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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Villa Imperiale at Pesaro Eiche, Sabine


The Villa Imperiale at Pesaro remains one of the few grand Italian Renaissance villas to have escaped exploitation for the tourist industry. Curiously enough, it has also been long neglected in the field of modern art historical scholarship. The only major study is Bernhard Patzak's Die Villa Imperiale bei Pesaro, published in 1908. Before, and since then, the majority of accounts dealing with it have been of a purely local Pesarese character—either brief guide-book references to it, or redundant versions of Pompeo Mancini's literary blueprint, written for the Esercitazioni dell'Accademia Agraria of Pesaro in 1844. More recently, Giuseppe Marchini, former Superintendent of Galleries in the Marches, published an attractive and well-illustrated book on the Villa Imperiale, to coincide with the completion of the villa's restoration. Although Marchini's book is extremely valuable for its visual material, it does not contribute to the scholarship on the villa's history. Craig Hugh Smyth, who had been a consultant for the restoration of the Villa Imperiale's frescoes, is concentrating his efforts on determining the authorship of the eight-room decorative cycle. With the exception of one enlightening essay, also by Smyth, the architecture of the Villa Imperiale has not yet inspired any major revaluation. Although Patzak’s monograph, the standard reference work for more than sixty years, is an informative study, many of its arguments appear unsatisfactory in the light of modern scholarship. In such a case, it is undoubtedly the art history student’s responsibility to reinterpret the evidence, employing the methods which have been developed in the interim. The Villa Imperiale, on Monte S. Bartolo outside of Pesaro, consists of two separate structures from different periods. In the sixteenth century, the buildings become interrelated— physically, by a connecting wing; and functionally, in terms of an iconographic programme devised to serve a common purpose. The earlier structure was built by Alessandro Sforza in 1469. Emperor Frederick III, on a post-coronation journey to Italy, passed through Pesaro, and performed the office of laying the foundation stone. A plaque hangs above the main entrance to commemorate the event. As a mid-fifteenth century structure, the villa is designed with the idea of versatility in mind. The concept of villegia-tura, as it was being promoted in contemporary Florence, was not yet popular or expedient in Pesaro. Alessandro Sforza was principally a soldier, and his buildings reflect his tastes and requirements. Because of its site on top of a hill, the villa could play both defensive and offensive roles in battles. When war was not the momentary occupation of Alessandro, the Imperiale worked well as an economic unit. The land on which it stands was fertile and well cultivated; a forest surrounding the villa on three sides provided adequate game for hunting, whether for sport or necessity. It was built with expansive subterranean rooms which served as storage, and food conversion, areas. Patzak noted that the architectural motifs and proportions of the Sforza villa, particularly in the cortile, must date from a period before 1469. He suggests 1452, when Frederick came to Italy the first time, to be coronated Emperor. However, the difficult political relationship between Frederick and Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, would seem to exclude the probability of a visit by the Emperor to Francesco's brother, Alessandro, Lord of Pesaro, at that time. What Patzak has overlooked is the display of similar architectural proportions in the Palazzo Prefettizio of Pesaro, a structure built cl450, when Alessandro assumed control of the city. The transposition of a system of architectural proportions from one building to another is not unprecedented. Indeed, the physical proximity, and the common patron, of the Palazzo Prefettizio and the Villa Imperiale, underline the suitability of the theory. In 1512, Pesaro and the Villa Imperiale were expropriated from the Sforza family by Julius II, for his nephew, Francesco Maria della Rovere, Duke of Urbino. Political and dynastic intrigues on the part of the Medici Pope, Leo X, prevented Francesco Maria from finally securing his Dukedom, and with it the Villa Imperiale, until 1522. Subsequent to his reoccupation, the Duke initiated a restoration and renovation programme for his various estates. The Villa Imperiale, damaged in a battle of 1517, required extensive repairs. Girolamo Genga, a native of Urbino, was called from Rome to become court architect to Francesco Maria. Along with the restoration, a programme was conceived for the decoration of several grand apartments in the Sforza villa. Only two ceilings exist from this earliest project. The next plan, which remains today, involved the painting, with a fresco cycle, of eight apartments. The programme was carefully devised to ensure the proper procession through the rooms of the old villa, over a connecting bridge, into an entirely new structure, built behind the Sforza villa. The architectural experiences of Francesco Maria's new villa are cleverly and subtly anticipated in the frescoes of the Sforza villa. This second project, involving the frescoes and the new villa, was conceived and begun between 1524 and 1527. Before he turned to architecture, Genga had been a designer of stage sets. The frescoes, and the architecture of Francesco Maria's villa, show his indebtedness to the theatre. In fact, the Villa Imperiale was to function as the stage for the activities of the Duke of Urbino's court, so the conceit is, paradoxically, entirely suitable. In the della Rovere villa, entrances and exits, means of access from one space to another, are as disguised to the visitor's eye, as they would be in a real theatre. Participation and exploration solve the problems encountered in trying to move through the complex. When the visitor finally arrives at the far end of the last terrace, a giardino secreto, he is confronted by the only independent entrance into the new villa (the other is by way of the Sforza villa, and over the connecting wing). Regarding the villa from this position, the sight confronting him is a negation of the architectural spaces experienced only moments before. As it is, he can see no architectural spaces at all—only what appears to be a solid building with four towers. The architectural setting has changed as quickly and completely as the painted backdrop of a stage might be exchanged. The guest is delighted and confused; the illusion is complete.

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