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Villa Emo’s garden between the 20th and the 21st century

Some photographs from the first years of the 1900s reveal how the garden, designed by Arch. Negrin, evolved. The 1900 photo by A. Charvet, published in the magazine Emporium and accompanying an article called A Venetian nobleman’s villa (La villa di un patrizio veneto) by Molmenti, shows the villa seen from the west barchessa. We can see that the west orangery is no longer there. In its place a large lawn or perhaps the oval flowerbed designed by Negrin for the symmetrical garden, extends in front of the barchessa, with a pine tree and other shrubs in its middle. In two 1909 photos which appeared in the magazine Ars et Labor: music and musicians in the article by O.F. Tencajoli, Villa Emo in Fanzolo, we can see in one, the villa seen from the front and in the other, the farmyard, the gates and the long tree-lined avenue leading to the entrance of the villa. The farmyard seems to be bordered by many vases with presumably citrus plants which are still in use today.

The last photographic evidence dates back to 1911; it was published in the French magazine Revue de l’Art ancienne et moderne, in the article La villa Emo by the French researcher of history of art, Robert Henard. The photo shows the villa seen from the east parterre towards the east barchessa. The symmetrical garden in front of the villa seems by now reduced to a mere lawn, whereas the east orangery still exists. Furthermore, as in the 1900 photo, we can still see the original arched entrance, nowadays reduced and closed by a door, on the side of the barchessa facing the park. From Henard’s few words we gather that the paved yard in front of the large staircase was decorated on both sides by dwarf citrus plants in terracotta vases. We can also assume that the landscape garden still had its layout because the researcher mentions flowing water running through lush vegetation.

The last significant transformation of the front garden of the villa took place in the 1920s. This thesis is supported by the considerations about the inheritance when Venier took over from Carlo Emo Capodilista in 1921. Among the assets inherited by the latter there was Villa Contarini-Venier in Vò Euganeo and the statues that adorned this villa’s garden reached Fanzolo between 1921 and 1925 to embellish that garden. The sculptures, dating back to the 16th century and by unknown artists, seem by chance to reflect faithfully the narrative cycle created by Zelotti in the frescoed halls. Starting from the north-west side of the villa we find the statue of a female figure that ideally and spatially corresponds to the frescoed panel The killing of Virginia in the central hall. It could therefore be the mythical Roman heroine as on the other side of the villa in the north-east area, we find a male figure identifiable as Scipione who faces Virginia in the central hall fresco too. More mythological pairs follow similar to those in the pictorial decoration inside the villa.

Going from the east southwards we meet Flora next to Bacchus with reference to the seasons in the rooms of Jupiter and Io and of the Arts; then there is Venus paired with Adonis. Along the main axes of the wide road leading to the entrance Jupiter and Juno face each other; they are the protagonists of the frescoes in the loggia and in the room of Jupiter and Io. The last pair is that of Hercules and Dejanira: again, they are the protagonists in the room of Hercules. The ten statues rests on plinths devoid of decoration and alternate with juat as many plinths that are decorated with grotesque, big masks supporting vases of classical inspiration, placed at the parterres’ corners. Part of this large legacy are also the statues that are currently under the west barchessa: St. Michael of the 18th century, which was once kept in the nearby oratory and the Emo family’s coat of arms: a similar but larger one is located in the east barchessa.

It is easy to imagine that the new and innovative presence of sculptural elements in the garden would lead to a new definition of this area, marking the perimeter of the routes suitable for carriages and of the green areas in a way perhaps very similar to the current geometry. It is in these years that the new rectangular shaped flower-beds in front of the barchesse were designed and the new routes, suitable for carriages, in front and at the sides of the villa were defined.

Currently the areas in front and behind the villa, namely the parts that strictly correspond to the size of the porticoed wings, are kept as low gardens with lawns geometrically divided by gravel paths. To the south there are two large parterre planted with lawn bordered by citrus plants in terracotta vases; a box-wood hedgerow with statues provides an additional natural frame.

Beyond the hedgerow the garden is given to tall trees and different kinds of shrubs. To the south the property is bounded by a canal made of bricks to restrain the sides of the canal, but is not surrounded by a boundary wall so as not to spoil the view and the relationship with the countryside. The style of the garden behind the villa matches that of the garden at the front; two large parterre define the whole area. This large green area was for a long time the only memory of the ancient vocation of the villa-farm; it was, in fact, cultivated with medicinal herbs, wheat, barley, corn, soy and at one time with sunflowers. This rural aspect is also evident in some scenes of the film by Joseph Losey Don Giovanni which was partly shot at Villa Emo in 1979. The protagonist Donna Elvira, played by Kiri Te Kanawa, from the central hall looks out towards the park to the north and we can see a wide green lawn, without the current avenues that were defined by the last count Marco Emo Capodilista about twenty years ago. Further additions by the counts and the family Emo Capodilista, who, up to 2004 lived in the villa, are some spruces planted in the park and visible during the walk. These incongruous tree species represent the family’s memory of their birth in Villa Emo.

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