Project XXIV-XXV (fols. 23v-25r)

The third villa for the 'exceedingly illustrious Prince' is completely different from those preceding it, and this difference is justified by Serlio on the grounds that there will be a 'large household', in other words the sort of princely Court which in that period of French history a Guise or Bourbon would have had. This is without doubt one of Serlio's finest 'inventions', both in the balancing of 'Italian decorum and French commodity' and in the inspired scenographic effect, an effect which is developed in the second half of the 16th century by Vignola, Alessi and Du Cerceau, not forgetting of course the fundamental model of Bramante's Belvedere. The minute detail with which the project is illustrated, particularly in the sections, shows the extent to which Serlio laboured over this project.

The very simple basic rectangle of the plan is animated scenographically by the clear tripartite arrangement of the building. The front is very severe, Sangallesque in style and includes the formal rooms served by the grand staircase. The rear towards the countryside is lightened by a cross-vaulted portico. The two side blocks are very organic in the compartitioning of the series of apartments and sale - here in the disposition of the horizontal and vertical routes (there are as many as 15 staircases, both large and small, allowing the proliferation of mezzanines) Serlio's practical skill is more than evident. The internal part is purely decorative and comprises two courtyards, with porticoes in the front courtyard and windowed gallerie in the rear one. Above all there is the central transenna, the necessary support for the stupendous uncovered flight of steps and particularly necessary on the plan so as to divide the building into two squares.

The excellent and inventive scenographic effect is created by the contrast of the many openings in the lower part of the transenna - there are arches on triple columns with architraves, surmounted by panels (this arrangement is repeated on the other three sides of the front portico) - and by the successive flights of uncovered steps and landings. Quite rightly Serlio boasts of the 'fine aspect' of these steps. And these, together with the even richer and more complex ones on Project XIX in the city, are two of the finest prototypes (unfortunately only on paper) for the subsequent taste for flights of steps of this sort. If we exclude the very different flight of steps by Michelangelo for the Laurenziana (in those days only knowable via designs, but which nevertheless greatly influenced De l'Orme) and also if we are to exclude the almost exactly contemporary flight of steps of the Palazzo Senatorio on the Campidgolio, it is hard in this case to identify Serlio's source. There are however (unfortunately undated) two fine examples in the Veneto which Serlio could have seen before he left for France, namely, the large flight of steps on the front of the Castello di Udine, attributed to Giovanni da Udine, and the colossal flight of steps on Palazzo Thiene in Lonigo, with its triple-returned flights either side of the central landing, of unknown authorship but generally attributed to Sanmicheli. Within this context of general chronological uncertainty, we might also imagine that Serlio's designs might themselves have been influential. I would not hesitate to attribute such influence on Primaticcio's designs for the flight of steps on the façade of the 'Belle Cheminée' wing at Fontainebleau (first mentioned 1568-70).

[Figure 168 - G. da Udine, the flight of steps on the rear of the Castello di Udine (from Venturi)

Figure 169 - Photograph of the flight of steps on Palazzo Thiene in Lonigo

Figure 170 - Primaticcio, the 'Belle Cheminée' wing at Fontainebleau (from Du Cerceau)]



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