The neo-classical building is described by one guide book as ‘sober’. But that certainly doesn’t apply to the external steps – a symmetrical ballustraded arrangement of diagonal stairways, returns and prominent central balconies. There is even a visual link between the ^ shape of the stairs and the v shaped top of the main gates.
The building itself has two floors – the first housing a ‘museum’ and the second consisting of rooms of furnishings. It would be more accurate to call the first floor a ‘gallery’, since it contains pictures, a plaster frieze and medals and, above all, a number of marble statues.
The statues are examples of the academic erotic art of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which encouraged naturalistic images of naked bodies, as long as they were related to a classical theme. And since such themes dealt with the exploits of gods and heroes, those bodies tended to look extremely fit. But on the evidence of this collection, not all bodies were treated the same. You can’t help noticing that male genitalia are sculpted in great detail but the women have no sexual organs – just smooth, ‘unblemished’ surfaces. What, I wonder, does that say about the psychology of the age?
Anyway, this brings us to the most famous piece of sculpture in the villa, which is a Venus and Psyche copied by a pupil of the academic artist Canova from his master’s original sculpture. This appears to conform to the conventions of erotic academic art in that Cupid’s sexual organs are both detailed and fully exposed, while Psyche’s lower half is just about ‘covered’ by some kind of material.
But it appears that choosing this particular theme gave Canova the opportunity to take the detailed representation of male sexual organs a stage further. If you can’t see it immediately, imagine the hour hand of your watch pointing to about four o’clock. This image is in keeping with both Cupid’s nature and the particular myth, which ends up with Cupid and Psyche married with kids. Nevertheless, it’s surprising to see such sexy sculpture in such a ‘sober’ building.
Having toured the house you move into the gardens, which are good exercise partly because they’re on the side of a steep hill and partly because the minimalist approach to signposting means you get lost frequently – this is one place where you definitely won’t be led up the garden path.
We visited the villa at the end of May, expecting to find the huge banks of azaleas and rhododendrons shown in the guide books: but they weren’t there. We still don’t know why. Our suspicion was that a few days of heavy rain might have knocked the flowers off. But two English ladies we met suggested that the season for them was already over. That would certainly explain the lack of signposting in the garden – there was nothing to direct people to.
Anyway, to sum up the Villa Carlotta, it’s a building that puts on a sober, classical expression, continued out into the garden, but is actually remarkable for the theatrical nature of its external stairways and the sexuality of its sculptures. They are what makes Villa Carlotta a must – see attraction for us.
You can get to Villa Carlotta by ferry or C10 bus. There are also a lot of parking spaces for cars in the vicinity of the Villa.
Between April and September: open daily 9.00 – 6.00 p.m.
From 15 March until end of March; and during the month of October: open daily from 9.00 – 12.00 and 2.00 – 4.30.
Adults: € 8,00
Seniors (over 65): € 4,00
Students: € 4,00
Children (under 6): free entrance
For more information visit Villa Carlotta’s website