Palladio's vision still stands

Drayton Hall (top) was built around 1740, more than 160 years after Italian architect Andrea Palladio died, and is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the United States to show his influence. Its piazzas, which both project and are recessed, are simi

Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio never traveled anywhere near America, but his influence sure did.

And it arrived in the Lowcountry as early as anywhere.

That's one point made in an exhibit that opened recently at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York.

"Palladio and His Legacy: A Transatlantic Journey" not only contains 31 of Palladio's original drawings but also shows how his classical-based style was embraced by some of this nation's earliest builders.

Palladio died in 1580 at age 71. About 160 years later, Drayton Hall was constructed on a bluff along the Ashley River.

The plantation -- which is shown in the new exhibit --is not a direct copy of any particular Palladio villa, but the proportions of its rooms follow closely those outlined in his master text, "The Four Books of Architecture."

Drayton Hall also has architectural motifs similar to those Palladio used. Both the hall and Palladio's Villa Cornaro feature a double portico that both projects from, and is recessed into, the house.

This new exhibit excites George McDaniel, executive director of Drayton Hall, which now is a museum operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

McDaniel says many feel that President (and amazingly gifted amateur architect) Thomas Jefferson brought Palladian influence to America, but Jefferson wasn't even born when work on Drayton Hall began.

"This exhibit has at least begun to tell what we think is a really important story placing the Carolina colony in its rightful place in America history," McDaniel says.

Charleston native Carl Gable agrees. "You cannot read two sentences about Palladio in America without Thomas Jefferson's name coming up, but he was rather late," Gable says. "It's always been known he was late, but most people who were his fans overlook it."

Gable, an Atlanta businessman, knows better than most. The former Spoleto Festival USA board treasurer not only owns Villa Cornaro, but he currently serves as president of the Center for Palladian Studies in America.

He says Drayton Hall is possibly the earliest American residence with an overt Palladian influence.

St. Michael's Episcopal Church (circa 1752) and, the Miles Brewton House at 27 King (circa 1769) are two other obvious early Palladian examples in the Lowcountry. When the Charleston County Courthouse recently was restored to its 1792 appearance, its obvious Palladian influence was brought back as well.

Gable notes the oldest Palladian building in Manhattan is the Morris-Jumel Mansion, built around 1765 -- 25 years after Drayton Hall. "I think South Carolina is usually forgotten as being a very early center," Gable says.

Gable, who wrote the book "Palladian Days" about his purchase and restoration of Villa Cornaro, says living there has made him appreciate Palladio's attention to details.

For instance, Palladio liked terrazzo floors but never used marble on them inside "because your feet get could cold. That's just an example of how he was intensely practical and not just a man of high-flown concepts."

Gable says Palladio's influence in South Carolina may be overlooked in part because more scholarship has been done on his influence in Virginia. The center was created by Virginians, and that state still is heavily represented on its board.

Gable hopes more academic research can be done in Charleston, and he hopes to work with McDaniel on a new symposium here about Palladianism.

Ultimately, such study can shed light into why the world -- and some of its more significant buildings --look they way they do.