Villa Foscari `La Malcontenta`
This villa, which Palladio executed for the brothers Nicola and Alvise Foscari about the end of the 1550s, rises in an isolated block with no agricultural annexes whatsoever, on the edge of the lagoon and the banks of the river Brenta. More than a 'villa-farm', then, it presents itself as a villa suburbana, rapidly reached by boat from the centre of Venice. The patrons’ family was one of the city’s most powerful, and hence their residence has a majestic, almost regal, character unknown in all Palladio’s other villas; a character to which the interior decorations by Battista Franco and Gian Battista Zelotti contribute. Recent studies have uncovered the Foscari brothers’ 1555 commission to Palladio for the design of an altar in the church of San Pantalon, which therefore documents a professional relationship antedating the villa’s design. The villa rises on a high basement, which separates the piano nobile from the damp terrain and confers magnificence upon the whole building, raised up on a podium like an ancient temple. Within the villa, motifs derived from the Venetian building tradition co-exist with those from antique architecture: as in Venice, the main fa�ade turns towards the water, but the pronaos and the great stairways are modelled on the small temple at the springs of Clitumnus, well known to Palladio. The majestic, twin, access ramps imposed a sort of ceremonial route on visiting guests: having disembarked in front of the building, they ascended the stairs toward the patron who awaited them at the centre of the pronaos. Palladio’s customary solution of strenghthening the flanks of the projecting pronaos with wall sections was here sacrificed precisely in order to facilitate the junction of these stairways. The villa is a particularly effective demonstration of Palladio’s mastery at obtaining monumental effects with humble materials, essentially bricks and plaster. As we may now see quite clearly due to the overall degradation of the surfaces, the entire villa is built from brick, the columns included (aside from those elements which it was easier to execute in carved stone: bases and capitals), and a marmorino render feigned a stone veneer and delicate ashlar modelled on those which often covered the cella of antique temples. The back façade is one of the most skillful creations in Palladio’s oeuvre, with a system of windows which make the internal dispositions legible, such as the wall of the great, vaulted, central hall which is rendered virtually transparent by the thermal window set over a triad of embrasures. The latter detail is clearly derived from the façade of Raphael’s Villa Madama, documenting Palladio’s debt to model which he would never directly admit.
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