Jenkins recalls his first meeting of Russell Gwinnett: “These banquets were usually linked with some national treasure, or place of historic interest, occasions to some extent justifying the promise of Members that we should ‘live like kings’. . . . Through the medium of one of these jaunts, which took place at a villa on the Brenta, famous for its frescoes by Veronese, Gwinnett and I had met. [TK 24/20]”
The villa in question is the Villa Barbaro, often called Villa di Maser for the village of its location in the Veneto mainland northwest of Venice. Villa Barbaro is one of the finest creations of the architect and builder Andrea Palladio (Italian 1508-1580), whose masterpieces distinguish the Veneto region. The originality, beauty, and efficiency of Palladio’s designs, which adopted classical Greek and Roman building vocabulary into a refined Italianate elegance, is hard to appreciate today , simply because Palladio’s influence has so thoroughly permeated the centuries of architecture that followed them. For example, in America, Thomas Jefferson’s veneration of Palladian design is responsible for the adoption in the 18th century of a neo-Palladian building vocabulary as the official style of the young United States.
The site of Jenkins’ first meeting with Gwinnett is a villa commissioned of Palladio by the patriarchs of the Barbaro family in the 16th century. Palladio in turn commissioned the young Paolo Veronese (Italian 1528-1588) to paint a series of frescoes around which six rooms on the piano nobile were designed. We last read about Paolo Veronese when his name was attached to “the Dogdene Veronese” , a fictitious version of “The Sacrifice of Iphigenia”. Veronese’s frescoes at Villa Barbaro are no fiction, however, and proved influential throughout the Veneto for centuries to come. The various panels wed classical humanist themes with those of Christian devotion, plus there are portraits of the two Barbaro patriarchs and charming trompe-l’oiel effects of architecture and park-like vistas.
Pictured here are several wall panels in the Sala a Crociera, where Veronese’s sense of invention is evident, as well as his mastery of trompe-l’oiel perspective in both architecture and human figures.