Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Villa d'Este

One goes in at a little entrance off the piazza that gives no clew whatever as to the glories inside. In fact, the main feature of the piazza is not the villa or the gardens, these are hidden behind high walls, but the church,

Santa Maria Maggiore

one of the older churches I've been to yet, this church was rebuilt in the 12th century. It was ordered built, over an existing Roman villa, by Pope Saint Simplicius who reigned from 468 to March 10, 483. You can see the entrance to the Villa d'Este to the right.

Unfortunately, the interior of the church, Santa Maria Maggiore, was too dim to take pictures but it had some beautiful triptychs and frescoes. And the largest collection of crystal chandeliers I've seen in one place. I was told that in the days before the Asteroid hit, all Italian churches used them for interior lighting.

This Madonna was preserved in the narthex,

as were these samples of ancient cosmetesque flooring.

Truly the frescoes were delightful and seemed to show the Cardinal as a man not only of highly refined taste, but a sense of humour.

A view of the gardens in 1600 and something.

And the same view today. (Well, on Saturday)

Wiki tells us that Franz Liszt, who evoked the garden in his Les Jeux d'Eaux à la Villa d'Este gave one of his last concerts here. The grounds of the Villa d'Este also house the Museo Didattico del Libro Antico, a teaching museum for the study and conservation of antiquarian books, a purpose than which no finer can be imagined.

When you go in the main entrance, (after paying the nice ladies your ten euros) you go into the courtyard and are led into the Appartamento Vecchio ("Old Apartment") made for the villa's builder, Ippolito Cardinal d'Este, with its vaulted ceilings frescoed in secular allegories by Livio Agresti and his students.

Even the unfrescoed rooms were beautiful and welcoming. So lovely to walk around and imagine the conversations that happened in them. One felt as though there would be a lady in a farthingale and ruff rounding a corner any moment, perhaps holding a little book, demanding imperiously to know what you were doing there, so ill dressed.

I imagine the cardinal getting up and standing in his dressing gown in the morning, with his cup of tea, looking out on the view and collecting his thoughts.

Or entertaining guests on his loggia,

looking over the gardens.

One walks down a long gallery with rooms leading into each other. At one end is a spiral stair that leads ultimately into the gardens.

Each room has a theme. This was obviously hunting, and gentlemen's outdoor pursuits.

Many of the frescoes were these extraordinary 3-D trompe l'oeil effects that the Renaissance men loved.

Some were so lifelike it made me laugh.

Lots of pagan allegorical themes, of course.

Rooms full of allegorical virtues.

I was particularly pleased to see "Opulentia" included in these. Note the triregnum.

Wouldn't you love to have a house with indoor fountains.

The chapel, surprisingly small, was closed off, but one could lean over the rope and peer in.

Evidence of the site's antiquity was this section of an ancient floor uncovered during repairs. There was a Roman villa on the spot before the benedictine convent.

When wandering around Hadrian's villa earlier in the day, we read that when the site was first being excavated, much of the marble that had decorated the emperor's palaces and baths ended up at the Villa d'Este.

We'll do the water gardens tomorrow.

No comments: