Section of Palazzo Barbarano, site of the new museum

Vicenza honours Palladio with new museum

The city turns one of its finest buildings, Palazzo Barbarano, into a tribute to its famous architect, Andrea Palladio

If you've ever visited the Italian city of Vicenza you might have wondered why it's peppered with so many Palladian buildings - Andrea Palladio being the most influential architect of all time, of course. Well that's because the local grandees made so much money from the silk industry. In the 15th and 16th centuries, they bred silkworms on their country estates and manufactured the cloth for export.

Andrea Palladio was well positioned to take advantage of this. After two years as an apprentice stonemason in his hometown of Padua - just outside Venice - he spent the rest of his career from the age of 15 in canal city, mostly designing palazzos for its deep-pocketed dignitaries.

Now his story is beiong told in the Palladio Museum at Vicenza's Palazzo Barbarano. And the story starts with the building itself, as it's the most unusual the architect ever constructed.

The museum's temporary exhibition space
The museum's temporary exhibition space


It was built for local nobleman Montano Barbarano in the 1570s, and is asymmetrical, having to take into account the position of existing buildings. What's more Palladio survived to oversee its interior decoration - making it unique among his commissions.

The transformation of the palazzo into a museum is the work of the International Center for Architectural Studies, or CISA, which has been in residence there since 1958.

Rather than creating "a mausoleum to a dead hero" says Guido Beltramini, director of CISA and curator of the new museum, he wants the displays to change annually, with other temporary exhibitions alongside.


The Tyler Mansion, Liberia, (1977) by Max Belcher. Part of the Genealogies exhibition
The Tyler Mansion, Liberia, (1977) by Max Belcher. Part of the Genealogies exhibition

As part of the inaugural display, visitors are in for a treat, or at least a surprise. Genealogies, comprises photos of Palladian-style buildings put up by African-American immigrants in the new colony of Liberia in the 19th century; there's even a shot of the house of the Liberian-born Joseph James Cheeseman who served three terms as its president.

A more predictable exhibit is the Redentore church on the island of Giudecca, widely regarded as Palladio's best religious building. All in, it's another great reason to visit the city. If you're planning a visit, don't forget to pick up a copy of our Wallpaper Guide to Venice, our tightly edited and researched book for the discerning traveller.