Villa Ludovisi--A Biography

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Brepols Publishers, 2023 - 400 pages
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This book tells the story of an improbably large and historic urban green space within the ancient walls of Rome that in 1622 a Pope's nephew, the brash and enterprising Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, created to make his home. Writing from the inside out, the authors leverage a recently rediscovered family archive to illustrate how the Cardinal's 'Villa Ludovisi' and the vast art collection he formed for it (in just eighteen months) won the open-jawed admiration of a long list of noted visitors in the centuries to follow. Three buildings are at the heart of the Villa's biography: a grand palace which now is the core building of the US Embassy complex in Rome; a more workaday structure nearby, that later was converted to serve as a private Ludovisi museum; and an eccentric smaller palace poised on one of the highest points in Rome. That residence, to be known after a dramatic Ludovisi makeover as the Casino Aurora, for centuries served as a magnet for intellectual exchanges and innovative performance. It even saw its roof terrace used as an astronomical observatory, first by Galileo. Yet what won particular acclaim for the Ludovisi park was its significant collection of ancient sculptures, as well as the startlingly illusionistic frescoes commissioned for the smaller palace in the early 1620s from contemporary Bolognese painters, especially Guercino. As such, the Villa Ludovisi attracted the English diarist John Evelyn (already in 1644), Winckelmann (first in 1756), Goethe, Stendhal, Gogol, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry James-to name just a few of those who left their detailed written impressions before the gardens were turned over to builders in 1885. Striking new discoveries at the Casino Aurora (ranging from underground Roman archaeological features to long-hidden ceiling frescoes) invite this reappraisal, written to mark the Villa's 400th anniversary.

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