Monday, May 23, 2011

Villas of the Veneto: Villa Barbaro (Maser)

Built in the 1550s, Villa Barbaro, located on the feet of the Asolani hills and right on the prosecco-producing hills of northern Treviso, was a turning point in the construction of countryside villas.  For the first time, the barn--the two adjacent wings that are dominated by the large series of arches leading to the two outer towers used to hold pigeons--was united with the central villa, used to house both the business of the agricultural operations of the villa, as well as the living quarters of the owners.  This was the start of the five-part profile, with a central building harmoniously flanked by two elements on either side. 

The reason is largely practical, as the villa seemed more imposing from the plains below if seen as a bigger unified whole (and in fact, the first thing one sees on a drive to Maser is the imposing villa on the hillside), and also because the uneven terrain would have made construction very costly if the hills had to be terraced and the barns placed in separate levels.   But the meaning was clear:  this "imposing" structure as seen from below represented the power of the owner/master from above the hill, and also represented the then growing power and importance of the landed aristocracy in feeding Venice.

Although the innovation of the villa was to have reverberations on country-house construction until today, the interior of the villa is far more breathtaking.  Completely frescoed by Veronese, the interior was made into a space dedicated to the tromp l'oeil, with imaginary balconies looking over bucolic countrysides, spears and flags leaning on the walls, and mysterious figures peeking from behind doors and windows.  However, the "architecture" of the interior does not follow the looks of the exterior, suggesting divergent point of views between Palladio and Veronese.

Although some of themes of the rooms were mythical and/or self-aggrandizing, the best parts were the small details meant only to be noticed by the owners.  Here in this room are panoramic vistas of ports and vasts farmlands, but the focal point is the sitting dog, waiting for those standing on his side of the balcony.

Outside is  a nympheum, decorated by Alessandro Vittoria and made to distribute water to the rest of the villa through innovative and complex machineries based on the ones used in Villa d'Este.  The surrounding area is dedicated to the production of wine, specifically the gela grapes used to make the DOCG Asolo prosecco, as well as the usual reds and whites.  It's a peaceful scene of rolling hills and miles upon miles of vineyards, cherry trees heavy with fruit, and chestnut trees.  One could imagine such a scene present all the way back to when the villa was under construction, and farming activities were already under way in these parts.

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