Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Review: Villa Margon

April 18th to April 16th 2009 was "Culture Week" in Italy. Determined to imbibe some late-Renaissance European culture, my lady and I (and a couple of friends from Brazil) visited Villa Margon in Ravina (not too far from Trento). Here's a quick review of the villa and what it can tell us about European culture.

Villa Margon, constructed in the 16th century, sits atop a hill (which is a bit of a shlep if you don't have a car), with vineyards below and the Italian alps above. The villa showcases some superb frescoes (typical of the region) depicting various historical and Biblical scenes.

There are five rooms of frescoes, divided into three sets: one of Biblical scenes, one of historical battles of the Holy Roman Empire, and one showing the cycle of the months. The "cycle of the months" theme seems to have been fairly popular for frescoes in this part of Italy. There is a cycle fresco in the Aquila Tower of Castle Buonconsiglio, another in a Venetian residence in Rovereto, and I've heard of at least one more in a castle somewhere in Trentino.

My favourite panel from the Margon cycle depicts the Villa's noble family sat at a table having lunch on the porch of Villa Margon, watching peasants happily threshing wheat under a scorching sun. Ah, the nobility... what better way to work up an appetite than by watching other people work for a living, eh?

The Margon cycle of the months was an idyllic representation of an ordered society, where peasants knew their place - and it probably contrasted fairly sharply with the actual political situation in Trentino at the time they were painted. Certainly, when similar frescoes were painted in Trento's Buonconsiglio castle, there was discontent and disruption at all levels of society.

Interestingly, there's actually some perspective on display in these frescoes: the peasants that are nearer to the foreground are depicted as being larger than the noble family taking supper in the background. This is completely different to the Buonconsiglio frescoes in Trento, in which nobles are always depicted as being larger than peasants even if they are in the background (how can you display a lowly villein in more detail than a just and beautiful nobleman?).

The reception hall contains frescoes painted by a Flemish artist circa 1560, depicting the historical conquests of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. These are amazingly detailed and very colourful - they look almost cartoony they're so vibrant, with knights and horses crashing about all over the place. The frescoes, commissioned by an Italian noble family (and painted by a Flemish artist), depicting a Spanish emperor of a "German" Roman Empire, remind us of the intensely smooshed-together nature of European history and culture.

Finally, we arrive at the Biblical frescoes. I didn't recognise all of the stories, but I seem to remember both Old and New Testament stories were depicted (possibly seperated into two rooms - I can't remember). In terms of visual excitiment, Old Testament is always more fun. One of my favourite panels showed the flood scene from Genesis. Noah's ark is painted as a great big wooden box of a thing, and if you look closely at the water you can see the little people of the Earth drowning. One or two are even desperately clinging on to the side of the ark.

Not really the sort of thing you'd want peering down at you from your bedroom wall.

Overall, Villa Margon was tremendous fun with some amazing frescoes and striking scenery. If you find yourself in Trento with nothing to do - this would make the perfect afternoon trip.

Rating: 7 out of 10

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