If you read my book A Beautiful Woman in Venice or A Venetian Affair by Andrea di Robilant or if you’re just a fan of Giustiniana Wynne, you may remember hearing about the villa named Altichiero, owned by Angelo Querini. Giustiniana was the “lady of the house” when she would visit Angelo there, as they hosted a literary gathering filled with intellectuals of the 18th century. They might sip pinot grigio made from grapes that grew nearby, discuss Voltaire as they strolled by his statue on the grounds, or examine Rousseau’s revolutionary ideas while convening in the salon.
These statues that Giustiniana mentioned were originally sculpted by Antoine Houdon, though we think that the ones at Altichiero were copies. Drawings of them are not included in Giustiniana’s book, though here are copies provided by my friend Adriano. The sculptures were displayed on a ground floor corridor on special shelves where visitors would pass by.
Other statues are depicted in the book, such as Greek figures like Phocion. There are 29 drawings in all by Giovanni de Pian. Both the book and the villa contained many Masonic images and symbols. The base of this one translates as, “in winter or summer, both near and far, while we are living and after….”
Angelo Querini was a senator and a purveyor of high culture in his times. Giustiniana Wynne, an innovative writer to be reckoned with, chose to honor him and his villa by penning this volume in French. She intended it as a guidebook to the buildings and grounds and also as a “philosophical journey” that meandered through the theme of women’s equality and education. Giustiniana posited these ideas before Mary Wollstonecraft published “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” yet her contributions are largely unknown. Travelers on the Grand Tour of Europe often dropped in at Altichiero, and Giustiniana’s book Alticchiero won favorable reviews. Many would drop in for the engaging conversation. (Note on spelling: Her book title shows two “c’s” while the place name is generally spelled with one “c.”)
All you traveler types are now longing to visit this beautiful villa along the Brenta outside Venice. Alas, it no longer exists. The statues are no more, the villa razed to rubble and carted away. But this lovely book from 1787 lets us peek into Giustiniana’s and Angelo’s world.
Thank you to my friend Adriano who shares gems from his library with me, so that I may share them with you. He told me this story about how he got the book: “In 2008 I had been in Padua to look for the tomb of Giustiniana in the church of San Benedetto but I could not find it. I returned to Venice and went by chance to Lineadacqua; on that day they had exposed for the first time the book of GW. Perhaps the ghost of G, who was in the church, followed me up to Venice and brought me to the showcase of Luca’s shop. The book had been in a Rome bookshop, and afterwards had ended up in the United States from where it had just returned.”