The Villa Wolkonsky was built in the 1890s by the descendants of the Russian Princess Zenaide Wolkonsky, wife of an Aide-de-Camp of Tsar Alexander I.
In 1830 Princess Zenaida Wolkonsky bought a large piece of farmland next to St John's Basilica to create a refuge, away from the hustle and bustle of central Rome, where she could entertain her artist and literary friends. Thirty-six spans of the Neronian aqueduct, built in the first century AD, run through the property, and the princess would build a villa resting on three of the arches.
Along the rest of the aqueduct she would develop a romantic-style garden, which would become famous for its roses and Roman artefacts, most of them from the tombs along the aqueduct's route.
After the death of the princess in 1862, her son Alexander lived in the villa and discovered the Roman tombs in tuff beyond the aqueduct. In the period of Rome's rapid expansion after 1870, much of the property was liquidated to develop the estate. These sales enabled the Princess's descendants, the Campanari family, to build a majestic new villa on the site. In the 1930s, major extension work was carried out on the villa, adding two wings and a fourth floor; at the same time, the Princess's original villa was enlarged.
With the passage of time and the change of ownership (the Villa was the seat of the German Embassy from the 1920s until 1943 and then, from 1947, it became the seat of the British Embassy), the Villa and its park underwent major transformations with respect to its original layout and the antiquities that adorned its avenues slowly declined, in some cases becoming oblivion: in fact, many artefacts were buried by the lush vegetation of the park and disappeared from view.
The Estate Division of the British Foreign Office takes care of the main Representation Rooms and almost all the paintings come from the State Art Collection.
Since around 2011 the Villa's grounds have undergone an ambitious restoration programme, in order to restore the spirit of the princess' original design. The numerous marble artefacts 'rediscovered' as the original paths through the park were unearthed were mostly in a poor condition.
After years of work, thanks to the contribution of Shell Italy, the restoration of the Wolkonsky collection has been completed, and their new display has been completed. Some of the exhibits, including the beautiful family funerary portraits and some splendid bas-relief sarcophagi, which are not particularly delicate from the point of view of conservation, have been placed along the avenue running alongside the aqueduct in order to recreate, albeit in a new way, the original charm of Princess Wolkonsky's garden.
Wolkonsky Greenhouse Museum
Most of the exhibits, including numerous other sarcophagi and bas-relief fragments, votive statuettes, inscriptions and architectural elements, are housed in the new Wolkonsky Greenhouse Museum, two 19th-century greenhouses connected to each other and located near the entrance gate to the residence, which have been restored and prepared to house the hundreds of exhibits that needed to be protected from the weather and to offer visitors the chance to admire the collection without interfering with the security requirements of the Residence, while at the same time restoring an original combination of antiquity and garden.
The importance of the Wolkonsky Collection lies not only in the quantity and variety of the finds (almost all of which come from burials, most of them from those excavated along the aqueduct, belonging to the vast Esquiline Necropolis and dating from between the 1st century BC and the 3rd century AD), but also in the presence of individual finds from the different periods. ), as well as in the presence of individual finds of great historical and artistic value, such as, for example, the funerary portraits, among which the one of the Servilii stands out (1), the sarcophagi decorated in bas-relief - the one with garlands (2) and the one with the Corsa delle Bighe (3) are remarkable -, the statue of Athena Parthenos (4) and, finally, the Musician Satyr, a beautiful life-size statue reassembled from 15 fragments found in random order in the garden, the last item to be restored and the first to be admired when entering the new Museum of the Greenhouses.
The villa is the residence of the British Ambassador in Rome
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