Villa Rotonda and its influence

Charles Barry and the Villa Rotonda

Sketch of the Villa Rotonda, Vicenza, Italy

This sketch was made by Sir Charles Barry while touring Italy, Sicily, Greece, Asia Minor and Egypt with John Lewis Wolfe between 1817 and 1820.
Copyright: RIBA Library Drawings Collection

Palladianism had fallen completely out of fashion in Britain in the 19th century. In the early 1800s Neo-classical architecture was still enjoying some favour, but before long the Gothic style gripped the nation. It is therefore a pleasant surprise to discover this small sketch by Charles Barry of the Villa Rotonda, carried out in 1820.

Barry, who was later to become famous as the architect of the Houses of Parliament, travelled extensively across Europe and Asia, sketching important buildings which he saw along the way.

In 1820 he studied not only Roman architecture, but also Gothic structures in Venice and Renaissance architecture elsewhere in Italy. These included Palladio’s Villa Rotonda.

The notes which Barry made to accompany his sketch of the Villa Rotonda are full of praise to begin with. He enthuses about its beautiful setting and states that “no proportions or profile could possibly be more beautiful than the façades of the four porticos.”

However, Barry goes on to make notes on the alterations he would have made to the design, which despite his initial praise, number quite highly!

In his conclusion he pardons Palladio for what he sees as unsatisfactory features, in particular the dome, which he describes as being “a vile invention of the enemy Scamozzi who has done much to mar this beautiful edifice.”