Vicenza: the architect Palladio Villa Capra “La Rotonda” and the painter Tiepolo in Villa Valmarana  3/3

Villa Capra”La Rotonda” and the Villa Valmarana

We walk south-east and cross the Viale Risorgimento at the Piazzale Fraccon, passing underneath the triumphal arch, also by Palladio, and along numerous steps towards the Villa Rotonda. We then take a left turn to walk along the Villa Valmarana towards the Villa Rotonda.

Palladio  Arco delle Scalette the stairs
Palladio Arco delle Scalette stairs Vicenza

Left along the Villa Valmarana towards the Rotonda
lleft along the Villa Valmarana towards the Rotonda Vicenza


Big size
from Vicenza to the Villa Valmarana and Villa Rotonda

Villa Capra “La Rotonda”

Gate entrance
Villa Rotonda Gate gate entrance Palladio Vicenza

pictures: Ravello1

Villa Capra”La Rotonda” second and other ascent
Villa Capra "La Rotonda" Palladio Vicenza

Photo:  Astro

AlbertThe Villa Rotonda was built between 1550 and 1552. The design is by Palladio, but Scamozzi completed it. I will offer a brief explanation when we get there, but this time it will be paired with an assignment based on the knowledge you already have.

Entrance view from the Villa Capra “La Rotonda”      Entrance facade     Aerial picture     Youtube: Rotonda  aerial      Youtube (3.41 minutes)
Villa capra "La Rotonda" Palladio entrance Vicenza


Aerial picture
Villa Capra "La Rotanda" Palladio aerial picture Vicenza
Villa Capra “La Rotanda” Palladio       Openwork
Villa Capra "La Rotonda" Vicenza Palladio

picture: David Nicholls

The question is about the following text written by Kees Fens with the title La Rotonda [translated]:

What is perfect seems almost surreal. That it exists, is a reaction to it. And that is how an artwork can be outside of art. […] La Rotonda is built vertically. It has a view of all sides. The location and that view is what gave Palladio the genius idea of the square home with four equal walls on all sides. […] No front, no back, no side. No hierarchy. And on all four sides, perhaps its most appealing element, the Ionic colonnade.’

Kees Fens, La Rotonda, Volkskrant 10 juli 1999

Fens describes the villa as the square house with the equal facades on all four sides. Compare this to the map [Quattro Libri dell’Architettura] and the cross-section of the Rotonda. The question is, and it’s a typical question that can pop up during the final history exams, is: To what degree is the perfect symmetry assumed by Kees Fens – after all, he writes about equal facades on all four sides –  correct? Any question that begins with ‘to what degree’ means there is some deliberation to be done. ‘On the one hand it is, because… but on the other hand it isn’t, because…’

As you delve into this question, please ponder on the following steps for your answer. Have an up close look at the exterior and then the interior. Personally, I regularly walked inside, back out and back inside again. (The interior of the Villa Rotonda can only be viewed on Wednesdays)

  1. As you look at this building (map), what does symmetry mean?
  2. Does symmetry mean all four facades are equal?
  3. Are all exterior facades completely equal?
  4. Is the interior behind the four facades completely identical?
  5. For each room or each hallway, Palladio decides upon width versus length versus height (ceiling) according to fixed proportions. Can you detect this if you measure the width with your feet?
  6. What do you notice as you stand in the domed hall and compare the symmetry of all sides in the ‘halls‘ with each other? What is the explanation?

Once you have discovered the answer, can you then provide an explanation for the well-hidden ‘asymmetry‘? If you depict the building three-dimensionally, the Rotonda contains peculiar ‘hidden’, or better put, ’empty’ space. Where and why? The question is very tricky. Back in May of 1999 it took me over thirty minutes to discover this villa’s hidden problem. Fens writes magnificently about the Rotonda, but he failed to see all of it.

Villa Capra “La Rotonda” big size
Villa Capra "La Rotonda" Vicenza Palladio

Photo: Mia Battaglia

Villa Capra “La Rotonda” big size
Villa Capra "La Rotonda" Vicenza Palladio

Photo: Luisanna Paiusco

Villa Capra “La Rotonda” big size
‘The centerpiece of La Rotonda’s interior is, believe it or not, a decorative air-duct cover on the floor, directly underneath the frescoed cupola. It is here, on this spot, that La Rotonda’s honored guests would be positioned to receive those in attendance who came to admire and applaud their achievements.’

Source: Tom Weber

Dome and and the centerpiece of La Rotonda big size
Villa Capra "La Rotonda" dome Palladio Vicenza
Villa Capra “la Rotonda” domed hall big size      Dome
Villa Capra "la Rotonda" domed hall Palladio Vicenza
Two sides of the domed hall with halls
 Villa Capra "La Rotonda" interior Palladio Vicenza

pictures: David Nicholls


We walk back towards Vicenza, towards another villa where we can admire some of Tiepolo’s works.

Villa Capra “la Rotonda” and the Villa Valmarana ai Nani
the way from Villa Rotonda to the Villa Valmarana ai Nani

De Villa Valmarana dei Nani and Tiepolo the painter

This villa was built between 1665 and 1669 for Giovanni Bertolo and was obtained by the count Valmarana in 1715. Nani is the word used for dwarfs. The villa owes its name to the dwarf statues atop the wall surrounding the villa.

Villa Valmarana ai Nani
Villa Valmarana ai Nani Vicenza

pictures: David Nicholls

Nani and the Villa Valmarana
Nani and the Villa Valmarana Vicenza

With the aid of his son Giandomenico, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo constructed a fresco cycle in the vestibule and the five adjacent rooms on the ceilings and the walls. Web Gallery of Art shows a part of this cycle.

Entrance of the Villa Valmarana       Aerial picture     Garden big size     Cafe terrace
gate Villa Valmarana ai Nani entrance Vicenza

picture (mouseover): hmc_nyc

In designing the cycle, Tiepolo was inspired by four stories, namely of the Ilias of Homerus (700 BC), the Aeneas of Vergilius (70 – 19 BC) , the Orlanda furioso of Ariosto (1474-1533) and the Gerusalemme liberta of Tasso (1544-1595). Next to this villa is a guest house, in large part decorated with frescos by Giambattista’s sons.


In designing the cycle, Tiepolo was inspired by four stories, namely of the Ilias of Homerus (700 BC), the Aeneas of Vergilius (70-19 BC) , the Orlanda furioso of Ariosto (1474-1533) and the Gerusalemme liberta of Tasso (1544-1595).

Entrance vestibule A
Villa Valmarana dei Nanni facade Vicenza

pictures: Jojo Cence and machilin

The layout of the Torquato Tasoso frescos by Tiepolo (the entrance at the vestibule is denoted by an arrow):

Vestibule     Large size      Ceiling
Villa Valmarana vestibule 'Sacrifice of Iphigenia' Vicenza

In the vestibule (A on the layout), the ceiling depicts Artemis. She prevents Iphigenia from being sacrificed by sending her a deer on a cloud with a putti. The deer must be slaughtered instead of Iphigenia. The moment when Iphigenia is about to be killed is displayed on the right wall in a large fresco, 350 x 700 cm. The influence of Veronese is obvious. The cloud with the deer arrives just in time. On the left wall, across from Iphigenia, the Greeks await their departure to Troy, with the ships dropping anchor in the background.

The room of Homerus (B) depicts a theme from the Ilias. The largest wall shows the story of Achilles’ favourite slave, Briseis, who is kidnapped and given to Agamemnon. On the other wall, to the left, Achilles is furious about the kidnapping.

Tiepolo Room of Homer “The rage of Achilles and Briseis  is led before Agamemnon”
Room Homer Villa Valmarana Tiepolo frescos The rage of Achilles and Briseis  is led before Agamemnon

The frenzied Achilles is halted by Athena just in time by pulling his hair. Between the windows, Thetis comforts Achilles. Athena is depicted on the ceiling.

The room of Ariosto (C) shows the love history between Medoro the knight and Angelica. The wall where you leave the room depicts Angelica healing the injured Medoro. To the left, we see Medoro and Angelica in a shepherd’s hut where they can hide.

Room of Ariosto       Layout
Villa Valmarana room of Ariosto Tiepolo

We subsequently see the infatuated Angelica carving the name of her beloved in a tree. Finally, we see how Angelica, chained against the rocks and threatened by a monster, is rescued just in time.

Tiepolo “Angelica craves name Medoro in a tree”
big size
Room Ariosto Villa Valmarana Tiepolo Angelica carves Medoro's name in the bark of a tree


We head back through the vestibule and into the fourth room, the Room of Vergil, which depicts the story of Aeneas by Vergil. Directly across from the entrance, Venus sends Amor to Aeneas who has just landed on African soil. To the left, Aeneas introduces his son Ascanius to queen Dido. The son depicted here looks a lot like the son of Aeneas, but in reality he is a cupid who ensures Dido and Aeneas fall in love.

Venus, who we see on the ceiling, is who came up with this great idea. The ceiling piece is no longer the original. German bombs destroyed this part of the building. There is also a fresco where Mercury warns Aeneas to leave Carthage and return to Italy.

We now walk towards the last room, the room of Torquato Tasso (E), which depicts a story by Torquato Tasso. The wall with two windows that you are facing as you enter this room depicts two stories about the liberated Jerusalem. To the right, the sorceress Armida falls in love with Rinaldo and kidnaps him. To the right of that, inside Armida’s magical castle, Rinaldo falls in love with her too. A happy ending, you would think, but alas. Two friends of Rinaldo, Guelfo and Ubaldo, go out looking for Rinaldo and find him. Despite Armida’s attempts to stop her beloved, he turns to his friends and the enchantment is broken. Rinaldo leaves Armida. The ceiling explains the moral behind this story. Virtue trumps slander: illustrated as light conquering darkness.

End of program Vicenza