Centre for Continuing Education

History Course: The Villas of Palladio

History. See the future. It’s in the past.

COVID-19 update: arrangement of our courses

We are now delivering courses both online and in-person. Please check the delivery format for each class before you enrol.

Please note that course materials for all classes (excluding prescribed textbooks) are shared electronically within 48 hours of a course starting. Printing is not available.

Join us for a day exploring the history, art and architecture of the magnificent villas of Andrea Palladio (1508-1580).

Near to Venice, the villas of Palladio are superb examples of late Renaissance architecture, adapting the legacy of the ancients to the contemporary needs of the great landowners of the region. Their decoration included classical ornament and frescoes, some by masters such as Veronese and Zelotti. We will examine the evolution of the villa ideal and both Roman and contemporary Italian influences on Palladio’s architecture. There will be discussion of the relationship between the architect and his patrons and the enduring influence of the Palladian style. Rather than talking of the villa as one, we will investigate the variety in the architect’s work as it evolved and as he responded to the needs of his patrons. The day ends with a consideration of ‘Palladianism’ in Britain, Germany, Russia and the United States, from the 17th to the 21st century. From St Petersburg to California, we will examine villas that recall various aspects of Palladio’s work.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • identify the literary sources of Palladio’s understanding of the villa
  • outline the key features of a Palladian villa
  • show a familiarity with the variants of Palladio’s villas – farm residences and palaces
  • identify the allegorical figures in frescoes in the villas discussed
  • describe the key stylistic features of 'Palladianism'
  • employ the vocabulary of classical architecture
  • evaluate the contribution made by Palladio’s book to classical revivals after his time.


Palladio and the inspiration for the villas

This introductory session focuses on Palladio’s background as a stonemason, his education and his travels. There will be an emphasis on the literary and archaeological sources that informed his understanding of the Roman villa ideal. There will lead to a detailed discussion of the architectural theorist Vitruvius and other ancient writers who dealt with agriculture as well as renaissance understandings of antiquity.

Palladio’s own world will then be explored through a brief survey of towns such as Treviso, Padua and Vicenza and farming in the countryside when the area was ruled by Venice. What would Palladio and his patrons have sought in a villa? What other renaissance villas would they have known on the plains of the Veneto, in the hills near Florence, or in Rome?

The farm villas: the Villa Emo and the Villa Barbaro

The origins of the Roman villa are to be found in the villa rustica, which comprised both a country residence and a working farm. The Romans idealised the virtuous country life far from the cares and corruptions of the city. Roman senators consciously played the role of country gentleman and this model was well known to renaissance humanists of Palladio’s time. For nobles, churchmen, soldiers and administrators who served the Venetian republic their great estates in the Veneto provided them with an opportunity to live the true aristocratic ideal, as a landed aristocracy. We will discuss a number of Palladian villas, which combine a casa del padrone with agricultural dependencies. Our emphasis with be on two villas near Treviso that best exemplify Palladio’s farm villas: the Villa Emo and the Villa Barbaro. There will be a discussion of how the architect incorporated vernacular architectural influences from farms in the region into these villa designs. The iconography of the frescoes in main public rooms the villas will be decoded as part of the reading of these buildings.

The grand residences: Villa Rotunda and Villa Foscari (La Malcontenta)

Just as in Roman times, the villa, as a grand residence, was sometimes almost totally divorced from its agricultural origins. Such a villa suburbana was within close proximity to a town and was surrounded by gardens rather than productive fields. There were few dependent buildings and the emphasis was on making a statement about the power and prestige of the aristocratic owner. After a survey of a number of Palladio’s palatial villas that are in this category we will concentrate on two of the most famous of these, the Villa Rotunda built on a hilltop near Vicenza for the canon Paolo Almerico and the Villa Foscari, often known as La Macontenta, built on the flat for Venetian aristocrats, Nicolo and Luigi Foscari near the Brenta canal leading to Venice. We will pay particular attention to the fresco decorations by Camera and Maganza at La Rotunda and Franco and Zelotti at La Macontenta.

Palladio and ‘Palladianism’ – Britain, Germany, Russia and the USA

In the centuries after Palladio’s death his influence survived through his book I Quattro Libri dell’architettura (1570), translated into English and other languages and of course by his buildings, which were much visited as part of the Grand Tour. As a consequence his buildings were influential in the 17th and 18th centuries in particular and it is common to talk of ‘Palladianism.’ This term will be questioned and we will attempt to establish what various scholars have meant by their own usage. Is it a useful term? Are there distinct Palladian rules, a Palladian system? Where does the ‘Palladian’ sit in the context of later neo-classicism. How accurately was Palladio actually copied by those who came afterwards? How successfully was the so-called ‘Palladian villa’ reproduced elsewhere? With these questions in mind we will consider Lord Burlington’s Chiswick Villa in London, Prince Leopold’s Schloss Wörlitz in Dessau, Charles Cameron’s Pavlovsk palace near St Petersburg, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Virginia and a recent Palladian villa in the Napa Valley, California.

Intended audience

This course may be of interest to anyone:

  • with an interest in Roman and Renaissance history, art and architecture
  • with an interest in the culture and history of northern Italy
  • planning to visit the villas of Palladio in the future and would like to develop their background knowledge of the architecture of the Veneto region.



Delivery style

The course combines two formats: lecture style delivery and class discussion.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

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