"Palladio is the Bible," Thomas Jefferson once said. "You should get it and stick to it." With his simple, gracious, perfectly proportioned villas, Andrea Palladio elevated the architecture of the private house into an art form during the late sixteenth century -- and his influence is still evident in the ample porches, columned porticoes, grand ceilings, and front-door pediments of America today.
In The Perfect House, bestselling author Witold Rybczynski, whose previous books (Home, A Clearing in the Distance, Now I Sit Me Down) have transformed our understanding of domestic architecture, reveals how a handful of Palladio's houses in an obscure corner of the Venetian Republic should have made their presence felt hundreds of years later and halfway across the globe. More than just a study of one of history's seminal architectural figures, The Perfect House reflects Rybczynski's enormous admiration for his subject and provides a new way of looking at the special landscapes we call "home" in the modern world.
Italian Renaissance architect and architectural theorist Palladio (1508 1580), whose superb and influential buildings helped define the renaissance, has been lucky in his commentators. Palladio's unique way of relating art to nature and architecture to surrounding natural forms in order to reinvent ancient classicism has been well described in such previous books as Vincent Scully's The Villas of Palladio. Now Rybczynski (The Look of Architecture, etc.), the University of Pennsylvania professor of urbanism and Wharton Business School professor of real estate, offers a confident look at his own touristic visits to the surviving Palladian villas: 17 out of around 30 remain, such as the Villa Rotunda in Vicenza and the Villa Foscari at Malcontenta. In 10 concise chapters devoted to these and other villas, Rybczynski proves a deeply able and aptly enchanted guide. Actually renting Villa Saraceno at Finale di Agugliaro, he describes in detail how careful proportions foster a sense of "well-being" and make the small villa seem "palatial" "almost like being outside." While Rybczynski doesn't quite generate the personal interest that normally drives a travel diary, his careful observations of everything from climatic conditions to fender benders will have readers eagerly following in his footsteps and finding traces of Palladio everywhere. Illus. not seen by PW.