English architecture, like English food and English language, can sometimes seem a rather elusive concept – not because it lacks identity, as some would claim, but rather because it has so many different influences (modern London being a case in point). Amongst this mongrel blend, however, the work of one man endures: Andrea Palladio, whose life and legacy is the subject of a series of talks, events and exhibitions at the Royal Academy.
Palladio’s influence in London is visible everywhere, most notably in the work of Inigo Jones and, slightly later, Christopher Wren, who both applied his style of classical reinvention, of columns and domes and porticoes, right across the board. He lives on in the various Stuart and Georgian buildings in Greenwich, to the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, and, of course, the piazza at Covent Garden. The style that he espoused continues to represent an ideal vision of architecture for many people, and can be applied, as Palladio was so keen to do, in almost any building, large or small, public or domestic, religious or secular.
Obvious challenges present themselves to architecture exhibitions, most obviously that of what to display. The exhibition’s lovingly-crafted scale models tackle this problem, and there are numerous period items, from account books to writing sets, and even one of the books in Palladio’s seminal Quattro Libri, to assist the imagination. I would have liked to see more photographic details of his buildings and less of the architect’s plans, which are obstinately two dimensional, but details such as the Canaletto paintings of Venice help the viewer to make the leap from model and picture, to see how his work took hold in Italy, and to visualise where London’s heritage was constructed.
If you are seeking refreshments and want to continue in the Italian vein, Carluccio’s offer a free bottle of wine with two mains if you take your ticket along. We had a nice meal, classic Italian flavours of chili, garlic, lemon and tomato – simple stuff, but none the worse for that. The calamari wanted something to dip it in and the clam spaghetti needed more oomph, but I wouldn’t hold it against them. The relaxed cafe-cum-deli-cum-restaurant feel is one I am not averse to, and the prices are reasonable, with hearty-sized pasta dishes from less than £7. Three courses for two, with wine, came to £50 but you can get away for very much less.
In terms of enduring influences on London, those of Italian food and architecture are, I believe, two of the best we have. Certainly, to live the rest of my days in a Palladian house with nothing but Italian food would hardly be too arduous.
Andrea Palladio: His Life and Legacy is showing until April 13
Royal Academy of Arts
Carluccio’s has venues throughout London: www.carluccios.com