Palladio’s “Unhappy” Villa

Andrea Palladio is the greatest Venetian architect and one of the greatest artists of the sixteenth century.

Palladio’s Villas are elegant and solemn and at the same time airy and light. He succeeded in creating a balance between monumental forms and simplicity. All of Palladio’s Villas are all located in the territory of the Republic of Venice, about sixty (see a partial list below), mostly in the province of Vicenza and are characterized by:

  • the originality of the structure
  • from the sumptuousness of the interior
  • from the plots of land that surrounded them

In fact, these villas were commissioned by aristocrats or wealthy exponents of the bourgeoisie, who wished to retreat to quiet places, to relax and closely follow work in their fields and vineyards.

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In general, Palladio structured his villas by placing kitchens, pantries, laundries, and cellars on the ground floor; on the first floor, there was the floor inhabited by the lords (still called “Piano Nobile”) and the attic.

LA MALCONTENTA

Villa FOSCARI best known as “LA MALCONTENTA” (The Unhappy) is the only villa of Palladio along the Brenta Riviera. Preserved in its architecture, it is reflected in the Brenta in Malcontenta, near Mira (VE). Returned to the Foscari family in 1973, in 1994 it was reported as a “World Heritage” by UNESCO. The Villa is still lacking in electric lighting, as chosen by the owners.

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BACKGROUND

The construction of Villa Foscari was commissioned by Alvise and Nicolo ‘Foscari from Andrea Palladio along the bank of the Brenta river. Completed in 1555, eventually, it gained the nickname of Malcontenta because a noblewoman Elisabetta Dolfin,  who was relegated there because of infidelity—or more likely because the husband was overly jealous…

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But that story is quite unlikely. More plausible instead may be that the name comes from the area very prone to flooding, especially in winter months. The peasants defined the waters to be “poorly contained,” which will translate with Mal Contenute, hence Mal-Contenta!

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As I said above this villa lies on the riverbanks of the River Brenta. It is one of the first ones of a long list of Venetian Villas built between the 15th and the 18th centuries by the nobles of the Venetian Republic along the river. The architecture of Villa Foscari is a masterpiece of formal equilibrium: Palladio designed a perfectly symmetrical, three-story, central-plan building. The forms were inspired by a hexastyle Ionic-order temple.

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The best way to visit this, and many others, is by boat. There are numerous services that take tourists up the river:

I Battelli del Brenta

Il Burchiello

It is a well-worth trip.

Of the many Palladian villas, 24 have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, along with the city of Vicenza.

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LIST OF PALLADIO’S VILLAS

  • Villa Emo – Fanzolo di Vedelago
  • Villa Barbaro – Maser
  • Villa Valmarana – Vigardolo
  • Villa Saraceno – Agugliaro
  • Villa Trissino – Cricoli
  • Villa Thiene – Quinto Vicentino
  • Villa Godi Valmarana –  Lugo di Vicenza
  • Villa Chiericati – Grumolo delle Abbadesse
  • Villa Angarano – Bassano del Grappa
  • Villa La Rotonda – Vicenza
  • Villa Caldogno
  • Villa Godi Malinverni, Lonedo di Lugo
  • Villa Pojana, Pojana Maggiore
  • Villa Badoer, Fratta Polesine
  • Villa Barbaro, Maser
  • Villa Pisani, Bagnolo di Lonigo
  • Villa Saraceno, Finale, Agugliaro
  • Villa Valmarana (Lisiera), Lisiera di Bolzano Vicentino 
  • Villa Valmarana Bressan (Vigardolo), Monticello Conte Otto
  • Villa Piovene, Lonedo di Lugo Vicentino (VI) 
  • Villa Foscari, Mira VE 
  • Villa Pisani, Montagnana (PD) 
  • Villa Cornaro, Piombino Dese (PD)

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I lived the most part of my life in Washington DC, now in Italy getting to know again my country. Plenty of surprises, for good and bad, and lots of nostalgia for DC.

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