George McDaniel, his wife Mary Sue, and I arrived in Italy on September 15th, but the real fun began with the arrival of the travelers on Friday, September 17th! A tired but happy crowd assembled at the Marco Polo airport. The trip commenced with a welcome reception at the Hotel Campo Marzio, located near the historic city of Vicenza where Palladio lived and worked most of his life. His influence is felt on every corner. Our first full day, we visited “the Basilica,” a highlight of the architectural history of Vicenza and Palladio’s first major work. Our tour is organized so we will visit the villas chronologically to better see Palladio’s designs mature and also see how they will change after his visits to Rome. The influence of Rome on the young architect is evident as the arches and spaces are so reminiscent of the Colosseum in Rome. Our jovial first dinner was filled with high expectations and a delicious Italian dinner in a nearby restaurant called Ristorante agli Schioppi.
Saturday the group enjoyed a private tour of the castle-villa, Porto Colleoni, with our guide, Giuliana di Thiene, whose husband’s family has owned the villa for many generations. (This structure pre-dates Palladio.) Villa Godi was next. The style was simple but host to a magnificent view. Palladio wanted the front of the villa to feel as though it opened to the “universe.” Our guide points out the urban sprawl creeping toward the villa in the valley below. The rain and wind continues throughout the day but our spirits were not dampened! Everyone was a good sport. Our last visit was to Villa Poianna built in 1546. An amazing exhibit showed blocks of three different colors – each a certain dimension. The exhibit demonstrated how Palladio used those dimensions in the design of every villa. Everyone returned to the Hotel Campo Marzio, tired, but with more knowledge about the history of the Republic of Venice, and the life and times of Palladio.
Sunday we woke up to blue skies and sunshine. The winds had blown away the rain! We left the Hotel at 8:30 a.m., headed towards Malcontenta, also known as Villa Forscari for the family who built the villa in the late 1550’s. The Roman influence is clear – Ionic columns facing the Brent River and the villa appears as a temple rising high above the ground with double staircases on either side. The highlight of the day was Villa Cornaro where Sally and Carl Gable welcomed everyone warmly. Carl gave a detailed tour of the villa. We then relaxed on the south lawn for a leisurely lunch. Drayton Hall’s Executive Director, George McDaniel, presented Sally with CDs of Beethoven and choral music, and Carl with a small copy of the “mysterious watercolor.” Sally and Carl gave a special tour of the attic and explained the extensive restoration projects they have undertaken during their 21 years of ownership. Most of the group has read Sally’s book, Palladian Days.