Villa Carlotta is a villa and botanical garden in Tremezzo on Lake Como in Northern Italy. The villa is today a museum, whose art collection includes works by Canova, Thorvaldsen, Migliara and Hayez in addition to pieces of furniture from the time of the various owners.
The villa is located at the top of a terraced garden, from which there are views of Bellagio and also the mountains surrounding the lake. It consists of three floors (two of which are open to the public). The works of art on display are mainly located on the lower floor, while the upper one, which has an elegant gallery, provides views over the lake.
Among the sculptures on display in the villa are:
- Eros and Psyche by Adamo Tadolini. This is a marble copy taken from the original model used by Antonio Canova for the sculpture commissioned by the Russian prince Yussupoff (and today at the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg). This copy arrived at the villa in 1834.
- Mars and Venus by Luigi Acquisti. Dating from 1805 this is considered to be his masterpiece.
- The original plaster model of The Muse Terpsichore by Antonio Canova. The sculpture was commissioned by Sommariva in 1811.
- Palamedes by Antonio Canova. Sommariva commissioned this sculpture from Canova, but in 1805, when it was still in the Canova's atelier in Rome, when the Tevere River flooded the workshop and broke it into several pieces. Canova personally restored it, between 1806 and 1808. The sculpture arrived at the villa in 1819.
- Repentant Magdalene. This is a copy produced by Canova's school of the original sculpture by Canova. Sommariva was also the owner of the original work.
- The Entrance of Alexander the Great in Babylonia by Bertel Thorvaldsen. This work was originally designed in stucco for the Quirinale Palace in Rome to mark the occasion of Napoleon's visit. Completed in June 1812, it was so admired that Napoleon ordered a marble replica for the Pantheon in Paris. Napoleon's fall from power caused work to stop until in 1818 Sommariva decided to have it completed. The 33 marble slabs of the frieze arrived in the villa between 1818 and 1828. The last two characters at the end of the frieze are a self-portrait of Thorvaldsen and a portrait of Sommariva.
- The Last Adieu of Romeo and Juliet by Francesco Hayez. This painting was commissioned by Sommariva in 1823.
- The Reading of the VIth Book of the Aeneid by Jean-Baptiste Wicar. This large oil painting was commissioned by Sommariva in 1818. Before arriving at the villa it was exhibited with great success in Milan in 1821.
In addition the villa is home to a collection of more than 470 plaster cameos created by the Roman artist Giovanni Liberotti and a large silk and wool tapestry by François Var der Borght.
The botanical garden covers an area of about 8 ha (20 acres)and consists of several different sections. Immediately around the villa, towards the lake, the Italian garden with cut hedges and pergolas with orange and camellia trees. The rhododendron and 150 varieties of azalea spread up the slope. The property is also home to cedars, palms, redwoods, plane trees and other exotic plants. there is also a bamboo garden, covering 3000 m² which is home to over 25 different bamboo species. A greenhouse which had been used in the past to house citrus fruits during winter has been converted into a museum of old farm tools.
The Clerici family had risen from rural origins in the northern region of Lake Como to become successful silk merchants due to the efforts of Giorgio (1575-1660) and his sons Pietro Antonio (1599-1675), who was made a Marquis, and Carlo (1615-1677) who became owner of numerous palaces in Milan and Brianza.
Carlo's son, Milanese marquis Giorgio Clerici became a senator in 1684 and in 1717 he was nominated as President of the Senate. In 1690 he decided to establish a country estate on ancestral lakeside land at Tremezzo. The estate was complete in its initial form by 1695. The garden is first mentioned in 1699.
The villa (whose architect is unknown) was completed in 1745.
Upon the death of Giorgio Cerici his great grandson Anton Giorgio Cerici (1715-1768) inherited the family fortune and completed the building of the villa. He died after having dissipated nearly all of his fortune building the Palazzo Clerici in Milan.
Anton Giorgio's only daughter Claudia Caterina Clerici (the wife of Count Vitaliano Bigli) sold the property in 1801 to the banker and Napoleonic politician Giovanni Battista Sommariva, Sommariva had risen from a barber's apprentice to a position of power in Napoleon Bonaparte's government in Northern Italy. In 1802 he was a candidate to be vice president of the Republic of Italy, but Napoleon selected instead Francesco Melzi d'Eril for the post. With his political career thwarted Sommariva retired from public life, and devoted his time to collecting art.
Sommariva modified the villa to bring it into line with the early 19th century taste by adding balconies to take in the lake view as well as a large clock on the facade. Sommariva patronized a number of sculptors including Antonio Canova and Bertal Thorwaldsen, whose works feature in the villa today as well as painter Francesco Fidanza. Part of the park was transformed into a romantic garden in the English style.
Sommariva also constructed a domed family chapel and mausoleum near the lake shore.
As the family's eldest son, Emilio had already died, fighting in Spain in 1811, Sommariva's fortune was inherited by his second son Luigi. Upon Luigi's sudden death in 1838 the fortune which was in decline was divided between his wife, Emilia Sommariva (née Seillère, a French noble woman) and numerous relatives.
The property was sold in 1843 to Princess Marianna the wife of Prince Albert of Prussia for 780,000 lira, ten times the amount paid by Giovanni Sommariva to the Clericis 40 years before. Emilia Sommariva relocated to a smaller house in Tremezzo, while reserving for herself ownership of the Sommariva family chapel and mausoleum on the grounds of the villa.
Princess Marianne subsequently gave the property to her daughter Charlotte, as a wedding present upon her marriage in 1847 to Georg II of Saxen-Meiningen Duchess of Saxe-Meiningen (1826-1914). Hence the name Italianized name Villa Carlotta. Charlotte whose marriage was a love match had only a short time to enjoy the villa for she died of childbirth complications at the age of 23 in 1855.
Author Ludwig Bechstein wrote a description of the villa which was published as Villa Carlotta. Poetische Reisebilder vom Comersee und aus den lombardisch-venetianischen Landen in 1857.
The Sachsen-Meiningens used the property as a private holiday home. While they didn't make any substantial changes in the building, they sold part of the art collection that came with the property. Duke Georg, who had a passion for botany, dedicated himself to the development and enrichment of the garden introducing a great variety of rare and exotic species. The Duke was a patron of the composer Johannes Brahms, who visited the villa several times at the Duke's invitation in the 1880s. Duke Georg died in 1914 at the outbreak of the World War I.
Once Italy entered World War I in May 1915 on the side of the Allies, the villa despite being owned by a German was not confiscated by the Italian State, as were the other properties of other enemy aliens in Italy, but placed under the management of an administrator on 15 August 1915. The interests of the owners were exercised by the Swiss Consulate.
At the end of World War I, In 1921, the financial administrator of Como Province informed the owners that the entire property was now the property of the Italian state arguing that the villa was of eminent national significance. It was subsequently proposed in 1922 that the villa would be sold at auction. However local enthusiasts lead by Senator Giuseppe Bianchini and the Rotary Club of Milan opposed this, which lead to the villa being entrusted to the care of the Ente Villa Carlotta, a charitable foundation constituted by royal decree on 12 May 1927. This foundation is still responsible for the villa.
- Desmond. Page 143
- Desmond. Page 146
- Desmond. Page 149
- Desmond. Page 152
- “The Social Brahms.” A Brahms Reader, by Michael Musgrave, Yale University Press, 2000, p. 205.
- Desmond. Page 152
- Thuringian State Archive in Meiningen, Hofmarschallamt: Briefing Note to the Damage Report. in: Villa Carlotta 1852-1930. (HMA 304)
- Thüringisches Staatsarchiv Meiningen, Hofmarschallamt: Brief des Konsuls in Mailand vom 2. August 1916. In: Die Verwaltung der Villa Carlotta betr. Schriftwechsel 1915-1924. (HMA 316)
- Thüringisches Staatsarchiv Meiningen, Hofmarschallamt: Sachdarstellung zu der Schadensmeldung. in: Villa Carlotta 1852–1930. (HMA 304)
- Desmond. Page 155
- Attlee, Helena; Ramsey, Alex (2006). Italian Gardens : A Cultural History (Hardback). London: Robertson McCarta. ISBN 978-07112-2647-0.
- Desmond, Steven (2016). Gardens of the Italian Lakes (Hardback). London: Frances Lincoln. ISBN 978-0-7112-3630-1.
- The villa's official website.
- Ludwig Bechstein (1857). Villa Carlotta. Poetische Reisebilder vom Comersee und aus den lombardisch-venetianischen Landen. Weimar: Bernhard Friedrich Voigt. (Digitalised version in German at the British Library)