La Rotonda

Villa Capra, "La Rotonda", Vicenza, Italy

Villa Capra, “La Rotonda”, Vicenza, Italy

One of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen is Andrea Palladio’s Villa Capra, otherwise called La Rotonda, on the outskirts of Vicenza.

Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) was the Italian architect who, during the second half of the sixteenth century, studied and revived the principles of proportion and decorum that distinguished classical Roman architecture, designing and building villas across the rural Veneto, and churches, public buildings and palaces in Vicenza and Venice.

Strictly, La Rotonda is not a villa:  it was not intended to have ancillary farm buildings, and Palladio himself referred to it as a palazzo.  It was built within reach of the city as a retirement residence for a Vatican priest, Paolo Almerico, who died in 1589 before the building was completed.

The house passed to two brothers, Odorico and Marco Capra, who engaged Vincenzo Scamozzi (1548-1616), to finish the project, lowering the profile of the Palladio’s intended dome to resemble the Pantheon in Rome, though with a cupola instead of an open oculus.

The Villa Capra’s aesthetic perfection is founded on practicality.  The square footprint is set at 45° to the cardinal directions of the compass, so that the corners point north, south, east and west, and the layout of the four porticos and the rooms within is intended to provide shade throughout the day.

The house stands on a small hill, approached by a carriage drive to the north-west portico, so that the other three porticos each present a distinctive view across the surrounding plain.

Within each portico vestibules lead to the double-height circular central hall, which has a balcony above and is lit by the cupola that surmounts the dome.  The walls are covered in sumptuous trompe d’oeil decoration and frescoes by Alessandro and Giambattista Maganza and Anselmo Canera.

Had he lived, Paolo Almerico would have enjoyed a degree of state to echo his working life in the Vatican.

This treasure of classical architecture has survived intact, and is regularly open to visitors:  http://www.villalarotonda.it/en/visiting.htm.

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