Discovering Palladio: 35 Minutes at Villa Barbaro in Maser, Italy
There’s so little I know about the world. Andrea Palladio for instance. The greatest western architect of the 16th century, a visionary, widely regarded as one of the most influential practitioners of his day whose influence will continue far into this century and most certainly through the next. Most of his work is just a few hours away. And me? Clueless.
That’s where Danijela comes in. (Sometimes, anyway. 🙂 ) As a student of architecture in her undergrad days and an artist and designer by trade, she knows a lot about him. And likes to share that knowledge, ever so modestly.
“Huh?” was her reply to my clueless expression. “You’ve never heard of Palladio!?”
I’m used to it by now.
I’m glad there’s no video of how far my jaw dropped as we approached Villa Barbaro, his masterwork in the northeastern Italian town of Maser. The power with which the imposing structure jumped out of the slight hillside setting it dominated is impossible to describe. I hadn’t felt that way since the first time I saw the Grand Canyon, nearly two decades ago, an experience I find equally challenging to describe. We all know it’s a big hole in the ground. Yet nothing prepares you for how big a hole you actually see when you’re standing at its edge.
Even that feeble attempt doesn’t really work here. Likening it to those other “first times” that we’ll likely never forget –your first kiss, that first sexual encounter, the first time you saw a glacier— will have to suffice for now.
For architecture buffs like Danijela, Palladio-spotting is sport bordering on pilgrimage. It’s addicting too. I’m hooked. Thankfully, most of his creations dot the nearby countryside of Veneto, located within a circle whose diameter is marked by Venice to the east and Verona to the west. For the most part, little more than three hours from home here in Ljubljana at its farthest.
Maser is only 50 kilometers northwest of Venice but it’s a world away from the floating city’s jarring overcrowded frenzy. It’s sleepy even on an early summer Saturday afternoon. Most shops are closed. Farmers are enjoying their post-lunch snooze. Even the Villa’s winery gift shop (and requisite tasting section) was on its midday siesta, a break which ruined a major portion of my visit plan. But it also meant that we’d have the entire villa almost exclusively to ourselves.
Well, not entire. Only the central portion is open to the public, with the wings very much lived in. The house is owned by descendants of Count Giuseppe Volpi, a businessman and financier who served as Mussolini’s Finance Minister in the 1920s. Peeking through the windows on doors that seal off a living room and reading room/study of the family quarters was an especially enjoyable guilty pleasures. One resident invited the gift shop employee to a terrace for afternoon coffee while we were there, which explained the “we’ll be back later” sign on the tasting room door.
While the viewable interior sections are somewhat limited, they’re a feast. Especially the frescos by Paolo Veronese that dance off the walls and onto the ceilings. A few images below of the Room of Bacchus, my favorite (no cameras allowed so, obviously, I did not take these).
The villa’s history?
According to wiki, it was built for “Daniele Barbaro, Patriarch of Aquileia and ambassador to Queen Elizabeth I of England, and his brother Marcantonio an ambassador to King Charles IX of France”, most likely between 1560 and 1570, but according to some architectural historians, was completed as early as 1558.
In 1996 UNESCO included it, as part of the “City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto”, as a World Heritage Site.
In the back, butting up against a small hill, is a Nymphaeum, a garden or sanctuary space whose use dates back to the ancient Romans.
This one, hemicyclic in shape, frames one side of a natural pool and spring with 14 statues, four of them, two seemingly mirrored pairs, on pedestals against its front wall and the other ten, much more mythical in appearance, standing in recessed niches, five on each side. Below, images of the center of Nymphaeum, a close-up of its interior, and the statue that stands atop it.
Next, several of the statues that frame the structure.
Have you ever swung on a cornucopia hammock? Me neither.
Via Barbaro 4, 31010 Maser, Treviso
Sun & holidays 11am-6pm
€7 seniors, students & groups (20 or more)
€4.50 children 6-14
Closest train station is in Montebulluna, 7.5km away; 15min bus journey via line 111.