History of Hotel
Villa Grazioli was built in 1580 by Cardinal Antonio Carafa. The Villa is rich in artworks by Masters of 16th and 17th century like Ciampell, Carracci and Pannini. Today Villa Grazioli is a refined hotel member of the famous international chain Small Luxury Hotels of the World, that means style, quality and warm welcoming aimed at ensuring a high quality level.
An engraved slab of marble in the Villa’s chapel quotes the words of a letter dated 1580, in which Pope Gregorius XIII honoured the foundation of the Villa and consecrated the Chapel to St. John the Baptist. The memorial stone is important for the history of the Villa, not just because it contains the foundation date, but because it informs us about the identity of the founder and the reasons why he decided to build a Villa.
As Lucullus and Cato many centuries before, Cardinal Carafa chose to build a Villa on the Tusculum Hill because of that mild climate and atmosphere of quietness wrapping up everything. He wanted a place in the peacefulness of rural life, where his spirit could find relief and contemplate the mysteries of nature, away from the fatigue of the city.
At the death of Cardinal Carafa, the Villa was inherited by Cardinal Ottavio Acquaviva d’Aragona, who played a crucial role in the history of the Villa. He commissioned the realisation of most of the paintings, whose colours still brighten up the vaults of the four halls on the ground floor. The next owners of the Villa, the Peretti-Montalto family (about 1613) commissioned the paintings in the Room of Eliseo to an artist from the Carracci’s school, probably Antonio Carracci himself, nephiew of the famous Annibale.
One of the paintings is particularly interesting because it depicts the Villa how it looked at that time: the plane tree painted 400 years ago is the same that can still be seen in the park of the Villa. The purchase of the property by the Odescalchi family in 1683 marked a period of important changes in the structure, bringing to a modification of the southern side of the building.
The large 16th century terrace was turned into a Gallery to make the construction of a third floor possible. In 1737 Baldassarre Erba Odescalchi, commissioned the decoration of the new Gallery on the first floor to one of the most popular painters of that period: Giovanni Paolo Pannini. In 1843 the Villa was bought by Duke Pio Grazioli. He started new restoration works, changing the side of the building overlooking Rome.
Two new parts were built at the side of the big tower rising from the central body of the Villa: they totally enclosed the 16th century tower, making the Villa as it looks today. World War II marked the beginning of a period of decadence for the Villa after the bombing of Frascati. The Villa was chosen as shelter by a group of homeless. Each family occupied a room and turned it into their ‘house’, using campfires and placing mattresses on the floor.
Villa Grazioli was then completely abandoned for nearly forty years. In 1987 Villa Grazioli Ltd took over the property and started the restoration works. Nowadays the Villa has been given back the elegance it deserves. For the years to come, a thorough restoration of the frescoes will take place according to a project approved and supervised by the Ministry of Cultural Activities and Heritage.
The frescoes in the villa
The Villa is rich in decorative painting which can be divided into three groups, corresponding to the main changes of hands that trace its history.
In the Room of the Cardinal Virtues (Prudence, Courage, Justice and Temperance) Night and Day rooms painted by Agostino Ciampelli, the visitor of the Villa is exposed to a composed, sober, almost intimate painting that, being far from the sumptuosity of celebration, recalls the theme of meditation.
In the three central panels the Chariot of the Sun is depicted at the sunrise, the zenith and the sunset. The other two panels contain a landscape with reapers and farmers, where the artist depicted some details with meticulous care.
The Gallery of the Piano Nobile, ascribed to Ciampelli and his pupils, is frescoed and watercoloured with natural scenes: in the vault that imitates a sky crossed by angels and clouds, a wonderful pergola in perspective connects the interior of the villa with the exterior garden.
In the vault of the fourth room on the Piano Nobile, there is the so-called Room of Eliseo, corresponding to the second ‘decorative period’ realized during the Montalto era. The room is the work of Bolognese artists - patronized by Cardinal Alessandro himself - who have the typical style of the artists educated at Annibale Carracci’s circle.
In order to understand the spirit that animates the Pannini Gallery decoration one has to consider Pannini’s background as a stage designer educated at the renowned Bibbiena’s school.
On the walls, in addition to the grisaille paintings of the classical deities Apollo and Diana, there is the Allegory of the Four Seasons, depicted as couples of children in balance on the door frames, playing with the different features of each season.
Four powerful female figures represent the four continents and the book at the feet of Europa is engraved with the artist’s initials. In the four sections into which the vault is divided, couples of genes are at the side of Odescalchi’s emblem: an eagle, a lion, a ship and the signs of the Zodiac.
Four powerful males figures sustain the frames with the four elements - Air, Water, Fire and Earth -, accompanied by the respective symbols: flaming braziers for Fire, water plants, shells and corals for Water, vegetables Earth and birds for Air.
Villa Grazioli and its architecture
In the times when the Villa was built, it was made by two side fore-parts and a central portico on which the central body of the Villa stood. The architecture was inspired by Villa Farnesina in Rome by Baldassare Peruzzi.
It is with Baldassarre Erba that the main architectural works were realized, presumably between 1723 and 1743: he transformed the portico into a gallery and created a new building, which were subsequently decorated by Pannini between 1730 and 1740. The recovery and restoration work, as can be seen nowadays, was carried out by the Company Villa Grazioli, which bought the Villa in 1987. The restoration work took about 10 years.
The beautiful park of Villa
The area where the Villa stands is in a commanding position, below the slopes of Monte Tuscolo. The park that surrounds the Villa is more than 15.000 sq m and is predominantly rural.
The greenery is mainly arboreal, being composed in the past by fruit trees, lemon trees, a wineyard, a small kitchen garden and an Italian garden. Nowadays the park has old long trunk trees such as holm-oaks, Orientalis plane trees – it is thought they are the same frescoed in the Room of Eliseo of the Villa – Lebanon cedars, Deodara cedars, Jubaea Chilensis palms, Caucaso pines and sequoia. The horse-chestnuts along the sides of the entrance of the Villa have been removed during the restoration works.
In 1992 ADSI (Associazione Dimore Storiche Italiane – Italian Historic Residence Association) and FAI (Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano – Fund for the Italian Environment) advertised a national contest for the restoration of Villa Grazioli Old Park.: 26 groups of highly-qualified experts throughout Italy took part and the winning project was leaded by architect Romano Greco, which aimed at valorizing the existent trees such as holm-oaks, planes, cedars, as well as the bushes of box remaining from the Italian garden.