Villa Valmara ai Nani: Tiepolo’s frescoes in an enchanting setting
Near Vicenza, high up in the Berici hills, the upside-down keel shape of the Basilica Palladiana stands out in the city’s outline, the symbol of the historic center, which has recently been restored to its former glory. Palladio is the most recognized name in the area, after the artist that transformed architecture in the 1500s, giving rise to the model that bears his name and characterizes an entire region. UNESCO has included the Palladian villas in Veneto in its list of world heritage sites.
Just a short distance from La Rotonda, the most celebrated of Palladio’s villas, you will find Villa Valmarana ai Nani. It was built 100 years later, when Giustino Valmarana commissioned Francesco Muttoni to design it.
The name derives from the seventeen dwarves carved in stone that adorn the perimeter wall. There is a legend telling of a dwarf princess that lived alone in the villa, surrounded by her dwarf servants, who, after glimpsing a handsome prince wandering in the garden one day and becoming aware of her abnormality, threw herself from the tower. In their grief, the dwarves turned to stone.
After passing through the entrance gate, you will find yourself in an exquisite example of an Italian-style garden with a geometric layout, behind which the central villa can be seen. The severe lines of the residence are highlighted by triangular pediments, and the complex was later completed by adding the guest lodgings, and the stables.
A great art lover like Giustino would have been satisfied with nothing less than the work of Giambattista Tiepolo, one of the greatest artists of the period, to decorate the interior, along with his son, Giandomenico. The father painted the frescoes in the villa and the son completed those in the guest lodgings, although in some rooms they worked together.
Giustino also chose the themes that Giambattista used – The Sacrifice of Iphigenia, The Iliad, Aeneid, The Frenzy of Orlando, and Jerusalem Delivered – the masterpieces of European literature up to that time.
The central room, though not very large, contains the Iphigenia cycle. The force of Tiepolo’s painting is expressed in all its theatricality, and depicts the decisive moment that precedes the sacrifice of the young woman. It is worth noting the colors and the almost three-dimensional depth of the work that is achieved through the framing of the columns.
The room dedicated to the Iliad focuses on Briseis, Achille’s slave, taken from him by Agamemnon. The room depicting The Frenzy of Orlando shows certain episodes in which Angelica is the central character. The Aeneid paintings feature Aeneas as the protagonist and his lineage. The room with Jerusalem Delivered portrays the witch Armida tempting the knight Rinaldo.
The common thread running through the frescoes is the theme of sacrifice and hardship as moral values. But overriding it all is the ability of Tiepolo the father to construct deceptive sequences where the central characters become actors, where the decorative role becomes staging.
The guest lodgings, entrusted to Giandomenico, have a more extroverted flavor, both in terms of subject and painting technique. Chinoiserie, Carnival, farmers, middle class gentlemen, paintings that depict daily life and not high-flown themes from the classics of literature. These paintings have a more realistic dimension, although the illusory influence of the father comes through in places. In fact, note the pine tree in the chinoiserie room, which almost seems to be breaking away from the wall to come nearer to the observer.
This illusory nature is also evident in the villa’s exterior. A rather long road departs from the villa, flanked by hornbeam trees leading to a small nymphaeum with a statue of Triton.
Villa Vilmarana ai Nani is one of the residences constructed between the 16th and 18th centuries that are characterized by magnificent gardens and feature different architectural styles – austere in the 1500s, more relaxed and creative in the 1600s, more rational in the 1700s. These are truly splendid sites, often completed with fresco cycles by famous painters and of a remarkable quality.
The images are the property of Villa Valmara ai Nani.
9 March 2013 – 4 November 2013 (inclusive)
Tuesday through Sunday: 10:00am – 12.30pm and 3:00pm – 6:00pm
Closed Mondays. Requests to visit the villa on Mondays can be made by calling 0444.321803 or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org