Discovering Villa Foscari

A compact guide exploring Villa Foscari with comprehensive descriptions, photos and illustrations.

Discovering Villa Foscari, by T. Formenton, Photo by Archivio Medoacus and A. Gabbana.

Text: Giuseppe Conton. Photos: Medoacus Archives, Aldo Gabbana. Very special thanks to Antonio Foscari Widmann Rezzonico, architect, for his helpfulness and suggestions.

Copyright © Medoacus 2011. Copyright Digital Edition 2012 © LA CASE Books. All rights reserved. No part of this book, its text or illustrations, may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior permission in writing from the copyright holders.

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Discovering Villa Foscari


In the early decades of the 15th century the borders of Venice were pushed as far north as  Lombardy. Astride both land and sea, it soon discovered that the latter was not the only road to riches.

The City’s merchants sensed the new business opportunities that the marshy wastelands and wilderness presented and began shifting their capital resources from the remunerative – but increasingly risky – merchant shipping to investments in agricultural estates.

The most evident aspect of this economic penetration is the great number of country houses built, from which they could oversee their estates or spend periods of time in  relaxation and enjoyment. Following the ruinous War of Cambrai (1508-1517) the villas gradually became more palatial and less farm-like.

They were palaces where, “free from the trials and tribulations that beset the human condition”, they could revive body and soul through reading the classics, conversation and convivial companionship: it was the ideal lifestyle declaimed by celebrated humanists of the Renaissance such as Ariosto, Bembo and Aretino and others who followed in the footsteps of Petrarch. 

The country houses spread out along the trade routes, especially the waterways, which were constantly looked after, as were the wharves. The main navigable river close to Venice is the Brenta, whose course over the next few decades was continually improved and altered.

As the fashion for country houses spread to the middle class citizens, what were at first only a few isolated houses strung out along the river banks gradually increased, till there so many that the holiday makers were targeted by Goldoni in his pungently amusing plays. Malcontenta, though located in a marshy area subject to flooding – as the name itself suggests – was one of the first localities to attract attention – for the simple reason that it was sited close to the mouth of the river, and to Venice.

It was here, on an estate of over one hundred fields, purchased at auction after 1528, that the wealthiest branch of the powerful Foscari family erected its great country house. They entrusted its planning to the most celebrated architect of the age, Andrea Palladio.

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