Just a short drive from the historic small town of Asolo is the spectacular Villa Barbaro at Maser. A long avenue leads up to this imposing Palladian villa. The villa is classical in style, with a central portico and elegant columns. There are two symmetrical wings extending on either side of the main entrance. The brilliant blue of the sky contrasts with the golden stones of this stunning house. The villa sits perfectly in its surroundings at a point where the flat Venetian plain meets the rolling hills of Asolo.
The villa was designed by architect Andrea Palladio in the 16th century for the Barbaro brothers Daniele and Marcantonio. They later commissioned Paolo Veronese to paint frescoes in the principle rooms of the house. A magnificent country estate was the end result – a house for entertaining, dining, parties. It was also, and still is, an important farm and vineyard. Villa Maser wines are of the highest quality and are exported all over the globe.
It is easy to imagine visitors arriving here in their carriages, completing the final drive along the avenue to this beautiful house, one of Palladio’s most perfect creations. Their host and staff assembled on the steps to welcome them. The journey from Venice would have taken two or three days. Guests would then stay at the house for several days at least, enjoying fresh, clean air, superb views, excellent hunting in the surrounding hills and fabulous food and wine. It is interesting to think about these parties – the conversations, meetings, business deals, marriage proposals, that developed within the walls of the elegant Villa Barbaro.
Villa Barbaro is open to the public and a tour of the house and the spectacular Veronese frescoes is really worth it. You enter the house through a courtyard filled with flowers, then proceed up a flight of stairs to the ‘piano nobile’ decorated extensively by Paolo Veronese, the most celebrated interior decorator of the 1560s. ‘The frescoes were designed to unite humanistic culture with Christian spirituality; wall paintings included portraits of the Barbaro family, and the ceilings opened to blue skies and mythological figures. Veronese’s decorations employed complex perspective and trompe l’oeil, which resulted in a luminescent and inspired visual poetry. The encounter between architect and artist was a triumph'(1). These are the words of Marco Bussagli, in his book ‘Italian Art’ referring to Palladio as the architect of Villa Barbaro and Veronese as the artist (2).
The frescoes portray images of gods and goddesses, beautiful country scenes and fantastical animals. The paintings are full of humour, if you look carefully you can see the family dog peering from behind a wall and a young girl peeping through a half-closed door. In one of the rooms Veronese has painted some cleaning materials and boots, casually left on a shelf. In another room the skill of the painter gives the impression of a domed ceiling with people looking over the edge of a balcony, when in fact the wall is almost flat. This technique of trompe d’oeil, meaning literally ‘a trick of the eye’ allows the painter to create depth and perspective in a painting, even though he is working on a flat surface (3). When I remind myself that these paintings are almost five hundred years old I begin to fully appreciate the great talent of Paolo Veronese and his studio.
Looking at frescoes and inspecting historic houses builds up an appetite. Before long I was wondering about lunch. Our tour guide Laura suggested we go next door to ‘De Gusto’ a wine tasting and lunch venue, located in one of the barns of the Villa Maser estate. This was an inspired choice. We walked upstairs to the restaurant and were assigned a lovely table for our party of six people. The waiters were charming and super efficient. In no time at all we were enjoying a glass of locally produced prosecco, sparkling wine. The perfect tonic after a long morning of listening and learning! Our waiter suggested a sharing platter for lunch, when the platter arrived we gasped in amazement. The platter was a long, thin, wooden paddle, probably two metres in length, two people were required to deliver it to the table. The paddle was placed diagonally across our large rectangular table. The paddle was laden with cheeses, home cured meats, salami, olives, fruits and chutneys. There was beef, pork and ham. Cheeses from sheep, goats and cows. Fruit included figs, melon and grapes. There were chutneys, honey and jam to accompany the cheese. The platter was decorated with salad leaves and herbs. It was the most beautifully presented platter I have ever seen.
We were offered ‘degustazione’ tasting of various estate wines, including two top quality red wines. Some of us preferred to stick to the prosecco, also produced on the Villa Maser estate. After a long leisurely lunch we tottered out of the restaurant and down the stairs to the gift shop. Here there was a great selection of cards, gifts and pictures, you could also buy wine. What a great place and what a wonderful way to really get to know Villa Barbaro or as the locals call it Villa Maser. Our resident artist Mary Lou Peters loved the lunch so much she drew it! Thanks Mary Lou and thanks to my fabulous travelling companions, what a memorable day.
Mary Lou Peters sketched and then painted our lunch!
- (1) Villa Barbaro, Maser is a wonderful Palladian Villa. It is the result of the combined skills of architect Andrea Palladio and artist Paolo Veronese.
- (2) Marco Bussagli in his book ‘Italian Art’ is very complimentary about Villa Barbaro and the skills of architect Andrea Palladio and artist Paolo Veronese. Giunti Gruppo Editoriale (2000).
- (3) Trompe d’oeil comes from the french meaning ‘trick of the eye’ it is a technique used by painters to give the impression of depth and perspective, when in fact they are painting on a flat surface.
- (4) The Louvre, Paris made a short video about the Paolo Veronese frescoes:
- A short video – Villa Barbaro – frescoes
- Mary Lou Peters my wonderful friend and talented artist was responsible for drawing our lunch. You can see more of her work here Mary Lou Peters – artist
- You can read more about Villa Barbaro, Maser at the villa’s web site Villa Maser
- The Palladian Villas of the Veneto and the city of Vicenza are recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites, since 1996, this includes Villa Barbaro.
- The Educated Traveller has also written other articles about the Veneto region:
- Why not try – Asolo – art, history, women, prosecco! OR
- Venice to Padova by the Brenta Canal OR
- Venice – The lagoon of Venice