VICENZA, Italy — Perhaps the most bizarre bit of business in the multimedia exhibition “Jefferson and Palladio: Constructing a New World” is a video of an imaginary confrontation between Thomas Jefferson and Andrea Palladio, depicted as silhouettes.
At one point, Palladio, the Italian architect, who died in 1580, chides Jefferson, the American architect and statesman, who died in 1826, for never traveling to the Veneto region of Italy during his European migrations to see firsthand the villas that so influenced his designs and, consequently, American public architecture.
But for Guido Beltramini, director of the Palladio Museum in Vicenza and a curator of the exhibition, which runs through the end of March, Palladio was solely the conduit for Jefferson’s vision of a new world built on the twin pillars of reason and beauty.
“For Jefferson, Palladio took the great tradition of ancient Roman architecture and translated it for the purposes of the modern world, so that it could be accessible,” Mr. Beltramini said by telephone.
Jefferson “was interested in the Palladian language, in the mathematics,” he said. But above all, Jefferson was both a visionary and a pragmatist: Once he had understood that language, once he had the syntax encoded in an architectural treatise, “he had no need to see the originals,” Mr. Beltramini said. “What counted was the idea.”
Through Jefferson, that idea was to have a profound influence on American public architecture. So many buildings in the United States, including iconic constructions like the White House and the Capitol Building, reflect the influence of Palladio (and the later 18th-century Anglo-Palladian movement) that in 2010 the United States Congress passed a concurrent resolution honoring the 500th anniversary of Palladio’s birth, recognizing “his tremendous influence” on American architecture and cultural heritage.