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The Emo Family between the XVI and XVII century

In 1518 following the massive investments in land of their father Giovanni Emo, his sons bought more and more land: Leonardo had almost twice the number of campi of his brother, 269 against 142, distributed among five farms with two rural centres, one composed of a brick house and stone tezza with a straw roof and the other of a brick house with a tiled roof, two stone tezze covered with straw, a cortivo, an orchard and a piece of grassland, with a farm of 54 campi used for cattle breeding. It was in those years that the cultivation of sweet corn was introduced to the plots of land of Fanzolo and Vedelago. This was the hypothesis of the scholar Bordignon Favero who, to substantiate his thesis records the testimony of Giovan Battista Ramusio (diplomat, geographer and humanist of the Republic of Venice) who states corn was already grown in the lands of Polesine, of Rovigo and in the lower Veronese area at Villabona. Since at that time most of the Polesine lands belonged to the Emos, according to Bordignon Favero, so Ramusio's citation must also include count Leonardo at Fanzolo, and acknowledge his attempt and experiment for the introduction of this cereal in the Treviso area. This important cultivation will become for the Emos an important source of income which will be the basis of their wealth in the coming centuries.

Of the two sons of Giovanni and Elisabetta Molin the one who stood out for his political career and for being considered for a long time the buyer for Villa Emo was Leonardo, named senior by historians. Born presumably in Venice between 1471 and 1473 he dedicated himself fully to the service of the State, pursuing a brilliant career and reaching the highest levels in both civil and military judiciaries. He was assertive and ready to act, skilful and convincing in his political beliefs. Thanks to his great gift for eloquence he became one of the most listened to and influential politicians of his generation. In 1536 he had the idea to boost the seriola Barbariga “in order to water his animals and his land”. Fanzolo lies well above the spring discharge area and its land “has no water, the soil is infertile and the cattle cannot be bred”. The intervention of Leonardo senior was fundamental in establishing the agricultural enterprise at Fanzolo: the water of the seriola Barberiga was the essential element in increasing the agricultural production. Later new crops were introduced, the lives of the farmers were improved, and the possessions of the Emo family increased. Leonardo senior died in January 1540 leaving an inheritance of 376 campi which was equally divided between his son Giovanni and his nieces and nephews, orphans of his brother Alvise, who were Leonardo and his four sisters, specifying that “these sisters are not to inherit the building but that this will be of Lunardo's only” preserving in this manner the integrity of the property assets.

It was this Leonardo, Alvise's son, who was named junior to distinguish him from his grandfather Leonardo senior, who commissioned the villa in Fanzolo. Leonardo junior was born in Venice on 22nd April 1532, the son of Alvise Emo and Andriana Badoer, sister of Francesco Badoer who commissioned Palladio with the construction of the villa in Fratta Polesine; his father Alvise died prematurely in 1535 leaving him an orphan together with four sisters and their mother Andriana, who was appointed his guardian. Unfortunately we do not know much of Leonardo's childhood: he spent it living in his paternal grandfather's house, we assume surrounded by the love and affection of his relatives. A few years later in 1540 his grandfather also died leaving his grandson half of his estate. At the time Leonardo was only eight years old therefore the actual division of the assets took place in 1555; the territories in Vestenanova near Verona went to his uncle Giovanni while those in Fanzolo near Treviso went to Leonardo. As far as his political and social profile is concerned, his career was certainly not as brilliant as that of his grandfather. Leonardo junior's political career started rather late, when he was 36 and was appointed Podestà of Chioggia. From this moment on the appointments came one after the other till his death. Among the others it is worth mentioning: Officer at Rason Vecchie, Superintendent to Giustizia Nova, Savio to the trade service. Leonardo Emo was therefore a man who took part in the political and social life of the Serenissima, showing total loyalty to his homeland. He paid a lot of attention to the administration of his estate and was very cautious in the management of his assets. His nephew, Zuanne Emo, in 1654 described him in a book of Memoirs as “ Lunardo Emo quondam Alvise mio Avo, a very cautious gentleman and excellent administrator died not only without leaving debts behind but also leaving a huge amount of money”.

But what Leonardo junior is remembered for is the commissioning of Villa Emo which was to become the fulcrum of the farm that his ancestors had developed over the centuries. The building of the residence by Andrea Palladio, according to the latest studies, can be dated back to the years between 1556 and 1559; in those years the whole area was in ferment with the numerous buildings by the famous architect and other contemporary architects. Villa Barbaro (1554-1560) in the north near Maser and Villa Cornaro (1552) in the south near Piombino Dese both by Andrea Palladio; Villa Soranzo (1551) by Michele Sanmicheli, at Sant'Andrea beyond the Muson. The philosophy of the project, taking into account the existing elements, was discussed between client and architect; the client wanting solutions to the needs of his countryside enterprise which must at the same time be an exemplary farm and a granary for his own household. And so, for Villa Emo, Andrea Palladio used classical plain architecture, capable of satisfying the needs of the farm but at the same time being an elegant and appropriate residence for the owner to welcome his important guests. The complex is composed of the manor house and two barchesse (outbuildings), which integrate seamlessly into the surrounding countryside and are designed as a centre for the coordination of the rural activities. The barchesse were made integral parts of the whole, and with the building of Villa Emo, Andrea Palladio reached perfection in the harmony between architecture and the existing elements. The cycle of frescoes was dated by scholars around 1565. They believe the painting cycle was dateable close to this year because Leonardo Emo and Cornelia Grimani got married in 1565 and they were the first inhabitants of the villa in Fanzolo.

The couple had eleven children, eight girls and three boys. The last one, another Leonardo, never saw his father who died in 1586 two months before his birth leaving the administration of the important villa to his wife Cornelia who survived him by another twenty-five years. She governed the land and the big family in an exemplary way as her grandson himself, Zuanne Emo bears witness to in 1600: ”she, 'signora' Cornelia was a gifted lady with unique virtues and prudence; although left a widow when she was very young and with 8 daughters, 2 sons and pregnant with another child who was to become my father Leonardo, she undertook without hesitation the governance of the house. She lived her life without remarrying and managed throughout her widowhood, of more than 25 years, to administer the estate without getting into debt and with only the revenues supported her household, and brought up these numerous children. She spared no money on their education, and raised them in a most virtuous way. She gave three of her daughters in marriage to very noble and wealthy persons of our Homeland, giving them very rich dowries for those days, other four became nuns in the most important convents in the town; another daughter, who did not want to get married or become a nun, lived at home growing in prudence and virtue until the time of her death. And if 'signor' Giovanni her son, had not messed up things in the house through his poor governance, at the time of her death she would have left a considerable amount of money which instead he used and went lost.

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