The Villa d'Este is the most famous of all the Renaissance and Mannerist residences in Europe. One might well ask why. It is not that much bigger or more luxurious than the Villa Lante, not that much more stunning than Bomarzo.
It is perhaps because of the famous guests who resided at the Villa d'Este.
In the 19th century, the Cardinal of Hohenzollern allowed his best friend to stay there. This friend was Franz Liszt.
Liszt would come to Tivoli regularly, over a period of four years. There, he composed the famous "Jeux d'Eaux à la Villa d'Este".
During the 18th century, Hubert Robert and Fragonard accompanied the Abbot of Saint-Nom on his Italian voyage. These two artists sketched the most beautiful drawings to be found of the countryside. A century earlier, de Brosse wrote his most vibrant letters on Italian taste while residing there. Naturally, Montaigne visited the Villa d'Este.

The Villa d'Este was commissioned and built by Cardinal Ippolito d'Este.
Born in 1509, he was a man of the 16th century and the Mannerist generation. His roots were already Mannerist: he was the son of Lucrezia Borgia and the grandson of Pope Alexander VI. We can speak of Mannerist expressionism.
He was the only Cardinal who could say that he was the grandson of the Pope. It would seem that he never missed an opportunity to do so.
Lucrezia was Alexander VI's daughter. He arranged her marriage to Alfonso I, duke of Ferrara. Ippolito was the son of Lucrezia and Alfonso I.
Ippolito d'Este was a bishop at the age of two, an archbishop at the age of ten and a cardinal at thirty. At the age of forty-one, he came close to becoming Pope. A meteoric career. The papal throne was wrested from him by Julius III.
A dreadful rivalry existed between Ippolito and Julius III. The success of the latter brought about the former's exile. Julius III immediately sent him packing by naming him the Governor of Tivoli. This was extraordinarily clever of him: a governor could not leave the province he governed.
He thus imprisoned him in Tivoli, and the cardinal spent the last twenty years of his life there. From 1550 until his death in 1572, one of the most erudite, cultured, intelligent and disconcerting men in Europe created his dream world: the most fabulous Mannerist garden.

The garden of the Villa d'Este.

Some excellent artists worked at the Villa d'Este.

Pirro Ligorio collaborated with Ippolito for seventeen years.
Thomaso Chiruchi, the best hydraulic engineer of the 16th century.
Claude Venard, a Burgundian, the most extraordinary manufacturer of hydraulic organs in the world.
Three very good painters, Federico Zuccaro, Livio Agresti and Girolaio Luchiano.

We are in Tivoli, very near Rome. The countryside is beautiful. A modest villa, small and austere, stands in the center of the town of Tivoli, its main courtyard simply paved with black, white and red stones and a small, fake grotto, discreet, a sleeping Ariadne...