Giacomo Leoni

Lyme Park, Cheshire

British Architectural Library
Copyright: RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Like many other Palladian architects, travel was essential to the development of Giacomo Leoni's career. Leoni's Grand Tour, however, was in reverse: his goal was England, not Italy.

Born in the Veneto, Italy, Leoni (1686 - 1746) had ready access to Palladio's buildings. A crucial element of his education, this made him attractive to foreign patrons such as the Elector of Palatine, for whom he undertook the commission of Schloss Bensburg, near Cologne.

Looking to further his career, he arrived in England in 1714. There, sometime between 1715 and 1720, he published an English translation of Palladio's I Quattro Libri dell Architettura.

Produced in five installments, this remains an impressive book. Large and richly engraved, it was dedicated to Leoni's German patron, the Elector of Palantine. Yet its significance was not to be felt in Germany, but in England.

As the first complete English edition of I Quattro Libri dell Architettura, it transformed understanding of Palladio's architecture. Relatively crude sixteenth-century woodcuts were replaced by fine engravings. Fragmentary printed editions of individual books were supplanted by a comprehensive text. Now, as never before, Palladio's buildings, his knowledge of the Antique, and his understanding of architectural principles could be fully appreciated

Unsurprisingly. Leoni's architectural career in Britain then began in earnest. His works include:

  • Lyme Park, Cheshire (1725), where Leoni transformed an earlier Elizabethan house
  • Clandon Park, Surrey (1730), with its superlative interiors
  • Stowe, Buckinghamshire (1730s), where Leoni designed various garden buildings

These buildings are fine examples of Neo-Palladian design and craftsmanship. However, it is through his translation of Palladio's work that Leoni made an invaluable contribution to Neo-Palladianism, and it is this that remains his chief claim to fame.