Villa Features

The piano nobile and rustication

 

Design for a two storey villa of five bays

Design for a two storey villa of five bays, Lord Burlington, 1720s Enlarge image

Design for a two storey villa of five bays, Lord Burlington, 1720s
Elevation by Henry Flitcroft, 1720s
Copyright: RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Design for Palazzo da Monte, Vicenza

Design for Palazzo da Monte, Vicenza Enlarge image

Design for Palazzo da Monte, Vicenza
Andrea Palladio, 1540s
Copyright: RIBA Library Photographs Collection

A piano nobile is the main floor of a house, containing the reception rooms. Usually higher than the other floors, it is most commonly on the first floor, and has one or more shallower storeys above. As the most important storey of the building it is given greater prominence on the façade, often being slightly higher than the other storeys, and including decorative windows with elaborate surrounds.

A rusticated storey at ground level is often used to emphasise the elevated status of the piano nobile. Rustication can either be in masonry, or simulated in stucco, a hard-wearing, cement-based rendering. This is deliberately made to look like large individual stone blocks, separated from each other by deep joints, give a rough, bulky appearance.

The rich and bold texture created is sometimes further enhanced by treating the surface of the blocks in different ways. For example, a very irregular surface of wriggling grooves is called vermiculated (from the Latin vermis, meaning worm). A uniform surface pattern with bevelled joints known as “diamond pointed” might also be used.

These examples demonstrate both types of rustication. Although Palladio’s Palazzo da Monte is a town house, in Vicenza, it does retains some villa qualities. This drawing clearly illustrates how Palladio used both techniques to full effect.

The British example is an unexecuted design by Lord Burlington for a villa, drawn by Henry Flitcroft but modelled after a drawing by Inigo Jones. It is an excellent example of vermiculated rustication, and shows how it can be used to give a strong, masculine appearance to a ground storey, elevating the piano nobile and highlighting this upper storey's superiority and elegance.