In the early 1800s, Giovanni Battista Sommariva bought a series of masterpieces by the greatest artists of his era, including Antonio Canova and Bertel Thorvaldsen and those works are the most important part of the current exhibition layout.
Of the collection’s objets d’art remain still in the Tremezzo villa, there is the stunning 1823 canvas by Francesco Hayez, The Kiss, depicting Romeo and Juliet.
On the second floor, the private apartments, furniture and objects of Princess Charlotte, who was given the villa in the mid-nineteenth century as a wedding present when she married George II, Grand Duke of Sachsen-Meiningen.
Villa Carlotta also has a Historical Archive. If you would like to consult them follow this link.
This is the largest and most impressive chamber in the Villa, embellished by the great ornamental scheme that unfolds on the vaulted ceiling decorated by the artist Lodovico Pogliaghi (1857-1950) at the behest of Duke Georg II.
This is where the journey of discovery begins for visitors.
The group of Cupid and Psyche was created between 1819 and 1824 by Adamo Tadolini, Canova’s favourite pupil, to whom the master had donated the plaster model of the sculpture – now in a private collection – authorizing him to reproduce it as he pleased. The work depicts the god of love as, with a kiss, he is about to awaken Psyche from the sleep into which she had fallen after her journey to the underworld.
This room contains some of the masterpieces of painting from the Sommariva collection. The place of honour goes to The Last Kiss of Romeo and Juliet painted by Francesco Hayez in 1823, inspired by Shakespeare’s tragedy.
This room was selected by Giovanni Battista Sommariva to contain one of the showpieces of his collection, the statue of Palamedes by Antonio Canova. Sculpted in Rome in 1803-1808, it portrays the hero of Greek mythology, celebrated for exposing the deception of Ulysses, when he feigned madness to avoid taking part in the Trojan war.
Georg II of Saxe-Meiningen commissioned Lodovico Pogliaghi (1857-1950) to renew the decoration of some rooms in the Villa in around 1910. Here the artist was inspired by Pompeian painting, evoked by the red tones, and by Renaissance grotesque. He created a lively and refined decor resting on the dialogue between painting and stucco reliefs.
Around the walls some views record the appearance of the dwelling in the 19th century. The earliest, drawing on the tradition of 18th-century vedutismo (view painting), is by the French painter Jean Joseph Xavier Bidauld from 1819. A more innovative approach emerges from the canvas by Giuseppe Bisi from 1823, in which nature is the dominant feature in response to the impulses of Romanticism.
This room contains some neoclassical plaster models. Outstanding among them is Antonio Canova’s sculpture of the Muse Terpsichore (1811).
On the walls are presented the models of some reliefs of the Arco della Pace (Arch of Peace) in Milan modelled by Luigi Acquisti and Camillo Pacetti in around 1811. The model by Luigi Acquisti representing the Entry of the Emperor Francis I to Vienna is related to the same sculptural structure, the most important in neoclassical Milan.
Giovanni Battista Sommariva’s Parisian mansion contained one of the most famous works in his collection: Antonio Canova’s Penitent Magdalene (1794-1796). The one in this room is a replica commissioned by the collector specially for the Villa at Tremezzo.
At that time Sommariva had devised a setting that exalted the emotional charge of this extraordinary sculpture, placing it by itself in a room lined with drapes of grey silk and positioning a mirror behind it, in order to allow a simultaneous vision of the beautiful nude. The original Canova marble is now in the Musei di Strada Nuova in Genoa.
Giovanni Battista Sommariva (1757-1826) is depicted together with his sons Emilio (1780- 1811) and Luigi (1792-1838), both officers in the French army, and his nephew Emilio Jr, whom we also see in a painting by Eliseo Sala and a plaster bust by Benedetto Cacciatori.
The plaster cameos in the room are part ofa collection made in Rome in around 1820 by Giovanni Liberotti and consisting of over 400 items. They reproduce a selection of famous architecture and artworks, found in Rome, Florence, Milan, Paris and in some large private collections.
Kept in wooden cases that were easy to transport and provided with captions, these plaster cameos were one of the souvenirs most eagerly coveted by travellers and art lovers from all over Europe, to preserve their memory of the Grand Tour in Italy. The statues arranged along the walls come from the spires of Milan Cathedral, from which they were removed for conservation in the 1950s.
The portraits of some members of Napoleon’s family are flanked by the series of prints of the Fasti, an account of the feats of Bonaparte in peace and war, from his first Italian campaign in 1796 until the victory of Friedland in 1807 against Tsar Alexander I of Russia.
The artistic taste of the Napoleonic age is reflected in two large porcelain “fuseaux”, vases made in Paris in about 1820-1830. Decorated with motifs inspired by the antique, they draw on models of the imperial manufactory at Sèvres.
This room recalls the presence of Princess Charlotte of Prussia, a cultured and refined woman educated at the court of Berlin, through period furnishings and ornaments. In particular, a colour print reproduces a portrait of her at the age of twenty by the painter Samuel Diez, a year after her marriage to Georg II.
Some furnishings date from the period after Charlotte’s death (29-30 March 1855), and reflect the taste of the other two wives of Duke Georg II: Feodora of Hohenlohe-Langenburg (1839 -1872) and Ellen Franz (1839-1923).
This room preserves the great banner of the duchy of Saxe-Meiningen, painted in tempera. The ducal coat of arms and the heraldic symbols of the territories belonging to it are flanked by the colours of Saxony in use since 1818, white and green.
The precious volumes on botany and literature in German and the collection of colour photographic reproductions from around 1900 also date from the Duke’s time. Among them we recognize portraits by Jan van Eyck and Roger van der Weyden, 15th-century Flemish painters, bearing witness to his passion for the figurative arts.
The room contains its original sumptuous furniture veneered in reddish mahogany, with numerous
applications in gilt bronze: a large wardrobe with bronze capitals reproducing Egyptian heads; the
pair of beds decorated with mythological figures; and the elegant dressing table.
At the centre of the
room stands a Neogothic cherrywood cradle with gilt bronze decorations and mother-of-pearl
inlays. There are three tempera images of angels in rich golden frames on the wall, dated latter half
of the nineteenth century and inspired by ancient models.
The room is furnished with a large 18th-century tapestry woven in Brussels in the workshop of François van der Borght. It depicts a typical subject of Flemish painting: a cheerful outdoor peasant festival.
The visitor will also find a Renaissance painting from the collection of Duke Georg II. This is a Madonna with the Infant Jesus and Saint John the Baptist from the early 16th century by an artist inspired by Perugino models.
The room has French Neoclassical furniture, richly decorated and dating back to the late-nineteenth
century. In the centre a table is laden with porcelain and on the wall hangs the plaster medallion
portrait of Duke Georg II (1911) by Kasper von Zumbusch (1830–1915). Along one wall a series of
prints reproduces Andrea Mantegna’s Triumph of Caesar.
The furniture displayed in this room is an emblematic example of the taste of Duke Georg II. It contains sumptuous furnishings, embellished with inserts in gilt bronze and made in the second half of the 19th century.
On one of the walls you can see the sketch of the fresco of the atrium of the Gallery depicting Bacchus and Ariadne on the Isle of Naxos, painted in the late 19th century by Ernest Saxe-Meiningen, son of the Duke and Feodora.
Between the two windows there is an Odalisque by Francesco Hayez, while on the left we find a 19th-century copy of a famous masterpiece of Italian Renaissance painting, the Venus of Urbino by Titian.
Different styles and materials are combined in the furniture of this sitting room. Especially
interesting are the walnut chairs and chests, in Neoreneaissance style, dating back to the second half of
the nineteenth century. The plaster bust is of Bernard of Saxe-Meiningen (c. 1850) and is attributed
to Pompeo Marchesi.
Prints on the walls are of Duke Georg II, and there is also a large mid-1800s watercolour depicting
a Lesson of Catechism, by an anonymous artist. Other prints are part of a series of forty
photogravure reproductions of paintings by Rembrandt, made in Amsterdam, in 1898.