Villa Madama: reconstruction as design in architecture and archaeology

Alessandro Zambelli

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle


Villa Madama, its design traditionally attributed to Raphael, has been an unsettling building to those used to the orthodoxy of the classical orders and to the protectionism of professional cartels. After all, how could a painter design a building based upon such theoretical and archaeological complexity? As disciplinary thresholds have shifted across time, the building’s consumers have been confronted with a structure of increasingly opaque cultural provenance.
Discomfort at the villa’s dissident qualities began to manifest itself in the decades immediately after the death of its architect. Surveyed by Serlio and then Palladio, their drawings reveal a studied suppression of the building’s unorthodox asymmetries. It has been argued that the strength of the formal, establishment, classical paradigm mis-inherited from Vitruvius, convinced Palladio that he should re-imagine the villa through what we would now consider ‘neutral’ survey drawings. This paper develops that argument and posits that Andrea Palladio’s archaeological reconstruction of Raphael’s villa, itself an archaeological reconstruction of Pliny’s now text-only Laurentine Villa, can be re-categorised along contemporary disciplinary boundaries as ‘design’.
It is this cultural promiscuity which provided Raphael with the freedom to slip across disciplinary boundaries defined by renaissance classical formalism, and his expertise in related disciplines which allowed him to make those transgressions meaningfully. Villa Madama is the locus of all of these diverse practices and transgressions; a site of experimental archaeology that has lasted almost 500 years.
Original languageEnglish
Specialist publicationColumn
Publisher31/44 Architects
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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