Villa Almerico Capra “La Rotonda” by Andrea Palladio, Vicenza
Villa La Rotonda is a 16th-century country house near Vicenza, northern Italy, and one of the most famous buildings designed by Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio.
Located in the middle of a beautiful garden on a small hill on the outskirts of Vicenza, the villa is a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1994.
The design of the villa was commissioned to Palladio by wealthy Venetian priest Paolo Almerico in 1566; after the death of Palladio (1580), the building was completed in 1603 by architect Vincenzo Scamozzi for the brothers Odorico and Mario Capra who had acquired it in 1591. For that reason, La Rotonda is also known as Villa Capra or Villa Almerico Capra.
Scamozzi made several changes to Palladio’s original design; for example, he arguably modified the shape of the dome – which in Palladio’s The Four Books of Architecture is as a much taller semi-circular dome – to resemble that of the Pantheon in Rome, though it is debated whether the change was made by Scamozzi of by Palladio himself.
Exterior views of Villa La Rotonda from the south and from the south-west. Photos Inexhibit, 2020.
Most of the interior decoration was completed by 1630 circa; it comprises impressive fresco paintings by various late-Renaissance artists including Anselmo Canera and Alessandro Maganza, sculptures by Lorenzo Rubini e Gianbattista Albanese, and stucco decorations by Ottavio Ridolfi and Domenico Fontana, among others. Finally, the lower part of the central circular hall was decorated by French painter Louis Dorigny in the second half of the 17th century. Acquired by count Attilio Valmarana in 1912, the villa is owned today by his heirs and open to the public since 1980.
Despite its monumental appearance, La Rotonda is a relatively small building.
As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote about it in his Italian Journey (1816): «The interior can certainly be described as habitable, but not made to be lived in. The main hall’s proportions are beautiful, just like the floors and the bedrooms, nonetheless it could barely be accepted as a summer residence for a distinguished family».
The reason is that Palladio was commissioned by Paolo Almerico the design of a villa for a single owner, the unmarried Almerico himself. Almerico was indeed a retired priest who, after a successful career in Rome, had decided to go back to his home town, Vicenza, and build a splendid abode where to live the last part of his life. Therefore, he didn’t need a large house but he wanted it to be a truly magnificent and sumptuous one.
It’s possibly because of this reason that Palladio designed the building with a central plan, a semispherical dome topped by a lantern, and an extremely rich decorative apparatus; all elements which were typical of churches more than private residences. Almerico’s aim was to create a temple to himself more than a house, indeed.
The south-eastern loggia with an inscription reading “Marius Capra Gabrielis F(ilius)” (Marius Capra son of Gabriel). Photo Inexhibit, 2020
The central plan is possibly the most innovative and revolutionary element in Palladio’s “La Rotonda” and the feature from which the villa takes its most popular name. Central plan design had been adopted in many Renaissance churches – such as the Rotonda by Brunelleschi in Florence (1434), the Temple of San Pietro in Montorio in Rome by Donato Bramante (1510), the church of San Biagio in Montepulciano by Antonio da Sangallo the Elder (1518) and Michelangelo’s and Bramante’s unrealized projects for the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome – but never used for a residential building.
Andrea Palladio, a drawing from “The Four Books of Architecture” (1570) showing the second-floor plan (piano nobile) and a cross-section of Villa La Rotonda.
Shaped like a Greek cross, the symmetrical plan of the villa is marked externally by four identical loggias, each topped by a pediment.
The house has three habitable levels and an attic, the lower level contains the kitchen, utility rooms, cellars, and other service facilities; the third level, or mezzanine, originally accommodated a large gallery with a balcony opening onto the central hall which was transformed into a ten-room apartment in the 18th century; the attic contains storage rooms for food and other goods; finally, the second floor, or piano nobile, houses the eight private rooms in which the owner lived, a large circular central hall, and four vestibules.
Four spiral stairways connect all the levels of the villa.
The circular hall is covered by a Pantheon-like dome topped by an oculus and a lantern; the fresco paintings of the upper part of the hall and the dome were made by Alessandro Maganza while those of the lower part are by French painter Louis Dorigny. Photos Inexhibit, 2020
One of the living rooms on the Piano Nobile. Photo Inexhibit, 2020
Together with the main house, the estate also comprises three other constructions, two buildings, designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi – housing stables, agricultural facilities, and the living quarters of the estate staff -, and a small chapel designed by Girolamo Albanese in the second half of the 17th century.
The portico of one of Villa la Rotonda’s staff blocks designed by Scamozzi. Photo Inexhibit, 2020.
View of teh villa from the west; the ground floor also contains the building’s foundations. Photo Inexhibit, 2020.
Made mainly of a local limestone known as Nanto or Vicenza Stone, the villa doesn’t have a traditional foundation; it’s the slightly wider lower floor with its cross vaults that supports the whole building in a “ziggurat like” structural configuration.
One of the most iconic buildings in history, the Villa Almerico Capra “La Rotonda” has been a model for centuries and so many architectures were inspired by this masterpiece devised by Andrea Palladio 350 years ago, including the White House in Washington DC by James Hoban (1792-1800), the Monticello main house in Charlottesville VA by Thomas Jefferson (1769-1809), and Chiswick House in London designed by Richard Boyle (1729), to name a few.
Apart from private tours arranged in advance, the interior of the villa is open to the public on the weekends from mid-March to late November, while the gardens and the exteriors can be visited from Tuesday to Sunday. The interior of the villa is not accessible to wheelchair users.
A view of the villa from the entrance alley, with one of the staff buildings on the right. Photo Inexhibit, 2020.
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copyright Inexhibit 2021 - ISSN: 2283-5474