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The Great Dining Room at Houghton Hall, designed by William Kent, 1743. Museum no. 20603:5

The Great Dining Room at Houghton Hall, designed by William Kent, 1743. Museum no. 20603:5

Palladianism is a style based on the designs of the 16th-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580). Palladio was inspired by the buildings of ancient Rome. In turn, British designers drew on Palladio's work to create a Classical British style. Palladian exteriors were plain and based on rules of proportion. By contrast, the interiors were richly decorated. Palladianism was fashionable from about 1715 to 1760.



Columns with acanthus leaf capitals at the top (called 'Corinthian') are characteristic of Palladian design.

Scallop shells

Scallop shells are a typical motif in Greek and Roman art. The shell is a symbol of the Roman goddess Venus, who was born of the sea, from a shell.


Pediments were used over doors and windows on the outside of buildings. They are also found over inside doors. The design of objects in the Palladian style often incorporates this sort of architectural element.


Palladian design tends to be highly symmetrical. This means that when a line is drawn down the middle, each side is a mirror image of the other. Symmetry and balance were important in the ancient Greek and Roman architecture that inspired Palladianism.


Masks are faces used as a decorative motif. They are based on examples from ancient Greek and Roman art.


Terms are based on free-standing stones representing the Roman god, Terminus. They consist of a head and upper torso, often just the shoulders, on top of a pillar and were originally used as boundary markers.


Andrea Palladio (1508 - 1580)

Palladio was the Italian Renaissance architect whose designs were the main influence on British Palladianism. His Classical style was based on ancient Roman architecture, which he studied both through books of theory and the surviving buildings. His Four Books of Architecture, first published in 1570, contain illustrations and descriptions of his own architecture, together with Roman buildings that he admired. They were the key means by which his influence spread.

William Kent (1685 - 1748)

William Kent trained as a painter, but his true talents lay in other directions. While studying in Italy he met Lord Burlington and on his return to Britain in 1720 became Burlington's assistant and protégé. He worked initially as an interior decorator, in which capacity he designed much of the furniture and interiors for Burlington's villa, Chiswick House. He subsequently worked on many large country houses first on interior decoration and then on architecture and garden design.

Lord Burlington (1694 - 1753)

Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington was an architect and enthusiastic promoter of Palladianism and was influential in establishing it as a new national style. He studied the buildings of Andrea Palladio at first hand in Italy, and had a collection of designs by both Palladio and Inigo Jones. He designed Chiswick House as an addition to his country estate. It was based on a villa designed by Palladio.

Buildings and Interiors

Chiswick House

Chiswick House was built between 1725 and 1729 for Lord Burlington to his own designs. The centralised structure and square plan of the villa was inspired by Andrea Palladio's Villa Rotonda near Vicenza in Italy. Burlington drew on other designs by Palladio for the entrance portico, the double staircase, windows and internal arrangement of rooms. The lavishly gilded interior decoration was the work of William Kent. Burlington and Kent also remodelled the gardens at Chiswick, the small classical buildings and complicated paths being designed to recall those described in the literature of antiquity.

Wanstead House

Wanstead House (now demolished) was designed by Colen Campbell, an architect and pioneer of the Palladian style. The design was published in 1715 in Vitruvius Britannicus, the first architectural book to illustrate modern British buildings. The book was a plea for 'antique simplicity' and Campbell included examples of his own work, including his design for Wanstead. The grand entrance portico, the alternately arched and pedimented windows, the great rough blocks of the basement and the end pavilions lit by arched 'Venetian' windows at Wanstead were to become key Palladian architectural features.

Related Styles

Neo-Classicism  1760 - 1790

Read more about Neo-Classicism

Regency Classicism 1800 - 1830

Read more about Regency Classicism

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