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Villa Capra "La Rotonda"

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Villa Capra "La Rotonda" is correctly but seldom known as Villa Almerico-Capra.

Contents

Inspiration

When in 1565 a priest Paolo Almerico on his retirement from the Vatican as (referendario apostolico of Pope Pius IV and afterwards Pius V) decided to return to his home town of Vicenza in the Venetian countryside and build a country house, he could not have foreseen that that the house he commissioned from the architect Andrea Palladio would become one of the most inspirational architectural prototypes for the next five hundred plus years. However if Villa Capra, La Rotonda, has inspired a thousand subsequent houses, then the villa itself was undoubtedly inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. During his lifetime, Palladio designed more than 20 villas on the Venetian mainland. This house later known as 'La Rotonda' was to be one of his most well known legacies to the architectural world.

Design

The site selected was a hilltop just outside the city of Vicenza, at the time it was the fashion to be what is called today a 'gentleman farmer', buoyed by arcadian values prosperous Italians wished to enjoy the simple life. As a single man Almerico had no need of a vast Palazzo but wished for a sophisticated Villa and this is exactly what Palladio produced for him.

Palladio's plan of Villa La Rotonda, in I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura 1570
Palladio's plan of Villa La Rotonda, in I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura 1570

Building began circa 1566 of a square building, completely symmetrical, as though an imaginary circle touched the walls of the square at any given point (illustration, right). To describe the villa as a 'rotonda'Square" title ="Square">square with a cross. Each of the four facades was to have a portico with steps leading up and each of the four principal entrances was to lead via a small cabinet or corridor to the circular domed central hall. This and all other rooms were proportioned with mathematical precision according to Palladio'Quattro_Libri_dell%27Architettura" title ="Quattro Libri dell'Architettura">Quattro Libri dell'Architettura.

The design reflected the humanist values of renaissance architecture. In order for each room to have some sun, the design was rotated 45 degrees from each cardinal point of the compass (North-West, South-East etc.). Each of the four porticos had pediments graced by statues of classical deities. The pediments were each supported by six ionic columns. Each portico was flanked by a single window. All principal rooms were on a second floor piano nobile.

Palladio, and also the owner, Paolo Almerico, were not to see the completion of the villa. Palladio died in 1580 and a second architect Vincenzo Scamozzi was employed by the new owners to oversee the completion. One of the major changes he made to the original plan was to modify the two story centre hall. Palladio had intended it to be covered by a high semi-circular dome but Scamozzi designed a lower dome with an oculus (intended to be open to the sky) inspired by Rome'Cupola" title ="Cupola">cupola.

Interior

The interior design of the Villa was to be as wonderful, if not more so than the exterior, Alessandro and Giambattista Maganza and by Anselmo Canera were commissioned to paint frescoes in the principal salons.

Among the four principal salons on the piano nobile are the West Salon (also called the Holy Room, because of the religious nature of its frescoes and ceiling), and the East Salon, which contains an allegorical life story of the first owner Paolo Almerico, his many admirable qualities portrayed in fresco.

The highlight of the interior is the central circular hall, domed and balconied, it soars the full height of the house up into the cupola, with pillars decorated in 'trompe l'oeuille'. Abundant frescoes create whole atmosphere that is more reminiscent of a cathedral than the principal salon of a country house.

Landscape

From the porticos wonderful views of the surrounding countryside could be seen, this is no coincidence the Villa was designed to be in perfect harmony with the landscape. This was in complete contrast to such buildings as Villa Farnese of just 16 years earlier. Thus Villa Capra "La rotonda" while appearing completely symmetrical has certain deviations, designed in order for each facade to complement the surrounding landscape and topography, hence there are variations in the facades, in the width of steps, retaining walls etc. Thus the symmetry of the architecture allows for the asymmetry of the landscape, and creates a seemingly symmetrical whole. The landscape is a panoramic vision of trees and meadows and woods, with the distant Vicenza on the horizon.

The northwest portico is set into the hill as the termination of a straight carriage drive from the principal gates. This carriageway is an avenue between the service blocks, built by the Capra brothers who acquired the villa in 1591, they commissioned Vincenzo Scamozzi to complete the villa and construct the range of staff and agricultural buildings. As one approaches the villa from this angle one is deliberately made to feel one is ascending from some less worthy place to a temple on high. This same view, in reverse, from the villa, highlights the classical chapel on the edge of Vicenza itself, thus villa and town are united.

2004

Today the Villa Capra is in the ownership of Mario di Valmarana, an architect, and expert on the works of Palladio and also a former professor of architecture at University of Virginia since 1973. The villa has been his family's home for more than two centuries. It is his declared ambition to preserve Villa Almerico-Capra for the appreciation and wonderment of future generations.

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