collection, treasured by the RIBA British Architectural Library. Numbering over 330 drawings, scholars, architects, and students have long known and used this extraordinary legacy. Many feature in the Palladio 500 exhibitions; after the celebrations are over, they will return to their usual home, freely accessible in the RIBA Study Rooms.
However, Palladio can be found elsewhere in the extensive collections of the RIBA Library, in some surprising places. This image is of a recent, exciting discovery in the RIBA Archives Collections. Dated 19 April and 5 May 1565, this discoloured fragment details a payment received by Palladio from Comte Valerio Chiericati of some golden scudi.
Palladio had a close relationship with the Chiericati family, designing for them the Palazzo Chiericati, in Vicenza, and the Villa Vancimuglio. This bill details the slow completion of the Palazzo Chiericati, most probably referring to work on the interiors. Begun in 1550, this was one of Palladio's most ambitious palace designs that would only be completed around 1700.
A bill of payment, this appears to give but basic information. But looking closely, we can ascertain more, perhaps Palladio's personality. His writing style is elegant and fluid. Strong, energetic, pen-strokes dominate. Occasional flourishes can be found on certain letters, notably d, p, and g. And we can make out the same phrase twice: 'Io Andrea Palladio' – 'I Andrea Palladio.'
The sheet came as part of the Robert Morgan-Stanley archives, a choice collection of letters and other papers that was donated to the RIBA Library. Long thought lost, this fragment is but one of two signatures by Palladio in the RIBA Library Collections, a rare find, and insight. Detailing Palladio's working practice, this reveals the fiscal realities behind the Palladio myth.
To find out more about research and conservation of Palladio material in the the RIBA Library collections, go to Exhibiting Palladio.