Spotlight On: Italianate Architecture

Italianate architecture arrived in Britain in the very early years of the 19th century. It meandered across the pond to the United States a few dates later and remained extremely popular through the late 19th century.

Italianate architecture draws from the Italian Renaissance style, also called “Neo-Classical.” Italianate architecture differs from Victorian architecture (which was popular around the same time) in a few notable ways. At a most basic level, the Italiante style relies more heavily on sharp edges, robust shapes, and cleaner lines than the more ornate, delicate, and rounded features of the Victorian style.

While both Victorian and Italianate architecture often included dramatic towers, an Italianate building might well have a squared-off tower, whereas a Victorian-style building is more likely to feature a rounded “turret.”

Can’t decide which you might prefer? There’s also a style that blends Italianate and Victorian architecture, which can famously be seen in the “Painted Ladies” houses of San Francisco.

The Burbank Livingston-Griggs Mansion
The Burbank Livingston-Griggs Mansion

Here are a few key features of Italianate architecture:

  • Stone construction, or wood made to look like stone
  • Roofs that are either flat or feature a very low pitch, often with pronounced, overhanging eaves supported by corbels.
  • Balconies with dramatic railings (either wrought-iron or stone)—think Juliet’s famous balcony scene.
  • Decorous framing around windows (also known as “architraving”)

The vast majority of the Twin Cities were built after the heyday of the Italianate era, but lucky visitors to Saint Paul can stroll by a noteworthy example on Summit Avenue in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood. The Burbank Livingston-Griggs Mansion is one of them is one of the finest examples of Italianate architecture in Minnesota. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and was originally built for wealthy businessman James C. Burbank. The mansion is a private residence (sorry, no public tours!) but is divided up into separate units and is available for residential inquiries.

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