Villa Malcontenta -mysterious Palladian masterpiece

VENICE – VILLA MALCONTENTA

Just inland from Venice there are numerous fine country houses that were designed in a classical style by the architect Andrea Palladio. One of the most elegant of these 16th century houses is Villa Foscari, built by Palladio for two brothers, members of the wealthy and influential Foscari family of Venice.

THE FOSCARI FAMILY had produced several ‘heads of state’ known as ‘Doges’ in the days of the Venetian Republic. They were a powerful Venetian dynasty.  However the story that fascinates visitors most at this villa is not their story, nor is it the beauty and symmetry of the villa itself. Instead it is the story of ‘La Malcontenta’ which means the unhappy one. It is the story of a lonely and unhappy woman who lived her life in this elegant house, effectively under house arrest. She was alone, isolated and thoroughly miserable.

LA MALCONTENTA was a very beautiful woman who was married to one of the Foscari brothers. It is said that she failed to fulfil her marital obligations with her husband. As a punishment she was  sent to Villa Foscari, in the countryside outside Venice. Away from the hustle and bustle of Venetian life. Here she lived a life of seclusion and isolation. A life of loneliness and sadness, excluded from the parties and social events that she loved.  I often imagine her gazing from the terrace of the house to the banks of the River Brenta, wishing for escape. Some say that the young woman was Elisabetta Dolfin, a beautiful, gregarious, socialite. Details about her are difficult to assemble, her essence is elusive, just like the pale white arm that can be seen tweaking the curtains of the sitting room, by eagle-eyed passers by, when the evening light falls obliquely across the park.

Today Villa Malcontenta remains a private home and is open to the public on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. The house feels like a private home too. There is a writing desk and chair strategically located by the window. There are comfortable sofas in the symmetrical reception hall. The walls are painted with exceptional 17th century frescoes. These paintings include detailed scenes of the gods on Mount Olympus, Bacchus drinking wine and numerous imagined (capriccio) scenes of classical temples, shepherds and pastures green. The frescoes feature musical instruments and trompe l’oeil carvings around the doorways. The theme is bucolic, meadows, hillsides, lakes and grazing animals.

Many visitors comment on the comfortable proportions of the villa, the smart lawned gardens and the wonderful location on the banks of the River Brenta. For many it is the ‘perfect’ country house. When I visit Malcontenta with clients the house always has a profound impact on both myself and my guests. The atmosphere is a strange combination of beauty, charm and melancholy. A sort of haunting elegance that betrays a rather sad and lonely past. Certainly it is the story of ‘La Malcontenta’ that stays with you when you leave. The gilded cage that constrained a beautiful young woman so many centuries ago – the ironic elegance of house arrest and the removal of liberty for one particular, highly sociable and rather unfortunate individual.

Villa Malcontenta rises majestically from a two metre socle designed to elevate the house and keep damp at bay
Villa Malcontenta rises majestically from a two metre socle designed to elevate the house and keep damp at bay
Villa Malcontenta is privately owned - with rather idiosyncratic opening times
Villa Malcontenta is privately owned – with rather idiosyncratic opening times
Lovely guests at Villa Malcontenta - Trudy is an interior designer from Connecticut.
Lovely guests at Villa Malcontenta – Trudy is an interior designer from Connecticut.
Villa Malcontenta - garden detail
Villa Malcontenta – garden detail
Villa Malcontenta - wisteria in May
Villa Malcontenta – wisteria in May
Eric and Marian Ramsay at Villa Malcontenta
Eric and Marian Ramsay at Villa Malcontenta
Marian examines the Palladian loggia - Villa Malcontenta
Marian examines the Palladian loggia – Villa Malcontenta
Villa Malcontenta - leading to barchessa
Villa Malcontenta – leading to barchessa
Villa Foscari or Villa Malcontenta gazes mysteriously from behind her willowy lashes
Villa Foscari or Villa Malcontenta gazes mysteriously from behind her willowy lashes
Libby, Janet and the girls!
Libby, Janet and the girls!
Villa Malcontenta - garden detail
Villa Malcontenta – garden detail
Villa Malcontenta is seconds from the Venetian lagoon
Villa Malcontenta is seconds from the Venetian lagoon
Villa Malcontenta is seconds from the Venetian lagoon
Villa Malcontenta is seconds from the Venetian lagoon
Villa Foscari Malcontenta is clearly marked - left centre of this map. www.educated-traveller.com
Villa Foscari Malcontenta is clearly marked – left centre of this map. http://www.educated-traveller.com
1942 map of the Venetian Lagoon and Adriatic Sea. The arrow marks the location of Villa Malcontenta
1942 map of the Venetian Lagoon and Adriatic Sea. The arrow marks the location of Villa Malcontenta

For more on the Veneto region and Palladian villas why not look at other articles written by www.educated-traveller.com

18th July 2019

 

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