Seventeenth century splendours on Lake Como: Villa Carlotta and the Marquises Clerici


Tremezzina (Como) – Until November 3, 2019 will be held the exhibition “Splendors of the eighteenth century on Lake Como: Villa Carlotta and the Marquises Clerici” dedicated to the first phase of the events of the villa, from the end of the seventeenth century – the time when it was built by the will of the Marquises Clerici – until 1801, when the last heir of the family, Claudia Clerici Bigli, sold the complex to Giovanni Battista Sommariva, a famous collector of neoclassical art.

The exhibition revolves around a nucleus of baroque paintings that since the beginning belonged to the patrimony of the villa and represent the most important surviving testimony on Lake Como of the taste and artistic commission of the Clerics. These are the three large paintings that decorated the Oratory of San Francesco Saverio built by the Marquises to serve their holiday residence and their realization was entrusted to three of the greatest artists active in Lombardy at the end of the seventeenth century: Legnanino, Filippo Abbiati and Paolo Cazzaniga.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the small building of worship was affected by a complete renovation that reconfigured it in its present form, those of a sumptuous funerary chapel intended to house the burial monuments of the family Sommariva. On the occasion of these works, the three seventeenth-century paintings commissioned by the Clerics were removed and after having remained in the adjacent sacristy for a long time, they were transferred to the parish church of Tremezzo, almost being forgotten.

Restored specifically for this occasion, the cycle of paintings is back in the spaces of Villa Clerici where it has found a not ephemeral location, thanks to the loan with the Diocese of Como that allows you to enrich the museum of Villa Carlotta with a room dedicated to its first owners, the Marquises Clerici, and their patronage.

A section of the exhibition focuses on the spectacular series of eighteenth-century prints by Marcantonio Dal Re – recently added to the museum’s collections – depicting the villa and its garden at the time when it was owned by Marquis Anton Giorgio Clerici, the last great exponent of the main branch of the family. The prints, which show the building, its layout and the garden, allow us to immediately understand the aristocratic magnificence of the complex and how much the layout of the area in front of the villa, dominated by the monumental double flight of stairs and the fountain, is still substantially in line with the project commissioned by the Clerics between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

A specific section is dedicated to the protagonists of these events, the Marquises Clerici, in which some portraits of members of the family are presented. First of all Giorgio Clerici, who was responsible for the construction of the villa (Milan, Raccolte d’Arte dell’Ospedale Maggiore), followed by Anton Giorgio Clerici, of whom the large portrait of his private collection is exhibited for the first time with the insignia of the Toson d’Oro, alongside the portrait of his mother Maria Archinto (Milan, Pio Albergo Trivulzio) and that of his daughter Claudia Caterina, married to Bigli (Milan, ASP Golgi Redaelli), the last owner of the residence before the sale in Sommariva.

The Clerics, one of the wealthiest and most politically important families in Lombardy between the 17th and 18th centuries, had a network of prestigious holiday residences. Next to the still existing Milan palace, the gallery of which was frescoed by the most famous Italian painter of the 18th century, Giambattista Tiepolo, the marquises owned a spectacular villa on the Naviglio in Castelletto di Cuggiono, comparable in various aspects to the villa in Tremezzo, and another suburban residence in Niguarda, just north of the capital of the State. These two places of delight, still existing although impoverished, are represented in the exhibition through the eighteenth-century prints by Marcantonio Dal Re, belonging to the series in which the villa of Tremezzo is also reproduced.

The magnificence of the period is narrated through Anton Giorgio Clerici’s entrance to the Quirinal, in the guise of Maria Theresa of Austria’s ambassador to the 1758 conclave: a lively chronicle painting, rich in notes on the environment and daily life, which lends itself well to restoring to the viewer the atmosphere of an era and the splendour of the nobility of the ancient regime. This large painting – over 4 metres wide – belongs to the collections of the Museums of the Castello Sforzesco in Milan and is evoked by a video projection in one of the exhibition rooms, which allows us to enter the secrets of this masterpiece, following step by step the procession of the Marquis Clerici towards the residence of the popes. A last echo of the eighteenth-century splendours of Villa Clerici emerges in the canvas painted by Bartolomeo Giuliano in 1876. The arrival of the guests, reception at Villa Carlotta, Lake Como. The painter depicts the arrival of a group of illustrious guests on the lake, setting the scene in the Rococo period, in harmony with the taste for paintings in eighteenth-century costume very common from the second half of the nineteenth century, a particularly happy time for this kind of scenes with a frivolous and pleasant character, much appreciated by the public and the client.

To complete the fresco of the life rich in “splendours” that the Clerici family led, some jewels are also on display: from the documents it is possible to reconstruct how Giorgio II’s collection of jewels included hundreds of diamonds, emeralds and pearls.

With a view to an effective integration between the works on display and the context, specific in-depth studies are also dedicated to the testimonies dating back to the Clerical period, still identifiable in the villa and in the park, starting from the series of mythological statues placed on the balustrade towards the lake to arrive at the spectacular flights of stairs that connect the lower part of the garden to the entrance to the building. Inside, on the other hand, the most evident legacy of the first phase of the villa’s history is the decoration of some rooms on the second floor, where a band with fake architecture and flowers, frescoed in the 18th century, dialogues with the painted wooden ceilings, of the type called ‘a passasotto’, typical of Lombard aristocratic residences of the 17th and 18th centuries.



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