Found in Translation: Palladio – Jefferson at the Canadian Centre for Architecture

Running from October 8, 2014-February 15, 2015, this photographic installation in the Octagonal Gallery and CCA Bookstore is jointly instigated and developed by the architectural historian Guido Beltramini and the architectural and documentary photographer Filippo Romano.

The installation unfolds a visual narrative tracing the principles of 16th-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio as they appear in buildings designed by American President and architect Thomas Jefferson, who saw Palladio’s work as a model for architecture in the newly independent United States. The project attempts to shape a less conventional perspective on Palladio—whose buildings are among the most photographed in history—while also revealing the conditions of dissemination and translation behind Jefferson’s adaptations two centuries later.

Realized in collaboration with the Palladio Museum in Vicenza, Italy, where Beltramini is Director, the installation comprises two parts: video projections of photographs, taken by Romano, of buildings designed by Jefferson and Palladio as they appear today; and a  presentation of two rare books, a copy of Palladio’s I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura (The Four Books of Architecture, 1570) and its first English language translation, Giacomo Leoni’s The Architecture of A. Palladio (1721).

Importantly, Jefferson had never visited any of Palladio’s buildings and only knew of his work through Leoni’s unfaithful translation, which altered its original content to fit Baroque tastes. Together, the books initiate the story of how Palladian principles were transmitted into the social, political and economic context of 18th-century North America, where new models of modernity and functionality were being tested.

Romano and Beltramini began their photographic survey in Italy’s Veneto region in 2012 and concluded the project in the counties of Virginia in 2014. The resulting photographs depict the buildings of both architects embedded within their present-day settings—being visited by tourists, for example. In projecting the images of the work of each architect simultaneously, the installation exhibits the parallels and departures between Jefferson’s buildings and their Italian source material. At the same time, the fully contemporary photographs also point to the enduring elements and roots of Palladio’s architectural language: the irreducible, resilient character of his architecture that allows his influence to be recognized despite changes in context, function, clients and climate.

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