A Franciscan monastery had existed on the tip of the peninsula of Dosso d'Avedo since the 13th century. The two towers which remain on the property are the campanili of the monastery's church. After failing in his attempts to buy the nearby Isola Comacina Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini purchased the property in 1785. In 1787 he converted the monastery building into a villa for use during the summer and added a loggia, which allowed viewers to otain two different panoramas of the lake.
After the cardinal’s death in 1796, the villa passed to his nephew, Luigi Porro Lambertenghi. During Lambertenghi's ownership the villa became a seat of republican activity and members of the Carbonari met here to discuss the unification of Italy. Among Lambertenghi's guests at the villa were the writer and patriot Silvio Pellico, who tutored Lambertenghi's sons. In 1820 Pellico was arrested at the villa by the Austrian government which forced Lambertenghi to move to Belgium, where he was supported by the Arconati Visconti family.
Lambertenghi subsequently sold the villa to his friend, Giuseppe Arconati Visconti, grandfather of Luchino Visconti. Visconti made improvements to its gardens and the loggia. To this day the balustrade in front of the church bears the Visconti emblem of a serpent with a man in its mouth. During the period of Visconti ownership the villa hosted politicians and writers Giovanni Berchet, Alessandro Manzoni, Giuseppe Giusti, as well as the artist Arnold Böcklin. The gradual decline of the family resulted in a lack of interest in the villa, which for more than 30 years was left to fall into a state of neglect.
Just prior to the commencement of World War I American businessman Butler Ames saw the villa for the first time. He made an offer to purchase it from the Arconati Visconti family and was initially rejected. He kept returning with ever larger cash offers until in 1919 he was successful in obtaining ownership. Ames renovated the villa and its garden.
In 1974, Ames's heirs sold the villa to businessman and explorer Count Guido Monzino (leader of the first Italian expedition to climb Mount Everest. While Monzino left the exterior essentially unchanged he had the interior of the villa completely re-decorated, installing artifacts acquired on his expeditions as well as important pieces of English Georgian and French antique furniture from the 18th and 19th centuries, Beauvais tapestries, French boiseries and Oriental carpets. In addition after the assassination of Aldo Moro in 1978 by the Red Brigade. Monzino worried that he may be on their list, added a system of hidden passages, linking parts of the property.
Monzino died in 1988 and left the villa along with most of the Dosso d'Avedo and an endowment to pay for maintenance, to the Fondo per l'Ambiente Italiano, the National Trust of Italy. Its grounds now form part of the Grandi Giardini Italiani.
Today the Villa del Balbianello is the most visited among the 52 FAI properties with over 90,000 visitors in 2015.References:
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.