Saturday, September 3, 2011

Villas of the Veneto: Villa Valmarana ai Nani (Vicenza)

Only a few steps away from the church in Monte Berico and Palladio's masterpiece the Rotonda, Villa Valmarana ai Nani is certainly not an attention seeker.  Within the compounds, protected by high walls topped with statues of dwarves, is a modest villa with no striking feature other than a disproportionately small pediment and a grand view of Colli Berici.  Inside, however, are the Tiepolos' Rococo masterpiece.   

The frescoes in the compound are separated between the father and son team of Giambattista and Domenico, with the father taking on the task of painting the main villa while Domenico decorates the guest house.  The main villa is definitely the more ambitious and sublime of the two buildings, with mythical and allegorical themes literally surrounding the viewer.  The figures literally leap out of the walls and into the three-dimensional space, as depicted on the photo above as the god of wind flies in through a cloud.  On the opposite side of the wall, weapons and equipment rest on the wall as if stuck in a perpetual moment of preparation for battle.  The villa is still currently inhabited; imagine waking up each morning to the god of wind swooping past your door?

Although less lofty than the main villa, the guest house was no less exuberant, with Domenico using bright colors to depict country scenes in the life of a very cultured and very well-traveled family.  Farmers, Orientals, and beautiful women swathe in gorgeous fabrics walk amongst a bucolic idyll, a representation in painting of Venetian nobility's self-identity that Palladio depicted in architecture.  

Not to be outdone by his father's tromp l'oeil, Domenico paints this utterly convincing staircase in the dining room, complete with a monkey climbing it and an African servant peeking from the top balustrade, maybe to check if the meal is going well or not.  Whereas the main villa was a representation of the family as a continuity of Roman mythology and history, the guest house is a depiction of the capacity of the family to enjoy and provide the good life, of the countryside as an extension of their--and Venice's--power.  

The area around the villa is a treat as well, with the vineyards and farms of Colli Berici surrounding it on one side and the city of Vicenza below the hills on the other.  

Now, some may wonder about the "ai nani" (translated "of the dwarves") part of the name.  Well, there is a local legend that tells the story of the original owner of the villa who had a daughter who was a dwarf.  To protect her from the cruel world outside, he hired only dwarf servants to make sure that the daughter does not notice her flaw.  However, one day, the daughter manages to climb the wall only to see that the world outside is very different from the world she has become accustomed to.  Heart broken, she jumps over the wall and out of the villa, never to be seen again.  The servants were so saddened by the daughter's disappointment that the pain they felt turned them into stone.  They were placed on top of the wall, forever waiting for the daughter to come back.


  1. Those frescoes look so realistic that they might fool some visitors specially after dark. Villa Valmarana is an interesting place.

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  2. They did fool me! The frescoes are very beautiful and airy, and definitely makes this place worth a visit.

  3. That painting is gorgeous! I want that to my collection. Is for sale or something?

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