In November 1550, Girolamo Chiericati recorded a payment to Palladio in his own “account book” for the designs of his palace in the city, sketched out at the beginning of the year. In the same month, Girolamo was appointed to supervise the administration of the building works on the Loggias of the Basilica, inaugurated in May 1549. This coincidence was not remotely casual: along with Trissino, Chiericati was among those who sponsored entrusting this prestigious public commission to the young architect, for whose interests he had personally fought in the Council, and to whom he would turn for the design of his own home. Moreover, a few years later his brother Giovanni would also commission from Palladio the villa at Vancimuglio.
In 1546 Girolamo had inherited a few old houses looking onto the so-called “Piazza dell’Isola”, an open space on the southern outskirts of the city, which owed its name to the fact that it was bordered on two sides by the Retrone and the Bacchiglione, whose courses flowed into each other. As the city’s river port, the “Isola” was the seat of the timber and cattle markets. The tiny size of the old existing houses induced Girolamo to ask the City Council for permission to utilise a strip of roughly four and a half metres of public land in front of his properties in order to realise the portico of his house on the site, but guaranteeing its public use. Once the request was accepted building work begun immediately in 1551, only to halt in 1557 on the death of Girolamo, whose son Valerio limited himself to decorating the internal spaces, employing an extraordinary équipe of artists which included Ridolfi, Zelotti, Fasolo, Forbicini and Battista Franco.
For more than a century Palazzo Chiericati remained a majestic fragment (similar to the present state of the Palazzo Porto in the Piazza Castello) interrupted half way along its fourth bay, as documented in the Pianta Angelica and voyagers’ sketchbooks. Only at the end of the Seicento would it be completed according to the design in the Quattro Libri.
Several autograph drawings by Palladio survive to record the evolution of the project, from the first solution where the portico projects only at the centre of the façade (as well as being capped by a pediment, like that later executed on the Villa Cornaro) to the actual one. The plan was determined by the site’s narrow dimensions: a central bi-apsidal atrium is flanked by two nuclei of three rooms of harmonically linked dimensions (3:2; 1:1; 3:5), each with its own spiral service stair and a further, monumental one to one side of the back loggia (another element which will return in the Villa Pisani and Villa Cornaro).
To endow the building with magnificence, but also to protect it from the frequent floods (and from the cattle sold in front of the palace on market days), Palladio raised the palace on a podium, whose central section displays a stairway clearly adapted from an antique temple.
The extraordinary novelty which the Palazzo Chiericati offers in the panorama of renaissance urban residences owes a great deal to Palladio’s capacity to interpret the site on which it rises: a great open space on the margins of the city, in front of the river, a context which rendered it an ambiguous building, simultaneously palazzo and villa suburbana. It is no coincidence that many affinities exist with the Villa Cornaro at Piombino and the Villa Pisani at Montagnana, which were moreover constructed during the same years. On the Piazza dell’Isola, Palladio set a façade with a two-storey loggia capable of visually holding the open space, and which also established one side of a hypothetical, ancient, Roman Forum.
Even though superimposed loggias are present in Peruzzi’s Palazzo Massimo in Rome and in the Antique Courtyard of the Bo by Moroni in Padua, the use to which Palladio puts them on the façade of the Palazzo Chiericati is absolutely unheralded in terms of its power and expressive awareness. The Basilica and Palazzo Chiericati represent Palladio’s definitive passage from the eclecticism of his early years to the full maturity of a language where the stimuli and sources of both the Antique and contemporary architecture are absorbed into a system by now specifically Palladian. This is the first occasion on which the loggia flank is closed by a wall section containing an arch: a solution adopted from the Portico di Ottavia in Rome which will thereafter become usual practice in the pronaos of his villas.