Drawings and publications

I Quattro Libri dell' Architettura

Quattro Libri frontispiece

Frontispiece to Andrea Palladio's 'I Quattro Libri Dell'Architettura'Andrea PalladioCopyright: RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Palladio’s I Quattro Libri dell’ Architettura (The Four Books of Architecture) was first published in Venice in 1570 and remains one of the most influential treatise in the history of architecture.

Using classical antiquity as a guide to the construction of buildings, Palladio enhanced and even transformed the model of an architectural treatise established by Vitruvius.

It is notable for

  • its vivid language
  • striking images
  • the ease with which historical examples sit alongside the designs they inspired
  • its accessibility.

Palladio took the reader through the conditions, materials and building components inherited from classical antiquity. He elaborated on the parts of the building and the arrangement of rooms, progressing to ever more complex structures that included examples of his own designs.

In combining historical precedent with his own work Palladio made a significant innovation to the genre of the architectural treatise. In the latter parts of the treatise, Palladio broadened the understanding of public spaces and infrastructure. He concluded with a section on Roman temples, to which he had devoted space in his earlier Guidebooks to Rome (1554).

The impact of I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura

I Quattro Libri dell’ Architettura was immensely influential right from the start. Palladio’s direct use of language and the ingenious way in which he illustrated his treatise were key to the success of its public reception and its dissemination outside Italy. Translation into a number of different languages carried Palladio’s ideas across Europe (and eventually to the New World) from the seventeenth century onwards. Sometimes these texts were limited to only parts of the original book, and many were less than accurate when compared to the original.

The published translations increased the popularity of Palladio’s designs internationally, and helped their imitation and interpretation regionally. They left their mark on pattern books and trade publications, and so Palladio’s ideas became accessible beyond the upper-class owners and book collectors.