Venetian; Bracketed

Alan Neumann got me started on this.  “You know, the design idea for Samuel Plumb’s Federal villa came from Italy, somewhere on the Brenta Canal near Venice.  Baroque period.  Somebody visited it or saw it in a book.  Has to be.”

Sure, I thought, a little dubiously…   And then I started looking around, intrigued.

First I looked at our favorite watercolor by William Guy Wall which shows the pedimented attic story with what looks to be double pitch (gambrel) roof, or perhaps some type of ornamental brackets on the sides:

Detail of watercolor by William Guy Wall, circa 1819, collection of the New York Historical Society

A look at an old photo (below) showed me that attic story definitely had a single rather than a double pitch roof with ornamental brackets on either side:

East Elevation, undated photo, courtesy of Hudson Correctional Facility

Where did this profile come from?   The attic story, even with its later overlays by Davis (like the Picturesque chimney pots) does seem to suggest Renaissance or Baroque forms.

So more looking.  First a bunch of churches like the Santa Maria Novella, a re-design of a gothic church by Leon Battista Alberti.  Famous, early (c. 1470), beautiful, but not really a good match. (The basic idea is there but the brackets are different):

Santa Maria Novella, Florence, facade redesign by Leon Battista Alberti c.1470. Source: Wikipedia.

Alberti is thought to have invented the scrolling brackets on either side of the nave which were called volutes (from the Latin voluta: scrolls) and were widely imitated.  In classical Greek and Roman architecture, the term volute specifically referred to the spiral ends of an Ionic capital, but Renaissance architects like Alberti invented new forms and new meanings for the term.

Another church, about one hundred years later (c. 1584) by Giacomo Della Porta in Rome.  I like the “big-over-small” rhythm of the pediments and the semi-eliptical elements.  But the brackets are still in the form of an “s” or ogee (cyma reversa) rather than a simple radiused curve.

Il Gesu' designed by Giacomo Della Porta, c. 1575-84. Source: Wikipedia

And then I found something much more compelling by Palladio (who worked in Vincenza, and designed villas on the Brenta Canal).  Here the bracket forms on either side of the pediment are simplified, more a type of spandrel than the volute supports on the earlier churches:

Villa Barbaro Volpi, Maser, circa 1560. Source: Wikipedia

The Villa Barbaro in Masera (circa 156o).  A little north of Venice.  Same, shallow pediment, same brackets in the form of a radiused curve.   And most importantly, its in The Book.  That is, it was published in Il Quattro Libre by Andrea Palladio (Plate XXXIV).  Palladio’s The Four Books of Architecture, widely disseminated, plagiarized, and bastardized, in English pattern books for several centuries, was one source an aspiring architect in the early nineteenth century America might just have had access to in some form:

OK, so its the hyphen rather than the main block.  But a potential source or inspiration for a Federal period builder in America in the Hudson Valley with a sophisticated and wealthy client?  I think it could be.  What do you think?  Am I on to something or is the hour just getting late?


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