The Victorian enthusiasm for the Italianate style of architecture had its origins in Royal approval; the cult of romantic poetry; and the siren-song of warm climates with winter sun and palm trees. The Italianate style was fashionable from the 1840’s through the 1890’s for houses, as well as for commercial buildings like hotels and institutional buildings like courthouses and government offices.
The Origins of the Italianate style:
The popularity of the Grand Tour – the near-obligatory coming-of-age for young people of wealth in England – started to spread the word about the warm sun, and exotic sights that gradually filtered back to cool, damp England.
The Grand Tour had started as early as the late 1600’s, and grew in popularity in Georgian and early Victorian times. Deemed to be part of a required Classical education for the future ruling class, a tour to Venice, Rome, Florence, and all parts in between, exposed the travellers to the best of art, language, architecture and culture.
By the 1830’s Englishmen were already building villas on the Riviera and wintering in Italy.
The ultimate approval for Italy was given by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning, after their secret marriage in London in 1846, and scandalous week-later “elopement” to Italy. After six months in Pisa, they settled in Florence at the seven room Casa Guida, where they proceeded to write and receive a steady stream of illustrious visitors including novelist Anthony Trollope and superstar art critic John Ruskin.
With the approval of such a romantic couple as the Brownings, all things Italian became immensely popular, and aspirationally fashionable people started demanding “Italianate” design.