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Shell House Showcase: Palace of Wonders, Litta, Italy

Another European visit here, but my word aren't they beautiful?! Our next showcase takes us to a beautiful villa in the North of Italy near Milan.


Villa Lainate and Nymphaeum, Litta, north of Milan


Built in c.1585-1589 this Nymphaeum has considerable shell decoration and ‘trick’ fountains, with rusticated baroque in many chambers.


It was restored 1970. Mosaics abound and the Rotunda of Mercury leads to a large inner garden with trees. Crossing this to the nymphaeum the wonders begin.



There are bathing images – Neptune, for example. As we enter, we are soaked. Indeed, surprises from hidden fountains and jets (scherzi d’acqua) pervade the entire building in a myriad of ways from the piano area onwards.



In the tall rotunda we see implanted cockles, ormers, oysters and clams. The floor offers a pebble design. There is a distinct underworld theme with four small shell grottoes evident with pools. Rooms run off the rotunda to both sides. There is a swirl of grey and white mosaics – cooling, while painted red and yellow mythical creatures parade the ceiling.


This to the right. In what might be said to be the fourth room we find a large shell square marked out. In a grotto fountain a copper hen, in a font of marble, lays a golden egg accompanied by four spouts of water. A variety of shells abound including a spider conch.


Back at the rotunda one is aware of eight life-sized classical figures above holding orbs and globes. The water surprises dominate here. We view a sea monster on a ceiling, other fountains, niches and erotic statuary. Walls are high, tufa decorated and flooring is solid.




The final extraordinary walk round is through a serpentine, canalised passage with life-size statuary of Venus bathing (and other deities). These three superb figures constitute an inner nymphaeum which then leads to further gardens via a grotto with mirrors and stalactites, shells and putti.


More details about our visits to Milan and Lake Como can be seen in our Italy section of the website.

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