Collecting Palladio

William Talman

Palazzo Iseppo Porto

William Talman
Copyright: RIBA Library Drawings Collection

William Talman was arguably the greatest individual collector of architectural and design drawings that Britain has ever seen.

He was one of the major English architects of the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. From 1689, he was Comptroller of the Kings' Works. His surviving buildings, such as Chatsworth House, Uppark House and Dyrham Park, reveal a designer of ambition with a restless nature.

He also worked on the additions to Hampton Court Palace; perhaps it was here that his supposed rivalry with Sir Christopher Wren was formed? Like Wren, his buildings are usually described as Baroque. At first, therefore, it seems strange that he collected drawings by Palladio.

Talman bought the Palladio drawings from John Oliver in 1701. Collecting so many drawings demanded careful organisation: it is clear that Talman enjoyed this as he stamped many of them with his own collector's mark.

To make further sense, he also stuck certain drawings together. A good example is Palladio's studies for the Palazzo Iseppo Porto, Vicenza (1560s). Two drawings were produced for plates for I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura: one of the street elevation, the other of the inner courtyard. Talman, or perhaps his son John, stuck these together to demonstrate how Palladio realised the function of buildings and the hierarchy of their decoration.

Talman's understanding and organisation of Palladio's drawings was important for both their survival and their interpretation. He bequeathed his collection to his son John Talman, who also had a keen interest in architecture and collecting.