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Carnegie Museum of Art Opens Palladio and His Legacy

Italian Renaissance master Andrea Palladio (1508–1580) is considered one of the most influential architects of the last 500 years. From September 3 to December 31, Palladio and His Legacy: A Transatlantic Journey will be on view at the Heinz Architectural Center at Carnegie Museum of Art, presenting 31 rare, original drawings from the outstanding collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects Trust, alongside models and equally rare books. The exhibition reveals how Palladio’s designs evolved from his study of antiquity, thus uniting classical Roman design elements with Renaissance advances in architecture.

The enduring contemporary style Palladio created spread throughout Italy and Great Britain in the 16th and 17th centuries, but it was the United States that most fully embraced his vision as a living tradition, from colonial times to the present. Thomas Jefferson called Palladio’s work the “bible” for architectural design, and Palladio’s influence is evident on some of the most iconic structures in America, from the U.S. Supreme Court to the Capitol building. Palladio and His Legacy provides an extraordinary opportunity for American audiences to experience, through Palladio’s own hand, the origins of an architectural style that is deeply connected to our nation’s history.

“The Heinz Architectural Center is thrilled to present these exceptional objects and to have had the opportunity to collaborate with our gracious colleagues at the Royal Institute of British Architects Trust,” said Tracy Myers, curator of architecture at the Heinz Architectural Center and organizer of the exhibition. “Seldom do we get to stand in the nearly palpable presence of one of the Western world’s greatest designers—to see him absorbing information and laboring over ideas and solving architectural problems through drawings. Palladio’s continuing relevance—even when manifest in contemporary buildings of somewhat dubious quality—will surely strike our visitors as remarkable.”

The materials on display include original drawings, rare books, and contemporary models. The exhibition examines the development of Palladio’s design sensibility through early sketches that show unfinished and traced-over areas, as well as final presentation drawings. Bas-relief models created and loaned by prominent contemporary modelmaker Timothy Richards bring some of the drawings to three-dimensional life. This combination of drawings and models clearly demonstrates Palladio’s influence on early American domestic architecture and monumental buildings.

The architect’s renowned publication I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura (Four Books on Architecture), published in 1570, contains specific villa designs that, when compared to models of landmark colonial American mansions such as Drayton Hall and Mount Airy, illustrate the influence of Palladio and his English admirers on American taste. Together, the materials in the exhibition reveal his forward-thinking democratic design sensibility: Palladio believed that good architecture should improve people’s lives and solve problems, as well as add beautiful villas, churches, public buildings, farm residences, and even barns to the landscape.

The exhibition features not only preliminary drawings for his landmark text, I Quattro Libri, but also a copy that was owned by influential English architect Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington. The book’s graphic design, particularly its sequencing of text and illustrations, became a model for subsequent architectural publications; it is still considered a major reference on the proportion, harmony, and beauty of classical architecture.

The drawings and related architectural models in Palladio and His Legacy illustrate the close connection between the architect’s life story and his practice. Of particular note is Palladio’s study and interpretation of Roman architecture. He trained as a stonemason in the Italian city of Vicenza, then part of the Republic of Venice. There, he sketched the Roman warehouses of Emperor Trajan at Ostia, which include many design elements that he later incorporated in his Basilica Palladiana in Vicenza (1549). Likewise, his study of the Temple of Minerva at Assisi anticipates his design for the Palazzo Valmarana in Vicenza (1565).

Palladio’s work not only drew on the Roman Republic’s architectural principles, but also incorporated a democratic philosophy. Before his time, serious architecture was for the rich and powerful only—churches, palaces, and public buildings. Palladio believed that architecture had the power to improve people’s lives—a power that people the world over experience to this day, particularly in the Palladian haven of America.

Located at 4400 Forbes Avenue in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art was founded by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1895. One of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, it is nationally and internationally recognized for its distinguished collection of American and European works from the 16th century to the present. The Heinz Architectural Center, part of Carnegie Museum of Art, is dedicated to enhancing understanding of the physical environment through its exhibitions, collections, and public programs. For more information about Carnegie Museum of Art, call 412.622.3131 or visit

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