An Italian Renaissance Villa
Original builder: Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt II
Architect: Richard Morris Hunt
Construction dates: 1893-1895
Materials: Brick faced with Indiana limestone
Built for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, The Breakers (1893-1895), is the grandest of Newport's summer “cottages” and a symbol of the Vanderbilt family's social and financial preeminence in turn-of-the-century America. In 1893, Mr. Vanderbilt and his wife Alice commissioned Richard Morris Hunt to design a house that would replace one on the same property that was destroyed by a fire in November of 1892.
Hunt designed a mansion in the Italian Renaissance style, modeled after the 16th-century palaces and villas of Genoa and its environs, which celebrated the architecture of ancient Rome. While on a diplomatic mission to Genoa, Hunt purchased a copy of a book by Peter Paul Rubens, Palazzi di Genova
(1622). With detailed images of the great Italian palazzi, Hunt proceeded to create a magnificent Renaissance villa for his clients on the cliffs of Newport.
Key features of this Italian Renaissance style villa are its central loggias on the first and second floors defined by arches, and rooms arranged around the large central hall. Much of the decorative ornament draws inspiration from classical Greek and Roman architecture, such as the dominant chimney hoods modeled after an ancient Roman sarcophagus (an elaborate coffin). Also prominent are the quoins, raised blocks of stone, which visually enhance the corners; in older buildings, quoins served a structural purpose, reinforcing the corners.
Ionic columns, with their characteristic scrolled ornament (volutes)
at the top, line the second floor of the loggia.
The stringcourse marks the division between the first and second floors,
and features classical symbols and the letter “V” for Vanderbilt.
A classical arcade is comprised of a series
of niches enclosing a covered porch.
Four columns define the triumphal arch design of the doorway and flanking windows.
Above the first-floor windows on the rear façade, circular decorative plaques are carved
with classical figures and adorned with laurel, symbolic of victory and fame.