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The Architecture Of Villa Foscari Essay Sample

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The Architecture Of Villa Foscari Essay Sample


            The Renaissance (French for “rebirth”; Italian: Rinascimento), was a revolutionary transition in architecture from a more basic simple design into an artistic, intricate, and grandeur innovation. Started from Italy roughly 14th century and disseminating across the entire Europe until early 17th century.

It embraced the resurgence of acquiring knowledge based on classical Greek and Roman thoughts and best recognized for its artistic aspect and the rise of Great Artist such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, who have perspired the term “Renaissance Men”. And in this transitional era came some of the greatest works of art by the greatest artists; one of whom was Andrea Palladio.

 Andrea Palladio, one of the renowned artists was born in Padua in 1508 and by the age of sixteen lived and worked in Vicenza. Palladio used a grammar of forms and proportion, and a “controlled Vocabulary” motif.   These depicted an adherence to a system of design. Palladio’s success came from his distinct and grand aesthetic taste combined with influences not only from his own but from his clients as well. His skill as a designer of villas founded his reputation (Burns, Howard).  One of these is the patrician villa in Mira, Italy – the ever famous Villa Foscari.

Villa Foscari (1558-1561) also known as “La Malcontenta” was one of his famed villas due to its rich and distinct styles. It is the first villa situated on the route leading out of Venice. Built for the Foscari Brothers; Nicolo and Alvise; it stands along the Brenta River thus overlooking a grand view of nature and breeze. It is found near a city called Malcontenta, from which; as legends say; it has derived its name. The architecture of Villa Foscari represents the unique architectural style of Andrea Palladio and greatly exhibits what will be known as the famed Palladian architecture.


            In tackling the aspects of the creation and importance of Villa Foscari, it is perhaps the most logical to first consider the artist who created it, the artist having the most powerful hand in its creation.

The name Andrea Palladio (November 30, 1508 – August 19, 1580) is very famous in the history of Western architecture.  A native of Italy, Palladio is considered the most influential person in this field in the Western sphere.

In his visits to Rome in the 1540s, Palladio’s eyes were opened to the character of ancient and modern architecture in the city. After thirty years, Palladio recalled that he found the ancient buildings “worthy of much greater attention, than I had at first thought” (Quattro Libri, I, p. 5) which he immediately adapted to his commissions (2). Palladio’s concern with creating architecture of fixed forms, fixed proportions, regularly implemented principles, is a conscious attitude (Howard Burns, 1999). Humanist intellectuals have, consciously or unconsciously, recognized his architecture which assumed a linguistic and grammatical character. Palladio’s designs are influenced by Giangiorgio Trissino (1478 – 1550) who has connection and knowledge to up-to-date architecture in Rome. No architect up to that time, not even Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, had had as many commissions for villas and palaces as Palladio (Burns, Howard).

In the early years of his architectural career, Palladio did not focus in deciding the size and height of the interior doors for each house, the forms the stairs, nor the profile and proportions of the Doric capital. When Palladio produced a whole group of villas in the year 1550, it was very noticeable that the scale and decoration of these villas closely match the wealth and social standing of the owners. Early villa sites were chosen for the clean air offered by the country side and to escape the possibilities of the Black Plague.

The covertures for the things belonging to a villa . . . in such manner joined to the master’s habitation, that he may be able to go to every place under cover, that neither the rains, nor the scorching sun of the summer, may be a nuisance to him, when he goes to look after his affairs…  (Schofield 1997,  Second Book, Chapter XII).

                                                                                    – Andrea Palladio

As proven by Palladio’s own words, his later villa sites were chosen not to escape from the grips of the plague, but to escape the stress and summer heat of the city. He was cognizant that a great palace in the countryside, like the city palaces, was not necessary in the countryside. A smaller edifice, often with only one main living floor, was adequate for the owner to be able to control and manage the productive activity from which the owner probably derived his income.  Palladio further considered that this would be enough to impress tenants and neighbors as well as entertain important guests.


Villa Foscari, also known as La Malcontenta, was designed by the Italian architect Andrea Palladio.  It is an aristocratic villa in Mira, around Venice, north of Italy. This villa is located along the Brenta canal. It was built for Nicolo and Alvise Foscari, descendants of the celebrated dodge, Francesco Foscari. The construction takes place between 1550 and 1560.

The villa is situated along the river and a distance away from the main city. Citing from Andrea Palladio’s book, Villa Foscari represents his unique architectural style.

If one may build upon a river, it will be both convenient and beautiful; because at all times, and with little expense, the products may be convey’d to the city in boats, and will serve for the uses of the house and cattle. Besides the cooling the air in summer very much, it will afford a beautiful prospect, with which the estates, pleasure and kitchen gardens may with great utility and ornament be water’d, which are the sole and chief recreation of a villa (Palladio 1570,  Second Book, Chapter XII)

                                                                                    – Andrea Palladio

The building is one simple volumetric block, a distinctive Palladian design. The central vaulted hall is under a hip roof with attic gables.  Rectangular proportioned rooms were arranged in such a form that looked like a Greek cross. This idea is inline with Palladio’s principle in integrating classical Greek thoughts in his building schemes. In order to form a symmetric design; following the typical Palladio trademark; the major axis of the building runs through from the main entry façade facing the river to the rear façade facing the field. On the river side, the main facade demonstrates a hex style temple form in the Ionic order.  The ground floor, which was also the service floor, also had wide steps on each side. These steps led up to a temple front portico two bays deep, and also connect through a central door into the main hall. The architectural ornaments are brick works, emphasized by white embossed plaster, within which the Vitruvian theory of stone construction is represented (Murano and Marton 1999, 186). In accordance with the font façade, two levels of large Palladian window were placed at the back façade. A Palladian window may be distinguished for its unique design. It is a large window which is divided into three parts, where the center section is larger than the two side sections. The center section is usually arched.

Pictures of Villa Foscari illustrate three floor levels, the mid level being the largest, followed by the first level and lastly the upper level. The mid level contains the grandiose façade which looks like a part of Parthenon while the attic is placed at the upper level. Citation from Trewin Coppleston (1963) proved that Villa Foscari indeed is a unique Palladian Architecture.

Palladian villas are usually built with three floors: a rusticated basement or ground floor, containing the service and minor rooms. Above this, the piano nobile accessed through a portico reached by a flight of external steps, containing the principal reception and bedrooms, and above it is a low mezzanine floor with secondary bedrooms and accommodation. The proportions of each room within the villa were calculated on simple mathematical ratios like 3:4 and 4:5, and the different rooms within the house were interrelated by these ratios (Cooplestone 1963, 251).

The main floor is decorated by a brilliant series of murals inspired by the theme metamorphosis of Ovidio, In their interior Palladio distributed functions both vertically and horizontally. Kitchens, store-rooms, laundries and cellars were in the low ground floor.  Grain, the most important product of the estate, was stored in the ample space under the roof. This space incidentally also served to insulate the living rooms below. On the central axis was the main living floor, used by family and their guests, the more public rooms (loggia, sala).   The left and right, on the other hand, were symmetrical suites of rooms.  These rooms go from large rectangular chambers, via square middling sized rooms, to small rectangular ones. These rooms were sometimes used by the owner as studies or offices for administering the estate.


It has been a trademark of Palladio of incorporating his clients into his work. Being commissioned by the Foscari family; a sense of power and superiority can be seen in the design. The Foscari’s; having produced a number of Italian leaders (doges) such as the famed Francesco Foscari; is well known to be of high social status. Thus in this situation, Palladio had incorporated this characteristic by bringing the façade into an elevated stage to exaggerate the majesty of the villa as well as its inhabitants.

Many of Palladio’s work are not very similar to each other, not mainly of design but of setting. In one of his villas which is situated in a hill, he constructed all four sides of the villa to have the same grandeur image and design. He has done this so as to have the ability to view the beauty of the villa in all four sides of the landscape. In the case of Villa Foscari, things are not much different. Having been set beside a river and an avenue, Palladio also has constructed two entrances for Villa Foscari, one facing the avenue and one facing the river. In this sense, you can see styles and design in wherever side you may be; a true distinctive mark of Palladian structure.

Having laid out the aesthetic image of Villa Foscari, we will now try to explain the artist’s perception that affected his work. More than these physical references on Villa Foscari, the villa is not constructed merely by artistic style but by use as well. Its location is a point to consider. First we must explain why it is located beside the Brenta River. Situated beside a river, it is not simply for the purpose of having a good view and breeze but tells that it is for social gatherings. His clients; being of high social and political status; have a need for these gatherings so as to maintain and expand this popularity. Rivers; being critical modes of transportation in those times; makes Villa Foscari accessible to the public thus giving its owners an advantage.

Perhaps one of its most familiar features is its elevated façade; first having been seen as a gesture of high status. One again, we may see that the Palladian architecture is not simply of beauty but of use. Villa Foscari is beside Brenta River, which means that the ground will always be in moist or eve wet conditions. And from these, its elevated stature is not just an exaggeration of grandeur but a way to raise it from the wet grounds; thus leaving the villa in much habitable condition. This action of the artist is inspired and influenced by his idol Vitruvius whose legacy is to combine beauty, use and durability (McEwan 2004, 59).

We can not also neglect the time frame on which the villa was constructed; the Renaissance. This era, is not only represented by artistic advances but also in religious context. This time is said to be where religion and science is at its conflicting stages due to advances in science which is consequently compelled by revelations and spread of religion. From Palladio’s style and practice, it can be seen that his side has been on the religious context not simply by the outer structure but also supported by the murals and frescoes inside the villa having religion its themes. These frescoes, made by Battista Franco, were highly acclaimed by Palladio as it supports his styles and his belief.

These beliefs are manifested in his structure; more specifically by the structure of the pillars and columns in Villa Foscari’s façade. The said columns are not just his choice for the villa but have rather become his over-all trademark having been used repeatedly in his work commissions. These high columns are more likely associated with the connection between heaven and the earthly grounds. These same styles are found in more of his works; most of which are churches that further support these assumptions. His style is also associated with harmony and symmetry as exemplified by the repetition of columns. The wings of the villa are also symmetric, having equal volume and design on both sides. The concept of revivalism; which incorporates the use of simple materials; can also be seen in his usage of traditional bricks for the two facades of the villa although he has access to better materials. This concept of revivalism is not just of architectural use but rather intensifies revivalism in the religious context; revivalism which is defined as the reawakening and religion and its widespread impact on people. His halls; as said before; forms a Greek cross chamber of rooms. From these, we can also say that Palladio and his works are not just of artistic context but of religious meanings as well.


Villa Foscari is indeed unique architectural style of Andrea Palladio. From the intricate design of main façade, the characteristic of the column, the style of the window, the symmetrical feature, the number of floor levels including their proportional aspects, and how it was designed with the reference to their setting. In his designs, Palladio’s primary consideration was not on the fundamentals of symmetrical perspective and architectural importance but the shape of the available such as roads and water boundaries.  He sought to co-ordinate all varied elements and complexities.  By these considerations his villas usually established their identity. As what Andrea Palladio says “The habitation for the master ought to be made with a just regard to his family and condition…” (Schofield 1997, Second Book, Chapter XIII).

Although some of his trademarks such as his acclaimed Palladian window (Constant 1993, 42)  is not seen in this villa, we still can see that this work of art truly is of the Palladian standards. This absence is seen, but this only proves that his talents are yet to be manifested in his coming works

But perhaps the most notable gestures of this work are how he incorporates his beliefs and influences in Villa Foscari. From his unique habit of using his clients for influence, we can clearly see that this has started an icon that is still manifested today. Because almost all of his commissions are from highly rich and powerful families, the Palladian architecture has become well known for its columns that give the gesture of power and authority. And as said, this influence is still considerably seen by the works of his predecessors that took Palladian architecture into practice. Perhaps one of the greatest examples of his influence is the White House; having its tall-repetitive columns that truly boasts and exhibits its sense of power and authority. From his religious thinking to his sense of usage and purpose; Andrea Palladio has created Villa Foscari an icon of his own self.

 All in all, we have seen that Villa Foscari is not merely of architectural message and importance but of rather a creation of different aspects. and thinking. The political message of the villa, is greatly exhibited in the exaggeration of  height and grandeur. Its social importance and function is manifested in its accessibility to different modes of transportation; having both proximity and entrance from land and water. And its religious icons and designs that supports not only the belief of the artist but of the whole era of the Renaissance as well; all of these have been important into shaping one of the greatest works of art by the master; Andrea Palladio – the Villa Foscari.


Burns, Howard. http://www.cisapalladio.org/web/t_bio_en.htm.

Constant, Caroline. The Palladio Guide. Princeton Architectural Press, 1993. 42.

Copplestone, Trewin. World Architecture. Hamlyn, 1963.

McEwen, Indra Kagis. Vitruvius: Writing the Body of Architecture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004.

Murano, Michelangelo and Marton, Paolo. 1999. Venetian Villas. Germany: Könemann.

Schofield, Richard, trans. The Four Books of Architecture by Andrea Palladio. MIT Press, 1997.

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