The entrance to the Villa d’Este was originally from the northwest side at the foot of the garden while today’s entrance was a private entrance belonging to Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este. Those who came to the Villa as a guest of the Cardinal made an ascending route.
Guests were firstly immersed in the garden with the fountains, hedges and trees. Secondly the path came to the terraces that led to the Palace which presented an external loggia as an entrance with a double staircase and upper Alpine. Here we find the private apartment of Cardinal Ippolito, from Belvedere.
The Halls of Villa d’Este Gardens
The guests arrived from the garden and were welcomed in the Nobile apartment. Here we find the marvelous decorated rooms, known as the Hall of the Fountain, the First and Second Tiburtine Hall, the Halls of Noah and Moses, the Halls of Hercules, the Halls of Nobility and Glory, the Hall of the Hunt.
They are connected by a corridor called the Manica Lunga, it is covered with a barrel vault which presents beautiful mosaics in relief representing a rose garden, bunches of grapes, faunistic elements, a cherub. The corridor was also used as an ambulacrum in summer with rustic fountains; it was a perfect place where to wander during the hot summer hours.
The Painters of the Palace and Mannerism
In Villa d’Este work artists come mostly from northern Italy where the Estensi possessions (Emilia Romagna and Veneto) were concentrated.
They belong to the Mannerist School, we have names such as Livio Agresti, Gerolamo Muziano, Cesare Nebbia, Taddeo and Federico Zuccari, Matteo Neeroni from Siena and Durante Alberti.
The cultural current of Mannerism is born around 1530, its name it derives from the Italian word “maniera”, in English “manner”. The term was coined by Giorgio Vasari, a Florentine painter who had as models Michelangelo and Raphael. Vasari considered these artists perfection and absolutely unmatchable. For this reason, urged young artists in learning style and techniques by imitating the masters’ style.
A new pictorial language called “Grottesche”
In reality, the artists of Mannerism do not imitate but rework creating also different styles. They gave birth to a new pictorial language called “Grottesche” that we also find in the Palace of the Villa d’Este.
The “Grottesche” are paintings that refer to the frescoes of the Domus Aurea commissioned by Emperor Nero. The frescoes are characterized by doodles, monstrous beings, winged sphinxes. The colors used are the same ones used by the Romans in their domus, such as the so-called red Pompeian.
The decoration of the Palace
In addition to the “Grottesche” in the Palace we find classical mythology themes. Hercules is the first. There is a whole room dedicated to the hero and also a fountain. Hercules was actually considered the founder of the d’Este dynasty, so Cardinal Ippolito will, was to pay homage to him. In Roman times, Hercules, was also the patron deity of Tivoli (not far from the Villa d’Este we find the remains of the Sanctuary of Hercules, dating back to the 1st century BC).
The iconography of the Villa d’Este appears very complex: both, themes from the history of Tivoli and Rome are present; two cities that benefited from the presence of Cardinal Ippolito, like builder and patron of the arts.
Theme of Virtues
Then we find the theme of the Virtues that we find on the upper floor (private apartment) with the representation of Christian Virtues.
Theme of Water
A further element is the theme of Water represented with the biblical figures of Moses and Noah (Noble floor). In this case, water is seen as a salvific element (it reminds to baptism).
The Eagle and the Lily
Further iconographic elements are the eagle and the lily. The eagle, with spread wings and head turned to left, was present on the blazon of the d’Este family since 1239. In 1410, the Marche Niccolò III d’Este for merits acquired in war, obtained from the king of France to insert in the emblem the golden lilies.
From that period, the coat of arms of the Este’s family presents the golden lily of France and the eagle. We can find in every corner of the Palace and the Garden the blazon of the family.