Villa La Rotonda – Andrea Palladio

Villa La Rotonda is a Renaissance villa just outside Vicenza in northern Italy, and designed by Andrea Palladio. The proper name is Villa Almerico Capra Valmarana, but it is also known as La Rotonda, Villa Rotonda, Villa Capra and Villa Almerico.

In 1565 a priest, Paolo Almerico, on his retirement from the Vatican , decided to return to his home town of Vicenza in the Venetian countryside and build a country house. This house, later known as ‘La Rotonda’, was to be one of Palladio’s best-known legacies to the architectural world.

The site selected was a hilltop just outside the city of Vicenza. Unlike some other Palladian villas, the building was not designed from the start to accommodate a working farm. This sophisticated building was designed for a site which was, in modern terminology, “suburban”. Palladio classed the building as a “palazzo” rather than a villa.

 Palladio’s plan of Villa La Rotonda, in 1570.

The design is for a completely symmetrical building having a square plan with four facades, each of which has a projecting portico. The whole is contained within an imaginary circle which touches each corner of the building and centres of the porticos. The name La Rotonda refers to the central circular hall with its dome. To describe the villa, as a whole, as a ‘rotonda’ is technically incorrect, as the building is not circular but rather the intersection of a square with a cross. Each portico has steps leading up, and opens 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’s own rules of architecture.

The interior design of the Villa was to be as wonderful, if not more so, than the exterior. Alessandro and Giovanni Battista Maganza and 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, surrounded by a balcony and covered by the domed ceiling; it soars the full height of the main house up to the cupola, with walls decorated in trompe l’oeil. Abundant frescoes create an atmosphere that is more reminiscent of a cathedral than the principal salon of a country house.

From the porticos, wonderful views of the surrounding countryside can be seen; this is no coincidence as 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, while the house appears to be completely symmetrical, it actually has certain deviations, designed to allow each facade to complement the surrounding landscape and topography. Hence there are variations in the facades, in the width of steps, retaining walls, etc. In this way, 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.

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