|Palladian villas and landscape|
|The characteristic grouping of elements in the Palladian villa is critical to understanding not only its architectural success but also its relationship with the natural environment, its careful coordination with the topography and cultivated fields in which it stands. Like the traditional Veneto farm, but unlike the belvederes of central Italy or the great country houses later built in England, Palladio's villas are not separated from the working countryside by elaborate gardens, statuary and ornamental waterworks. At most they are provided with a small garden surrounded by a low wall and a pathway or axial line of planting in the fields sufficient to emphasize and dignify the main entrance. In his descriptions Palladio often indicates that the areas immediately adjacent to the villa served the purposes of the traditional orto or brollo, that is they are for cultivated fruits and vegetables for consumption in the villa.|
|Fašade of Villa Emo at Fanzolo|
|In the case of the Villa Godi this was certainly so. Before the residential pavilion, above the steep valley side, is a small garden with a low, semicircular wall enclosing a fountain fed by waters taken from springs farther up the hill. The garden offers no obstruction to the view up the Astico river valley to the peaks of the altopiano. Indeed the design and orientation of the villa is clearly intended to incorporate this perspective, as well as itself to be seen against an immediate backdrop of cultivated, vine-covered slopes. At the rear, directly underneath the great Serlian window that lights the main hall, is a block of land of 14 campi described as a brollo in the Godi records and for which a number of applications were made in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries for irrigation waters to improve cultivation.|
|Fašade of Villa Godi|
|In the case of Villa Barbaro at Maser, a nymphaneum was constructed against the rising hillside behind the building with a fountain fed by a spring, an unusual feature, more in keeping with Roman conceptions of the villa as belvedere than most Venetian villas. Even here, however, the waters are put to practical uses:
This fountain forms a small lake, which serves for a fish pond. From this place the water runs into the kitchen; and having watered the gardens that are on the right and left of the road, which leads gradually is the fabric, it forms two fish ponds, with their watering places upon the high road; from whence it waters the kitchen garden, which is very large, and full of the most excellent fruits.
|Villa Barbaro at Maser: axial view|
|The exact location of these elements at Maser is difficult to trace today for the road alignments have been altered, but Palladio's emphasis upon the functional use of the spaces immediately surrounding the villa suggests that decorative gardens were not an important element of the design. Little is known in detail of garden design in the Veneto in the sixteenth century. In sources like the Barbari map we can see the use of parterres and pergolas associated with the delizie and it is probable that similar geometrical patterns were laid out before the villas of the terraferma. These gardens were not only places for quiet discourse but also served the growing humanist interest in botany and the arrangement of plant species as a reflection of the natural order seen, for example, in Andrea Navagero's villa garden on Murano in the early years of the century. Daniele Barbaro, one of the fraternal patrons of the villa at Maser, certainly shared this interest, being responsible for the foundation of Europe's first botanical garden, at the University of Padua, whose microcosmic geometrical layout remains visible today. But the gardens at Maser must have occupied a limited area, and the vision we have today of the villa, slightly elevated and spread against the immediate backdrop of woodland, seems part of its original conception, revealing the architectural scenography to maximum effect, with the porticoes embracing cultivated fields, simultaneously separating and integrating nature and culture.|
|In the lowland villas, many built for Venetian rather than terraferma families and often on vast estates of reclaimed land, the association of architecture and working fields is even closer because the topography does not allow elevation of the site. At the Villa Pojana (c.1549-56), for example, in this case built for a Vicentine patron, the steps which descend from the rear of the residential block, emphasizing the cross-axis, enter fields of maize and pasture across a small garden area. The view from the villa windows is not elaborated in any way with planting or screening.|
|The same is true for the great building constructed for the Pisani family nearby at Bagnolo (1542-44). Here the great pediment and its flanking pavilions face within yards the embankment of a drainage channel, originally the River GuÓ which served as the main transport artery. The vast barchessa with its porticoes, built to store the rice crop, is separate and defines a second angle of the brollo. On the other sides the view over the open, reclaimed rice fields is unobstructed. Villa Foscari (La Malcontenta: before c. 1560) built as a suburban villa at Mira close to the Venetian lagoon, seen through the willows that shade the lower Brenta, lacked agricultural demands and has a rather more formal garden space. In all cases, however, architecture seems consciously to sympathize with the surrounding, natural environment.
This conscious integration of architecture and landscape is continuously apparent in the Four Books. In a number of his villa descriptions Palladio refers to the views to be obtained from the house, regarding this as one of the delights of villa living: 'one ought not to build in valleys enclosed between mountains; because edifices in valleys are there hid, and are deprived of seeing at a distance, and of being seen. These are without dignity and grandeur'. The villa should be sited at the centre of the estate so that the master may see his possessions, not merely the better to supervise their exploitation but also to enjoy the panorama of nature - the drama of dawn and sunset, the passage of the seasons - a benefit which we shall see preoccupied contemporary agrarian writers of villa life. The Trissino villa at Meledo (1558.",-62?) commands 'a very beautiful prospect', the situation of the Villa Thiene at Quinto is 'very beautiful' and the Godi villa 'is placed upon a hill that has a beautiful prospect'.
The most celebrated of all the villas, the Villa Almerico, or Rotonda (15651 6-69) immediately outside Vicenza, is designed specifically to capitalize on its site. Palladio comments that he has included it among his discussions of town houses because it is so near to Vicenza, and architecturally the villa is more purely residential than most, in its completed state lacking attic granaries.
|Villa Almerico Capra called La Rotonda||Pronaos|
|But the Rotonda did indeed stand central to a functioning rural estate. The inventory and contract of sale from 1589 and 1591, when the villa was still incomplete, show that its original owner, Paolo Almerico, possessed some 271 campi of land in the colture of Berga and Campadello. The villa itself occupied a parcel of 12 campi, described in the inventory a walled corte and horto. Palladio did not here provide loggias extending out from the main building which is a centralized compact structure on a pure cross-axial plan, but a separate service building designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi stands off the rise to the right of the main entrance path to the villa.
Palladio refers to the location of the Rotonda in one of his most extended landscape descriptions:
The site is as pleasant and delightful as can be found; because it is upon a small hill, of very easy access, and is watered on one side by the Bacchiglione, a navigable river; and on the other it is encompassed with most pleasant risings, which look like a very great theatre, and are all cultivated, and abound with most excellent fruits, and most exquisite vines: and therefore, as it enjoys from every part most beautiful views, some of which are limited, some more extended, and others that terminate with the horizon; there are loggia's made in all the four fronts .
|Detail of the central hall|