When a Palladian villa outside Venice is your country home, being house-proud comes with the territory.
But the Gables, who spend summers and winters in Atlanta, aren’t trying to prove anything here other than their good fortune as they tell readers what it’s like to live in such a monument. In 1987, hankering for a place in the country and not finding one in New Hampshire, Sally Gable (whose sensible, cultured voice provides the first-person narration) spied an ad in the New York Times Sunday Magazine about the availability of a residence by 16th-century master Andrea Palladio. Two years of negotiations followed before the superb piece of Renaissance architecture was in their hands. Sally doesn’t come right out and state the price, though readers won’t begrudge the Gables their wherewithal (Carl is a lawyer and businessman), for it is clear from the outset that they not only cherish the villa but feel a deep sense of responsibility for it. Whenever repairs are needed, they always ask: How would Palladio have dealt with this problem? Of the 18 authenticated Palladian structures in existence, Villa Cornaro is a humdinger, with both recessed and projecting double porticos, 104 frescoes and abundant statuary—not to mention scorpions, pigeons “depositing yucky acidic gray excrement over our sixteenth-century brick and terrazzo floors,” a leaky roof, a primitive kitchen and some rotting joists. Though Sally pays respect to the town, its market and its citizens, her principal concern is the villa. She ferrets out its history, figures out where it fits in the Palladian oeuvre and tries to understand its small mysteries, from why there are no frescoes in some of the main rooms (no need for trompe l’oeil when the columns and niches and statues are real) to why tunnels lead hundreds of feet to the lake (primitive air conditioning, maybe).
A high-toned social and architectural history of a grand house, warmed by un-self-conscious love. (28 illustrations)