Villa Palagonia

by Jahsonic

The Villa Palagonia is a patrician villa in Bagheria, 15 km from Palermo, in Sicily, southern Italy. The villa itself, built from 1715 by the architect Tommaso Napoli with the help of Agatino Daidone, is one of the earliest examples of Sicilian Baroque. However, its popularity comes mainly from the statues of monsters with human faces that decorate its garden and its wall, and earned it the nickname of "The Villa of Monsters" (Villa dei Mostri). This series of grotesques, created from 1749 by Francesco Ferdinando II Gravina, Prince of Palagonia, aroused the curiosity of the travellers of the Grand Tour during the 18th and 19th centuries, for instance Henry Swinburne, Patrick Brydone, John Soane, Goethe, the Count de Borde, the artist Jean-Pierre Houël or Alexandre Dumas, prior to fascinate surrealists like André Breton or contemporary authors such as Giovanni Macchia and Dominique Fernandez, or the painter Renato Guttuso.

Francesco Ferdinando II Gravina, Grotteschi (Grotesques), Villa Palagonia, 1749
Bagheria, Sicily

Whenever I like something which is considered to be in poor taste, I review it by digging up some negative review by a detractor. Today’s object of my affection is the Villa Palagonia in Sicily.

But the Villa Palagonia once surpassed in absurdity anything ever conceived by mortal brains. It was the mad fancy of a Prince of this name who lived in the last century to people his house and grounds with monsters more outrageous and ridiculous than the creations of Circe, Armida, or the enchanters of romance. Of all that immense group there is not one made to represent any object in nature, nor is the absurdity of the wretched imagination that created them less astonishing than its wonderful fertility. It would take a volume to describe the whole, and a sad volume indeed it would make. He has put the heads of men to the bodies of every sort of animal, and the heads of every other animal to the bodies of men. Sometimes he makes a compound of 5 or 6 animals that have no sort of resemblance in nature. He puts the head of a lion to the neck of a goose, the body of a lizard, the legs of a goat, the tail of a fox. On the back of this monster he puts another, if possible still more hideous, with 5 or 6 heads and a bush of horns that beats the beast in the Revelations [Book of Revelations or John's Apocalypse] all to nothing. There is no kind of horn in the world that he has not collected, and his pleasure is to see them all flourishing upon the same head. —Patrick Brydone.

The interior of the palace was as fantastical as the outside, and its manifold extravagances were multiplied a thousand times by mirrors placed at different angles. Most of these absurdities have been removed, but a few still remain in the garden to attest the extravagant folly of the old prince; while at one entrance to the palace statues of his ancestors stand like lacqueys in suits of many-coloured marbles, and round the bell-room busts of the same stand out from the walls in bodily relief, dressed to the life in marble. —A handbook for travellers in Sicily: including Palermo, Messina (1864), George Dennis, John Murray

The previous text cites Patrick Brydone on the villa Palagonia. Two other texts deserve to be mentioned here. The first Les monstres de Bomarzo (1957) by French writer André Pieyre de Mandiargues connects Villa Palagonia with that other icon (and much better-known) of the grotesque:

Une autre histoire que l’on raconte à Bomarzo est celle d’une jeune et noble dame, belle en outre, à laquelle un mari … la même exactement que l’on raconte à la villa Palagonia et dans tous les lieux ornés de monstres de pierre.

The second text to connect Boomarzo to Palagonia was Bellezza e bizzarria (1960) by Mario Praz:

Ma di vere e proprie bizzarrie nell’aria aperta dei giardini l’Italia può vantarne solo due, ma supreme: i mostri di Bomarzo ei grotteschi di Villa Palagonia vicino a Palermo. In Inghilterra le bizzarrie, senza essere cosi monumentali.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...