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The Teatro Olympico, Vicenza

The Teatro Olympico

Billed as the first permanent covered theatre of the Renaissance,
the Teatro Olympico forms a unique blend of architectural spectacle and drama.

In 1579, the Olympic Accademian society asked Palladio to create a
new theatre on the site of Vicenza’s former city prison. His response considers
Classical theatres, as described by the Latin writer Vitruvius, and his own
archaeological investigations. Presented in 1580, the design is constructed
from an ellipse, with sunken orchestra pit, and a grand loggia behind the
seating. The frons scenae (stage wall) marks new construction away from the
existing prison fabric, and frames remarkable perspective scenery. Above, the
auditorium ceiling is painted with sky.

For the inauguration in 1585, the Accademians chose to perform
Sophocles drama, Oedipus Rex. This was seen as the ultimate Greek drama to be
staged in a strongly classical setting. After the death of Palladio in 1580,
Vicenzo Scamozzi (1552-1616) stepped in to design the stage set. Resembling the
city of Thebes, the scenery fits into a 12 metre space behind the stage wall. A
sloped floor and buildings of diminishing scale mean that actors appear to retreat
down one of the three streets. The perspective illusion is enhanced by
positioning hidden lights in the wood and plaster scenery. In front, a
chequered marble floor allowed the director to accurately place characters. The
stage wall contains statues of the patrons who provided finance for the
project. It serves as the setting for a palace, with the foremost area of stage
replicating a city piazza.

On the 3rd March 1585, 3000 patrons attended the
inauguration. By all accounts it was a moving performance.

Villa La Rotunda, Vicenza

La Rotunda, Vicenza

One of the all time architectural greats has to be Palladio. A recent trip to the
Veneto region of Italy allowed me to see his work at first hand.

Andrea Palladio was born 1508, in the town of Padua. He originally trained as a stone
mason, before being sent to Vicenza, where he was mentored by Giangiorgio
Trissino. A two year stay in Rome allowed Palladio to collect accurate
information on the proportions of classical buildings, which he later explored
in his own work. Palladio was fascinated by Bramante, Raphael and classical
Rome. He also benefited from new translations of texts by Vitruvius and Alberti.

After winning a competition to remodel the Palazzo della Ragione, Vicenza, Palladio
built a steady career designing country villas. These grand estates were owned
by Venetian nobles, providing them with an additional income. Palladio had
already become skilled at incorporating agricultural functions such as livestock
stabling, hay storage and grain threshing into a single building. His designs are
often sited on a low hill, with a central living block and symmetrical end pavilions.
By adding Greek temple fronts to his villas, Palladio believed he was mimicking
Antiquity. In fact, he was doing something completely new. Harmonic ratios,
based on intervals in music, enabled Palladio to achieve mathematical
perfection between wall thickness, plan dimensions and room height.

The Villa Americo Capra (1566-70), known as La Rotonda, is perhaps the most famous
Palladian villa. Commissioned by a retired churchman, the villa is located on
the outskirts of Vicenza. The owner lived elsewhere, using the property for
agriculture and entertaining guests brought from the town. Palladio created a
square plan villa, with a large double-storey rotunda at the centre. Each face
has an identical portico, making the building appear the same on every side.
Internally, harmonic proportion and symmetry decide the layout and size of the
corner rooms on the main floor. Stucco and rich frescoes complete the interior.
To Palladio, pure geometric forms (such as the square and
circle), use of symmetry and proportions represented his idea of architectural
perfection.