The Italian mannerist palazzo
: in search of a universal definition

  • A.P.C.M. Stoeldraijer

Student thesis: Master


This graduation document, the Italian mannerist palazzo, is rooted in a collaborated study of complexity and contradiction in architecture. This subject is obviously very broad, however, from the first minute sixteenth century mannerism as an attitude to generate complexities in architecture has fascinated me. It was joined by the Italian mannerist palazzo in the process. The aim of this document was to capture the parameters of manipulation in this sixteenth century attitude in order to define a universal definition which can be related to the contemporary framework of complexity and contradiction in architecture. This attitude of complex and contradictory architecture will eventually be demonstrated in a case study. First we have to elaborate on some of the key aspects of complexity and contradiction in architecture, which have been based on Robert Venturi's Post?Modern manifest, in order to put the current document into perspective. While designing a building many aspects have to be considered ?such as program, structure, expression, context etc.?, quite often these might be contradictory. As we have experienced there are two ways to deal with such problems in the design process. An architecture of exclusion where many aspects of a design have been ignored in order to master a few of these brilliantly, and an architecture of inclusion, 'both?and', where contradictions between the aspects are appreciated rather than eliminated. Venturi mentioned the Italian palazzo as a textbook example of a very strong order which is required for one of the 'both?and' approaches to generate complex and contradictory architecture. However, he fails to mention mannerism in this context; an attitude that is present in the initial design of some sixteenth century palazzi. This attitude is concerned with the transformation and manipulation of architectural elements in the exaggerated order of the palazzo typology. An interest in the means that have been used, and the ambition to transform these in a universal definition of -maniera?, was the motive for this investigation. The first step in the search of maniera as a concept focused on the Italian mannerist palazzo façade. The key aspects of the Italian palazzo façade are present in the High Renaissance standard of Bramante, and in particular in the façade of his palazzo Caprini. This standard has been used to point out the transformations in the design of five mannerist palazzo facades. A tension between order and disorder seems to be apparent in all of the transformations. The results have been used to create a preliminary definition of the universal concept of maniera: Maniera is concerned with exceeding the standard, while the essence of the model it rejects is adopted. The façade represents only a small part of the building, therefore maniera was further investigated. Through the in?depth analysis of two of the best Mannerist representatives, in relation to a High Renaissance standard, the essential aspects of an attitude have been exposed. Various ways of transforming key aspects of the palazzo design have been distinguished in the plan, vestibule, courtyard, and main staircase. Quite a few of the examples demonstrated a tension between the primitive -rusticated elements? and the elegant -polished Renaissance elements?, although the element of surprise seems to play a role of equal importance. Additional maniera parameters with regard to those of the palazzo façade have not been found. This does not mean that all the parameters have been discovered, but it confirms that we must have a solid set. A set which can be divided into parameters related to a manipulation of the composition and parameters involved with the manipulation of actual elements. The preliminary definition of maniera still holds, and is transformed into a definite definition: Maniera is concerned with exceeding the standard, while the essence of the model it rejects is adopted. Now that the universal definition of maniera has been determined, it is interesting to see if and how this concept is related to the conceptual framework of complexity and contradiction in architecture. The Italian palazzo was mentioned as a textbook example of a very strong order which is required for one of the two 'both?and' approaches to generate complex and contradictory architecture. Maniera is best described as a niche of the approach, contradiction accommodated, and the required standard for mannerist manipulation can be of various origins similar to contradiction accommodated. An important aspect of mannerist manipulation is the resultant tension in the composition; therefore maniera is specifically related to the most extreme aspects of this approach. The implementation of maniera in the conceptual framework of complexity and contradiction in architecture, then, has validated its universal application in architecture. A luxurious single family palazzo dwelling of the present was used to test the universal application of maniera, and introduce a different perspective to the ongoing architectural debate with regard to developments in the ancient center of Rome. The specific approach of maniera to a (local) architectural standard, as well as the introduction of complexities in the design will most certainly be enriching to the Roman debate. Additionally, a second motive was handed by the search for mannerist means of manipulation; the exterior façade, the plan, the courtyard facades, and the main staircase, in subsequent order, characterize the route a visitor of the palazzo has to travel before he/she will arrive in the most important room of the building: the grand salon. These can be interpreted as a mannerist palazzo sequence. The aim is to introduce mutual mannerist tensions in the four aspects of the mannerist sequence. The same High Renaissance point of reference was used to design this palazzo in Rome. As a result a manipulated staircase has been imposed on the main exterior façade, a large loggia subsequently imposed the characteristics of the courtyard on the northern exterior façade, and the continuation of a manipulated main staircase has been violently imposed on the courtyard façades. The manipulation of the plan, which has also been of a supportive nature to the other aspects of the sequence, generated residual space due to the unresolved tensions in the urban block. This case study, then, is an example of the application of maniera as a universal architectural attitude and able to include the local architectural tradition; it emphasizes on the architecture of complexity and contradiction in the Roman debate.
Date of Award31 Mar 2013
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorBernard J.F. Colenbrander (Supervisor 1) & J.J.P.M. van Hoof (Supervisor 2)

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