The Reinessance Villa Lante in Viterbo

posted Nov 1, 2011, 4:01 AM by Stefano Capoccioni   [ updated Nov 1, 2011, 4:33 PM ]
Reinessance Villa Lante near Rome
From Medieval times on the site where this Villa now stands was owned by major figures of the Church. In 1202, in fact, the Council of Viterbo ceded the Dominion of Bagnaia to the Bishop’s Estate of the town and the Bishops of Viterbo turned the Bishop’s Palace of Bagnaia in to a summer residence, enticed by the Burgh’s particular position backed by the Cimini Hills, amid green woodland and slopes where plenty of water ran, making it an ideal spot for hunting and relaxation.

At the end of the XVth cent. (in 1498), Cardinal Raffaele Riano, nephew of Pope Sixtus IVth Della Rovere, in his role as Bishop of Viterbo, ordered work to begin on the park, and had a vast area of woodland enclosed so that plenty of wildlife could live there as hunting pray for his guests. The “Parco” of Bagnaia was also frequented by Pope Leo Xth Medici who was very fond of hunting.

In 1505 Cardinal Raffaele Riario ceded the Bishopry of Viterbo to his nephew Cardinal Ottaviano Riario who continued the project to convert the hunting woods into a park, and built the park’s first building, a “hunting lodge”, for his own pleasure and that of all his Cardinal and guests who were so fond of hunting. This building’s style is still XV th cent., of simple, harmonious proportions, and the emblem of the Riario Visconti family (a flower and a snake) is apparent; it was transformed in later centuries into a stables, then destroyed during the last World War; now restored, it is used as additional services premises by the Ministry for Fine Arts.

Cardinal Riario was succeded by Cardinal Nicolò Ridolfi, who was given permission by the Council of Viterbo in 1532 to use water from two large water springs and built the Villa’s first acqueduct; he also began to transform the hunting grounds into a woodland park and built some fountais. During this period, Pope Paul IIIrd Farnese was a guest of Cardinal Ridolfi on a visit to the Villa.

The site was then leased out to various different people until in 1566 Cardinal Giovan Francesco Gambara was appointed as Bishop of Viterbo, a learned man and one of the wealthiest of the Sacred Collegiate, who cane from an allustrious family of aristocrats from Brescia who were relate to the Fanese family. This man reclaimed the Dominion of Bagnaia for the Bishops of Viterbo, won the case and regained possession of the estate in 1568. With Cardinal Gambara the park was well and truly transformed into a “Villa” and work commenced on the undertakings that gave the Villa the appearance of a XVI th cent. Mansion house that, as completed by Gambara’s successor, Cardinal Montalto, became as we see it today.

The perfect organic unity of the Villa in all its separate parts would suggest the work of a single mind on the designs, embodying as they do the concept of geometric regularity that was such a hallmark of XVI th cent. Italian Villas, more fully developed in late XVI th and early XVII th cent. Villas. The site was undoubtedly studied with care, and all it’s slopes and plains were exploited to create the best possible water effects from the fountains. The theory of a single architect behind the whole project is reconfirmed in the Villa itself. Indeed, the loggia of the Palazzina Gambara contains a fresco painted before 1581showing the Villa already with all the parts existent today, though some were rebuilt later.

The emblems and name of the Cardinal are visible in the fountains and in the little right-hand palace which was seemingly finished with all its interior decorations by 1581, when Montaigne, in his “Voyage en Italie”, describes the Villa and talks of the little right-hand palace, though he makes no mention of the left-hand one which was presumably not yet built. Cardinal Gambara put a stop to the work, possibly following a visit by San Carlo Borromeo, controller of Cardinal’s expenditure, who may have forbidden any continuation.

In 1587, Cardinal Alessandro Montalto became owner of the Villa, and wok recommenced along the lines of the early overall design; the small palace to the left was built, as were nearly all the park’s fountains beyond the Italianate garden, with the adition of some pieces to the fountain in the countryard. The Palazzina Montalto was built between 1587 and 1590. The interior decorations were completed later and are datable to between 1613 and 1615; in the crowning frieze are clearly visible the Montalto family insignia (pear and hills).

Cardinal Montalto was the owner of Villa Bagnaia until his death (1623). The complex later belonged to other nephew Cardinals but in 1656, under Pope Alexander VII th, it passed in to the hands of Duke Hippolytus Lante. For roughly three centuries the Lante family held onto this exceptionally integrated example of an Italian Renaissance Villa.

The Villa was later bought over by a company but was finally taken over by the Italian State who are now responsible for its conservation.