Bartłomiej Bartelmus  •  148   •  22 July 2021

From an austere villa rustica in Vigardolo to a lavish palazzo in Vicenza – two Andrea Palladio’s projects for the Valmarana family


A villa rustica in Vigardolo and a palazzo (city palace) in Vicenza were founded by the same noble family Valmarana. However, both buildings were built at a considerable time interval and can be seen as evidence of the evolution of the style of their creator, Andrea Palladia (1508–1580). Whereas in the villa Valmarana in Vigardolo an austere and severe style is discernible which distinguishes the architect’s earlier oeuvre, the Palazzo Valmarana, built around twenty years later in one of the urban arteries of Vicenza illustrates the lavishness and monumentalism, both in terms of the scale and stylistic features, that were supposed to determine the power of the founders.

The villa Valmarana (currently Valmarana-Bressan) is located in via Vigardoletto in Vigardolo, a village ca. 8 km to the northwest of Vicenza.

Vigardolo (prov. Vicenza), Villa Valmarana, view from the northwest, photo Bartłomiej Bartelmus

There is no draft published in Andrea Palladio’s Four Books of Architecture (Quattro Libri dell’Architettura, Venezia 1570), hence not all researchers and scholars agree on his authorship. The attribution didn’t convince e.g. Giulio Fasolo and George Kreskentevich Loukomski, who had mentioned the villa in their works of the 1920s, while Fritz Burger completely ignored the villa in his monographic volume on Andrea Palladio’s oeuvre from 19091. Two sketches housed in the Royal Institute of British Architects in London, depicting the ground plan and façade (no. 125626, 125628, formerly RIBA XVII/1r, XVII/2r) may shed light on the question of authorship. Both sketches are dated to 1560 and regarded as Andrea Palladio’s autographic works, mainly considering their close similarity to his other autographic drafts2.

The villa was commissioned by cousins Giuseppe di Bernardino and Antonio Valmarana and supposed to provide accommodation for two branches of the same family3. From the declaration of property status, made at the end of October 1541 by Giuseppe Valmarana, it appears that he was the owner of a land estate in Vigardolo, with one house at the completion stage, and another house (casa) had only just begun to be built4. Antonio Valmarana’s will, at the date of December 3, 1560 mentions a residential building named house or castle which belonged to the author in half (dimidia)5. Although the written source mentioned above doesn’t indicate that the villa was completed in 1560, the fact of having been shared by Antonio Valmarana and most likely by his cousin Giuseppe may be an indication that at that time it might have been habitable6. Some suggestion for the terminus ante quem, as regards the completion of the villa, may be indicated by the exactly six years later written record (December 3, 1566), registered in Giuseppe Valmarana’s will, which mentions the “completion of a house in Vigardolo, for Sunday rest”7. Andrea Palladio’s mandate to provide the villa for two branches of the same family could indirectly affect the plan and the unusual arrangement of its interiors, arranged in the form of two apartments located symmetrically in relation to the central hall and the entrance loggia8. The style of the building depicted in two sketches housed in London may support classifying the villa Valmarana in Andrea Palladio’s earlier works, nonetheless the initial projects were modified and the current appearance of the building is eventually different9. Two drawings depicting a bird’s eye view of the Valmarana family estate in Vigardolo, dated to 1597 and 1607, despite their awkwardness clearly illustrate differences in a manor including the villa and walls enclosing a large yard, in relation to Andrea Palladio’s drafts housed in London10. The same goes for a tax record from December 19, 1663, which indicates that the Valmarana family estate in Vigardolo included “a masonry house with a sloping roof, with internal ceilings and vaults, called a castle, dovecote, yard, garden with a fruit orchard with about 15 units of productive land …”11. It can be seen, today, that the villa Valmarana, in the tax record cited above described as castle, isn’t placed on as high socle as was depicted in the sketches housed in London, with reference numbers 125626 and 125628 (formerly RIBA XVII/1r, RIBA XVII/2r, figs. 2, 3, cf. fig. 4). The plot of land to build was crossed by many watercourses, hence the foundations couldn’t be placed too deeply.

Vigardolo (prov. Vicenza), Villa Valmarana, view from the northwest, photo Bartłomiej Bartelmus

Unlike the sketch housed in London, with reference number 125626 (formerly RIBA XVII/1r, fig. 2), instead of a superstructure with a separate roof and Diocletian (thermal) windows inspired by Roman antiquity, above the piano nobile a simple mezzanine was built. As for the arrangement of rooms the villa Valmarana as seen today seems closest to the sketch housed in London, with reference number 125628 (formerly RIBA XVII/2r), although the central hall is covered with wooden ceiling instead of a cross-arched vault.

Vigardolo (prov. Vicenza), Villa Valmarana, interior of the central hall, photo Bartłomiej Bartelmus

What also gives evidence of Andrea Palladio’s authorship, as regards the villa Valmarana in Vigardolo, are features which distinguish his architectural language. The arrangement of rooms in the interior is very similar to the villa Trissino in Cricoli (Vicenza suburbs), dated to mid-1530s and regarded as an early and not completely autographic work by Andrea Palladio12. Particularly the rooms on rectangular and square plans, placed symmetrically to the central hall and loggia reflect the ratios 2:3:5, which conforms to the dimensions of 12, 18 and 30 piedi vicentini – units of length used in the early modern period in Vicenza and surroundings13.

As regards the style, the villa Valmarana in Vigardolo might have been partly inspired by classical monuments of the ancient Rome which Andrea Palladio had seen during his first trip to the Eternal City in 154114. The clearly ancient Roman inspirations emerge in the form of loggia, in vaultings of accommodation rooms and in the entrance to the central hall on the north side (main façade) which has a serliana form, i.e. consists of a central opening with a semicircular arch over it, springing from two entablatures each supported by two pilasters flanking narrower flat-topped openings on either side15.

Vigardolo (prov. Vicenza), Villa Valmarana, main (northern) façade, photo Bartłomiej Bartelmus

According to the sketch housed in London, with reference number 125628 (formerly RIBA XVII/2r) the serliana entrance was supposed to have a double concentric semicircular arch over the central opening, like the serliana entrance to the loggia of the Palladian villa Pojana in Pojana Maggiore, dated to around 1547/50-155516.

Pojana Maggiore, Villa Pojana, main façade, photo Bartłomiej Bartelmus

Some researchers claim that serlianas with double concentric semicircular arches might have had inspiration sources in ancient Roman public baths (thermae), e.g. in the Baths of Titus, Baths of Nero and Baths of Diocletian, the ruins of which Andrea Palladio could discover during the above-mentioned visit to Rome17. However the serliana entrance to the loggia, which leads into the T-shaped central hall of the villa Valmarana in Vigardolo, represents the “Palladian” type in which a semicircular arch over the central opening is flanked by two round openings. The same type of serliana can be encountered in two-storey loggias of the Renaissance outer shell that would obscure the original Gothic architecture of the Palazzo della Ragione in Vicenza, after reconstruction called Basilica Palladiana18.

Vicenza, Basilica Palladiana, photo Bartłomiej Bartelmus

Unlike the sketches housed in London the windows in piano nobile of the villa Valmarana in Vigardolo have neither frameworks in form of decorative rusticated pilasters nor segmental pediments. The framings of windows in all façades of the representative piano nobile are modestly profiled and topped with triangular pediments (main façade) or cornice sections (eastern and western façade). On the east and west the villa Valmarana in Vigardolo is flanked by small adjacent buildings on rectangular ground plans, presumably the former farm buildings covered with gable roofs, like the much higher villa itself.

As for the Palazzo Valmarana (currently Valmarana-Braga), located in Corso Fogazzaro (formerly Contrada di San Lorenzo) in Vicenza, its construction began more than twenty years later than the villa Valmarana in Vigardolo. The building was commissioned by the same noble family, its style is nevertheless different.

Vigardolo (prov. Vicenza), Villa Valmarana, view from the southwest, photo Bartłomiej Bartelmus

Palazzo Valmarana in Vicenza, ground plan of the entire building complex and façade in an imagined state in: I Qvattro Libri dell’architettvra di Andrea Palladio. Ne’ quali dopo vn breue trattato de’ cinque ordini, & di quelli auertimenti, che sono piu necessarij nel fabricare, si tratta delle case priuate, delle vie, de i ponti, delle piazze, de i xisti & de tempij, con PRIVILEGI, Appresso Dominico de’ Franceschini, Venetia 1570, book II, chapter III, p. 16, image from:
https://archive.org/details/qvattrolibridel00pall/page/n87/mode/2up

In Andrea Palladio’s Four Books of Architecture (Quattro Libri dell’Architettura, book II, chapter III, p. 16), next to the published draft we can read:

“IN THE SAME city [Vicenza], the noble counts of Valmarana erected, for their own convenience, and to decorate their homeland, a building according to the drawings that I am now showing. The building does not lack any of the sophisticated decorations, such as stuccoes and paintings. The house is divided into two parts by an internal courtyard surrounded by a corridor or balcony leading from the front to the rear of the building. The lower rooms are vaulted, the upper rooms are flat, and the height is equal to the width. There is a garden in front of the entrance to the stables, much larger than the one I have marked in the picture; I made it so small because the page would not contain the plan of the stables with the rest of the building. I have described the structure sufficiently, especially since here and elsewhere I have given the dimensions of each part in the drawings”.

Therefore Andrea Palladio’s treatise indicates that already at the project stage the rooms in the interior were supposed to be decorated with frescoes and stuccos. The interior decorations according to the project were eventually never completed and today only a barrel-vaulted parlour on the left of the gateway contains frescoes and stuccos19. The Palladian Four Books of Architecture (Quattro Libri dell’Architettura) don’t mention names of the Palazzo Valmarana commissioners, this information was also ignored by the 18th century architects and scholars Francesco Muttoni (1669–1747) and Ottavio Bertotti Scamozzi (1719–1790)20. However, during the restoration works, in 1845 a medallion was discovered, containing the inscription Isabela • Noga • Valm • V • Æ • S • XXXXX and the date 156621 which suggests that the edifice had been commissioned by Isabella Nogarola Valmarana. She signed a contract with a stonemason Pietro da Nanto on December 14, 1565 and is commemorated in a bust in the salon on the piano nobile22. Isabella’s husband, Giovanni Alvise Valmarana (d. 1558), also commemorated in a bust in the same salon on the piano nobile played an important role in the selection of Andrea Palladio as a project designer of the edifice23.

Bust of Isabella Nogarola Valmarana, salon on the piano nobile, Vicenza, Palazzo Valmarana, image from:
https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palazzo_Valmarana#/media/File:Isabella_Nogarola_Valmarana_busto_2009-07-25_f03.jpg

The same Giovanni Alvise, together with Girolamo Chiericati and the literary theorist, philologist, dramatist and poet Giangiorgio Trissino (1478–1550)24 gave Andrea Palladio public support in 1549, for his project of a Renaissance outer shell for a medieval structure of the Palazzo della Ragione in Vicenza, Andrea Palladio was also the author of the design of the ancestral chapel at the Church of Santa Corona, founded by Leonardo Valmarana, son of Giovanni Alvise and Isabella25. At the place where the palazzo in question stands today, the Valmarana family had several houses at the end of the 15th century, which were gradually merged and finally “absorbed” by the palace26. According to the written sources in 1487 Stefano Valmarana had possessed a house with a courtyard and garden “for Sunday rest”, located exactly on the site where the palazzo was build27. Stefano’s son, Benedetto Valmarana, against his father’s will, sold the property on August 16, 1493 as fidei-commissum to his relative Giacomo, for 1800 ducats28.

The house was repurchased at the beginning of the 16th century, a decision to rebuilt and enlarge the building was however taken only within the years 1565-1566, since the contemporary written sources say about the “reconstruction and improvement of the [large] home”29 (Padua, Archivio di Stato, Privati: Valmarana–Vendramin, reg. 23, fol. 3v), as cited in: Puppi, Battilotti 2006, p. 370; see also: Wundram, Pape 2004, pp. 180-181.]. The construction of a new palazzo for the Valmarana family was most likely completed before 1581 which may be indirectly shown by the Latin inscription in a stone panel over the gateway. The inscription says that in September 1581 the Holy Roman Empress Maria Habsburg, commonly known as Maria of Austria (1528–1603), daughter of the Emperor Charles V (1519–1556), queen consort of Maximilian II (1562–1576) and mother of Rudolf II (1575–1612) stayed together with her suite in the palazzo owned by Leonardo Valmarana. It means that by that time not only the edifice itself, but also most elements of its interior decoration were completed. More evidence that the palazzo might have been completed before 1581 or 1582 can be given by a city plan of Vicenza (called Pianta Angelica), dated to 1580 which depicts the completed façade of the building and the wings around the inner courtyard at the stage of significant construction progress30. Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) in turn, as he pointed in 1568 the things he had seen (cose viste) during his trip to Venice in 1566, mentioned an “almost completed… highly lavish palace … for the Counts Valmorana (sic!)” in Vicenza31. It is highly unlikely that, as Giorgio Vasari claimed, the entire palazzo with its four wings would have been “almost completed” in 1566, nevertheless the construction of its wing facing Contrada di San Lorenzo (currently Corso Fogazzaro) may have been nearing the end.

Palazzo Valmarana in Vicenza, ground plan of the entire building, sketch by Ottavio Bertotti Scamozzi, 1776, image from:
https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palazzo_Valmarana#/media/File:Palazzo_Valmarana_pianta_B_Scamozzi_1776.jpg

The irregular ground plan of the Palazzo Valmarana resulted from a sloping line of the façade which endorses the line of walls of the former house in Contrada di San Lorenzo (currently Corso Fogazzaro). This is evident according to a draft in the collection of Andrea Palladio’s projects, published in the last quarter of the 18th century by Ottavio Bertotti Scamozzi32. According to Andrea Palladio’s draft and description published in The Four Books of Architecture (Quattro Libri dell’Architettura, book II, chapter III, p. 16), a more regular ground plan of the edifice had been planned. The square courtyard was supposed to be surrounded by two huge parallel wings with deep porticos and two perpendicular, much shorter, narrower wings that contained staircases and small rooms on rectangular plans, symmetrically placed in relation to the courtyard. Andrea Palladio’s draft included also an enormous garden behind four wings of the edifice, a small yard and two symmetrically placed stables. The Palazzo Valmarana in Vicenza was eventually never completed according to the draft from The Four Books of Architecture, like many other ambitious projects by Andrea Palladio.

Vicenza, Palazzo Valmarana, façade facing Corso Fogazzaro, photo Bartłomiej Bartelmus

Nevertheless the two wings which were built seem to follow the draft published in The Four Books of Architecture33. The main façade is one of Andrea Palladio’s most extraordinary projects. For the first time a giant order of monumental, not fluted pilasters rises almost to the full height of the façade. The façade facing Contrada di San Lorenzo (currently Corso Fogazzaro) seems to be composed for the crescendo rhythm, with a lot wider middle axis, containing the gateway and narrower lateral axis whose width only slightly exceeds the windows’ width34.

Vicenza, Palazzo Valmarana, façade, xylograph in: Giuseppe Barberis, Gustavo Stafforello, La patria, geografia dell’Italia. Provincie di Verona, Vicenza e Padova, Torino 1903, image from:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Palazzo_Valmarana_(Vicenza)?uselang=it#/media/File:Vicenza_palazzo_Valmarana.jpg

The use of a giant order on the façade of a palazzo is significant rather for Andrea Palladio’s façades of church buildings, like e.g. in the Church of San Francesco della Vigna in Venice, built or rather completed after 156235.

Venice, Church of San Francesco della Vigna, image from:
https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiesa_di_San_Francesco_della_Vigna#/media/File:Facade_of_San_Francesco_della_Vigna_(Venice).jpg

Like in case of the Venetian church, the stratification of two orders on the façade of the palazzo in Vicenza becomes evident36. The giant order of six pilasters with composite capitals seems to be superimposed on a row of minor Corinthian pilasters which can be seen only in the lower storey. In the extreme axes of the façade, over the Corinthian pilasters of the lower storey, instead of pilasters there are two semi-statues of Roman warriors bearing shields. However, they do not play the role of atlants supporting the entablature, but only holders of the coat of arms of the Valmarana family. The high entablature precedes a protuberant crowning cornice over which there is a modestly composed mezzanine, with axes marked with pilaster strips. The giant order and smaller pilasters supporting a simple, broken entablature at the ground floor certainly have their precedent in the palazzi of the Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome, designed by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564), nevertheless different features of the main façade of the Palazzo Valmarana in Vicenza, e.g. the texture of rusticated pilaster plinths of the giant order rather recall classical Roman prototypes than the contemporary Mannerism37.

The square courtyard, according to the draft in Andrea Palladio’s Four Books of Architecture (Quattro Libri dell’Architettura) was supposed to be surrounded by four wings, with porticos inspired by ancient Roman architecture in the two of them. The difference between Andrea Palladio’s draft, published in his treatise and the building eventually erected is most evident in one of the plates in the catalogue of drafts and their descriptions, created in 1740s by Francesco Muttoni. The latter claimed that the construction of the Palazzo Valamrana had been possibly ceased due to the Valmarana family’s entry into the circle of Venetian aristocracy and their settlement in Venice, whereby their palazzo in Vicenza was abandoned and lost its importance38. One of the palace wings which were built has a portico in its lower storey, with monumental not fluted Ionic columns.

Vicenza, Palazzo Valmarana, view from the courtyard, photo Bartłomiej Bartelmus

The protuberant cornice supports a balcony which runs along the courtyard façades of both palace wings. The courtyard façades of the palazzo are covered with plaster and highly modestly composed, as opposed to the main façade facing the Corso Fogazzaro. They aren’t segmented with pilasters or semi columns, their only articulation consists of rectangular windows with simple frameworks and pediments, and small square windows of the mezzanine.

Summing up, one can maintain the thesis that both objects discussed in the text allow tracing the evolution of Andrea Palladio’s style. The villa rustica in Vigardolo, dating from the early years of his work, shows austerity and simplicity. Both the very simple, compact body of the villa, the lack of clear articulation of the façades of the building or the fact that the main façade is distinguished only by the Palladian serliana entrance, and the resignation from the complex of accompanying buildings around the courtyard makes this facility similar to the usually style-less farm buildings. This villa was not suitable for permanent residence for two cousins ​​of the Valmarana family and their families, but was probably a summer residence, or, as stated in the cited written sources, was a “place for Sunday rest”. In the case of the palazzo built on one of the main city thoroughfares of Vicenza, the sheer scale of the project published in the The Four Books of Architecture proves a significant style advancement. The building was to be formed by four wings around a square courtyard, and with them the project envisaged a huge garden and two symmetrically arranged stables. The monumentalism and decorativeness of the building were to be visualized by the articulation of the main façade with pilasters of a giant order, the foundation of the building on a rusticated socle, two deep, antiquated porticoes from the courtyard side and the abundance of interior decorations in the form of stuccos and frescoes. Although the project published in The Four Books on Architecture (Quattro Libri dell’Architettura) was only partially implemented, and only a small room near the entrance gate was decorated with stucco and frescoes, the preserved iconographic and written sources allow for a credible reconstruction of the ambitious project.

Proofread by: Anna Matus


References:
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Bertotti Scamozzi 1761 = Ottavio Bertotti Scamozzi, Il forestiere istruito delle cose più rare di architettura, e di alcune pitture della città di Vicenza, Vicenza 1761.
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  1. Burger 1909, pp. 16-26; Loukomski 1926, p. 10; Fasolo 1929, p. 81, plates 62, 63.
  2. See: Zorzi 1969, p. 138; Kubelik 1976, pp. 23-24; Beltramini, Romano 2020, p. 46.
  3. Maccà 1813, p. 409; Puppi 1973, vol. II, p. 245; Puppi, Battilotti 2006, p. 245; Puppi 2008, p. 57; Trevisan, Puppi 2012, p. 213.
  4. Item ho a Vigardolo una casa da lavoratori coperta de copo cum una teza de dodici cassi de paia et uno principio di altra casa, as cited in: Puppi, Battilotti 2006, p. 245.
  5. Dimidiam partem domus sive castri… in villa Vigarduli, as cited in: Puppi, Battilotti 2006, p. 245.
  6. Cf. Dalla Pozza 1965, p. 56.
  7. la metà della sua casa domenicale di Vigardolo, as cited in: Puppi 1973, vol. II, p. 246.
  8. Trevisan, Puppi 2012, p. 213; Beltramini, Romano 2020, p. 46.
  9. Dalla Pozza 1965, pp. 51, 55; Trevisan, Puppi 2012, p. 213.
  10. Kubelik 1974, pp. 452-453, figs. 209, 211.
  11. una casa murata, cupata et solarata nominata il Castello, con teza, colombara, cortivo, horto con un brollo de campi quindici in pertinenza di Vigardolo detto il Castello…, as cited in: Puppi 1973, vol. II, p. 246.
  12. Zorzi 1969, pp. 143, 144; Puppi 2008, pp. 31, 53-54.
  13. Beltramini, Romano 2020, p. 46.
  14. See: Kubelik 1976, pp. 11, 23; Puppi 2008, pp. 61-64.
  15. Puppi 1973, vol. II, p. 246; Puppi, Battilotti 2006, p. 247.
  16. Cf. Cevese 1973, p. 56; Kubelik 1976, s. 23; Puppi 1986, p. 257; Bartelmus 2020 – https://niezlasztuka.net/podroze/villa-pojana-maggiore-veneto-andrea-palladio.
  17. Dalla Pozza 1965, p. 55; Puppi 2008, pp. 61-64.
  18. Puppi, Battilotti 2006, p. 246; cf. Bartelmus 2016 – https://niezlasztuka.net/o-sztuce/basilica-palladiana.
  19. See: Rigon 2011, pp. 93-96.
  20. Muttoni 1740-1748, vol. I, pp. 10-11, vol. V, p. 10, plates IX-XXII; Bertotti Scamozzi 1776-1783, vol. I, pp. 49-52, plates XX-XXII.
  21. See: Magrini 1845, p. XXIV, no. 47.
  22. Puppi 1973, vol. II, p. 369; Kubelik 1976, p. 94; Puppi, Battilotti 2006, p. 369; Beltramini, Romano 2020, p. 24.
  23. Kubelik 1976, p. 94; Beltramini, Romano 2020, p. 24.
  24. Griffith 1976, pp. 169-184.
  25. Wundram, Pape 2004, p. 176; Puppi 2008, pp. 74-75.
  26. Puppi 1973, vol. I, p. 185; Robuschi In: Puppi et al. 2008, p. 29.
  27. casa con cortivo, e giardino a uso dominicale (Padua, Archivio di Stato, Privati: Valmarana–Vendramin, reg. 23, fol. 2r, 4v), as cited in: Puppi, Battilotti 2006, p. 369; see also: Wundram, Pape 2004, p. 176.
  28. Wundram, Pape 2004, p. 179; Puppi, Battilotti 2006, p. 369.
  29. miglioramenti e rifabrica di essa casa [grande
  30. Robuschi In: Puppi et al. 2008, p. 29.
  31. quasi condotto a fine un… superbissimo palazzo… dei conti Valmorana, as cited in: Puppi, Battilotti 2006, p. 369.
  32. See: Bertotti Scamozzi 1776-1783, vol. I, plate XX.
  33. Which was pointed out by Ottavio Bertotti Scamozzi in 1760s: (…) la Fabbrica de’ NN. HH. Valmarana, la quale è stata eseguita conforme li disegni del Palladio, cf. Bertotti Scamozzi 1761, p. 62.
  34. Frommel 2007, p. 207.
  35. See: Kubelik 1976, p. 60, fig. 55; Puppi, Battilotti 2006, p. 345, fig. 471.
  36. Beltramini, Romano 2020, p. 25.
  37. Murray 1999, pp. 215-216; Puppi, Battilotti 2006, p. 371; Robuschi In: Puppi et al. 2008, p. 30.
  38. Francesco Muttoni claimed: La continuazione di questa Fabbrica restò sospesa nel tempo, in cui la illustre Famiglia fu aggregata alla Veneta Nobiltà; e per tale ragione si è stabilita per la maggior parte dall’anno in Venezia, onde il Palazzo di Vicenza non serve ad altro che come d’ospizio nella stagione delle Villeggiature, e di stazione per visitare le altre sue abitazioni suburbane, in cui sono collocati li suoi ricchi poderi, see: Muttoni 1740-1748, vol. I, p. 11, plate IX.