THE PALLADIAN VILLA

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The Italian word villeggiatura translates into English (poorly) as the act or condition of living in a villa. It is more idiomatically rendered by the 18th-century British expression “country life.” In antiquity, the villa suburbana was a self-supporting, compound-like residence in a bucolic setting where a Roman patrician restored himself between periods spent in the civitas conducting his public duties and business. The dialectic of country and city was a celebrated by Horace in his second Ode, where he contrasts the otium of pastoral life to the negotium of the city.

Based in his study of Vitruvius, Andrea Palladio (Venetian, 1508-80) re-invented villeggiatura all’antica for the wealthy merchants and patricians of the Venetian Republic, designing working country estates to which they could retreat from the daily rounds of ruthless politics and cutthroat business. Palladio articulates this theory in I quattro libra dell-architettura, the four-volume edition of his plans and designs published in 1570:

Le Case della Città sono veramente al Gentil’huomo di molto splendore, e commodità, havendo in esse ad habitare tutto quel tempo, che li bisognerà per la amministratione della Repubblica, e governo delle cose proprie. Ma non minore utilità, e consolatione caverà forse dalle case di Villa, dove il resto del tempo si passerà in vedere, e ornare le sue possessioni, e con industria, e arte dell’Agricoltura accrescer le facultà, dove ancho per l’esercitio, che nella Villa si suol fare a piedi, e a cavallo, il corpo più agevolmente conserverà la sua sanità, e robustezza, e dove finalmente l’animo stanco delle agitationi della Città, prenderà molto ristauro, e consolatione, e quietamente potrà attendere à gli studij delle lettere, e alla contemplatione; come per questo gli antichi Savi solevano spesse volte usare di ritirarsi in simili luoghi, ove visitati da’ vertuosi amici, e parenti loro, havendo case, giardini, fontane, e simili luoghi sollazzevoli, e sopra tutto la lor Vertù; potevano facilmente conseguir quella beata vita, che qua giù si può ottenere.

—Andrea Palladio, I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura, II:45

At the component level of thermal windows, pedimented porches, door frames and cornices, Palladio scrupulously replicated the the details of ancient architecture. At the level of composition, however, he freely mixed and matched components of temples, basilicas and baths. The resulting villas were classical in detail and wholly modern in their formal conception.

Often hastily-constructed from cheap materials, the eclectic assemblage of the Palladian villa had a theatrical quality to it, which was augmented by dramatic siting, often on hilltops, striking paths of approach, and grand entrances. The villa façade and entrance, in fact, served as a scenic backdrop for the staging of the elaborate arrival ceremonies of the period. Palladio’s last work, fittingly, was the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza.

1985: Peter Halley

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Peter Halley had his first one-man show at International with Monument, the now defunct East Village gallery, in 1985. The large-scale paintings were executed in a hard-edged, impersonal, geometrical style and unmodulated planes of highly-contrasting colors. SoHo had been in search for painterly, figural Neo-Expressionism’s successor, and quickly conglomerated Halley, Ashley Bickerton, Phillip Taafe, and Ross Bleckner into a “movement” alternately called Neo-Geo or Neo-Minimalism, the hallmarks of which were abstraction, rectilinearity, and machine-like finish.

Halley’s paintings, however, are not abstract. He began the decade painting radically-simplified architecture, including a recurrent prison cell with an iron-barred window. The title of the first prison-cell painting, The Prison of History(1981), in which one hears echoes of Nietzsche, Frederic Jameson, Foucault and De Man, reminds one that Halley went to Yale in the 1970s, during the heroic years of Deconstruction, semiotics and linguistics-based literary theory (Halley also served as the Director of Graduate Studies in Painting and Printmaking at the Yale University School of Art from 2002-2014). With Mondrian and Ad Reinhardt guiding his way, Halley has spent the last 30 years exploring, refining, elaborating and purifying the formal, material and epistemological aspects of this single motif to great effect and hasn’t come anywhere near exhausting it.

In a 2013 interview, Halley offered the following account of his technique. He continues to describe his work in Saussurian terms, although in the past decade, it has become more lush, joyful and—dare one say—painterly:

I started using Roll-a-Tex® in 1981. You don’t need any special virtuosity to make my paintings. Roll-a-Tex® and Day-Glo are commercial techniques. In the early 80s, artists had returned to using oil painting and brushes, making romantic figurative paintings. I wanted to emphasize the physical signifiers in my paintings. When I wanted to show the ground plane, I put two canvases together. When I wanted to make the geometry feel architectural, I put stucco on it. So the signifiers in my paintings are physical rather than illusionistic. Traditionally, artists are celebrated because of their virtuosity. To me, virtuosity is a little anti-democratic.

ROMAN ENGINEERING II: Paved Roads

The extraordinary greatness of the Roman Empire manifests itself above all in three things: the aqueducts, the paved roads, and the construction of the drains.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Ant. Rom. 3.67.5

At the zenith of the Roman Empire’s power and prosperity, over 400,000 km of roadways (viae) connected its cities, 85,000 km of which were paved. In the 2nd century, 29 military roads led out of Rome alone. In 20 BC, Augustus set up the miliarium aureum (golden milestone), near the temple of Saturn, in Rome. All roads were considered to begin from this gilded bronze monument, on which were listed the distances to all the major cities in the empire. Constantine called it the umbilicus Romae, and built a similar—although more complex—monument in Constantinople, called the Milion. Milestones along the roadside marked distances; the modern word “mile” derives from the Latin milia passum, which amounted to 1,000 paces.

Initially designed for the movement of troops, the main roads (viae munitae) were wide, had gutters and walkways on both sides, and a smooth surface of concrete poured over paving stones (the concrete has eroded over the millenia, leaving only the stone, giving the false impression of a bumpy ride).

roman-roads-map Red = Major Roman roads; blue = rivers

The primary sources concerning Roman road laying are Vitruvius’s directions for making pavements and a passage in Statius’s epic poem, the Thebiad (1st c.), in which he describes the repairs of the Via Domitiana, a branch road of the Via Appia, leading to Naples. The following paraphrases both texts:

After the civil engineer looked over the site of the proposed road and determined roughly where it should go, the agrimensores went to work surveying the road bed. They used two main devices, the rod and a device called agroma, which helped them obtain right angles. The gromatici placed rods and put down a line called the rigor, trying to achieve straightness by looking along the rods and commanding the gromatici to move them as required. Using the gromae they then laid out a grid on the plan of the road. Using ploughs and spades, the laboratores excavated a fossa (trench) down to bedrock. The depth varied according to terrain. The road was then constructed by filling the ditch with layers of rubble, gravel, sand and stone. When within one meter of the surface, the bed was covered with gravel and compressed. This flattened pavimentum could be used as the road, or it could be completed with a statumen of flat stones, set in cement and crowned for drainage.

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