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THE PERFECT HOUSE by Witold Rybczynski


A Journey with the Renaissance Architect Andrea Palladio

by Witold Rybczynski

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-7432-0586-3
Publisher: Scribner

Impressionistic, personal walking tour of a handful of Andrea Palladio's villas, during which Rybczynski reins in his obvious excitement and delight in the work, creating an irresistible tension.

Rybczynski (The Look of Architecture, 2001, etc.) calls Palladio “the most influential architect in history,” and it’s hard to quarrel. From country seats in Kent to Tidewater plantation houses in Virginia to small-town banks and courthouses, Palladio's mark is everywhere. He might be considered the father of domestic architecture, bringing the language of temples and palaces to the home front. Seventeen of his villas survive, dotting the Veneto plain behind Venice. Rybczynski visits a number of them here, pointing out their nobility and orderliness, the harmonious dimensions, as if the reader were standing by his side. The writing is enticing: What Rybczynski describes feels like real news, knowledge that will make a difference. Yet the air is casual, belying his sharp eye—he's not above suggesting elements that don't work for him—as he notes the softening aspects of a recessed loggia and the warmth of plaster on the severe geometry of a villa front, or the startlingly novel effect of parallax achieved by curving the loggia, how Palladio's work is “both sophisticated and rustic, genteel and rude, cosmopolitan and vernacular.” As Rybczynski walks about Villa Rotunda's circle in a square or through the wonderful freestanding portico with Ionic columns of Villa Chiericati, better still the double-decker portico of Villa Cornaro, he traces the evolution of Palladio's style, his influences, how he took advantage of Venetian glassmaking to fill his villas with light, as well as stories of the original owners of the villas: information all carefully marshaled and orchestrated to convey a sense of drama.

“His influence on the language of building is comparable to the lasting impact that William Shakespeare has had on the English language.” No small tribute—nor overstatement. (Line drawings throughout)