Sunday, 5 July 2009

What to see: The former royal palace Villa Pisani, Stra

A little-known but splendid former royal palace can be found in the small town of Stra, a few kilometres outside Padua on the road to Venice. Villa Pisani was built to glorify the noble Venetian family Pisani and is situated at the bend of the Brenta Canal. There the Pisani family already owned a villa known as Santo Stefano, a simple building from the late 16th century which was demolished in 1720 to make way for a new house.
The task of building the new villa was first given to the architect Girolamo Frigimelica Roberti (1653-1732), but his plans were soon shelved. Following his death the commission was given to Francesco Maria Preti (1701-1774), who completed the work on Villa Pisani in 1756.
In 1735 Alvise Pisani had been elected the 114th Doge of the Republic of Venice and it is said that this was the reason why the villa originally had 114 rooms – today the number is officially given as 168. There are two inner courtyards, separated by the colonnade seen in the last picture. Currently the colonnade houses a sculpture by Mimmo Paladino, which is part of the exhibition “I classici del contemporaneo”, which is on until 30 September.
At the centre of the building is the most magnificent of the rooms – the Ballroom, seen in the fifth photo. The fresco, “The Glory of the Pisani Family”, was done by Giambattista Tiepolo in 1761-1762 and took him only 76 working days. The walls are decorated in trompe l’oeil technique by Pietro Visconti.
The villa itself is Palladian in style, marked by the emerging neoclassicism, but there are also still traces of Baroque. The main façade towards the canal, seen in the first and second pictures, is richly decorated, while the garden façade, seen in the third photo, is simpler. Opposite the villa is the building for the stables, itself a magnificent creation which also served as open-air banqueting hall and now also as an orangery. The Long Pond between them was built in the 20th century.
Following the fall of the Republic of Venice in 1797, the Pisani family found themselves in financial difficulties and on 11 January 1807 its then owner, Ermoloa “Alvise” Pisani, sold the villa to Napoléon I. The French Emperor also being King of Italy, this made Villa Pisani one of the two royal palaces in the Veneto region, the other being the Royal Palace in Venice (now the Correr Museum).
Napoléon himself spent only two nights at the palace – those of 28 November and 13 December 1807, on his way to and from his only visit to Venice. Ten years earlier he had stopped briefly at the villa during the campaign in Italy, commenting on Tiepolo’s masterpiece that it was a pity it was a fresco, “if it had been on canvas it would have looked superb at Fontainebleau!”
The Emperor-King gave the right of disposal to his adopted son Prince Eugène, Viceroy of Italy and Prince of Venice, who hired the architects Giovannia Antonio Antolini, Giuseppe Mezzani and Giuseppe Maria Soli to modernise the palace. Rebuilding, including the creation of imperial and viceregal apartments in Empire style, lasted for several years, which means that Napoléon never actually slept in the so-called “Napoleonic bed” which is now in his bedchamber.
The sixth photo shows one of the redecorated rooms – the Dining Room, which was redecorated in Pompeian style by G. Borsato and Pietro Moro in 1808-1814. The seventh picture is of a pre-imperial room, the Salon of the View-Paintings, which also holds a model of the famous maze which can be found in the palace’s park.
Following the downfall of Napoléon’s empire, Villa Pisani passed to the Habsburgs. It was a favourite residence of Empress Maria Anna, consort of the unfortunate Emperor Ferdinand. The Savoys, who took over in 1866, soon lost interest in the palace. It was abandoned in 1874 and after unsuccessful attempts at renting it out, management was entrusted to the Regional Office for Monuments in the Veneto in 1882.
Although named a national museum, Villa Pisani came to house offices and institutions of various kinds and the palace fell into disrepair. In 1934 Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler held their first meeting there. It is only in recent decades that interest in this glorious building has been revived. Still much of the furniture can be found in other places, such as the Correr Museum in Venice and the Quirinal Palace in Rome, but since the mid-1980s extensive renovation work has been carried out.
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