Once upon a time...
As far as the eye can see, nothing stands between Villa Lattuada, isolated in its green oasis, and the distant peaks of the Resegone mountain range.
“It is impossible to describe the elegance and attractive quality of the Villa. One’s eyes never tire of the view and sublime air of this enchanting sojourn, with its picturesque backdrop of distant mountains and nearby rolling hills that refresh and rejuvenate one’s vision” (so wrote an unknown author in Ville e Castelli d’Italia, 1907).
The origins of this distinctive and poetic place go back to the annals of history.
Villa Lattuada is situated on the bluff where historic St. James Priory once rose. At the beginning of the 1500s, the Dominican Friars of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan built the small priory on the grounds of a pre-existing XIII century country chapel dedicated to Saint James the Apostle (mentioned in 1288 by Gottofredo da Bussero in his “Liber Notitiae Sanctorum Mediolani”). Filippo Maria Sforza, the second born son of the Duke of Milan, Francesco Sforza and Bianca Maria Visconti, helped financially its construction of the monastery with a legacy of over 200 ducats; other monies bequeathed over time, increased the property holdings.
Fra Michele Ghisleri, a Dominican prior and inquisitor general for Lombardy, often spent long periods of rest at St. James. In 1567, the year after he was elected Pope Pius V, he granted a 7 years’ indulgence to all those who visited it.
In 1652, the papal directive of Pope Innocent X decreed that the members of religious communities of fewer than 6 monks be aggregated in large houses for each Order, thus effectively suppressing small monasteries such as that of St. James. In the midst of the vicissitudes to re-establish and then suppress the priory, the Friars of Saint James continued their mission of preaching the faith and teaching the male children of Casate to read and write. In 1785, the property was put up for sale. Two noble brothers, Don Apollonio and Monseigneur Don Giulio Casati bought the monastery which was then deconsecrated and closed. This effectively put an end to its long and productive history, leaving behind the memory of a place well-loved by all.
A castle, or perchance a flight of fancy
In more recent times...
Between 1883-1885, Giuseppe Lattuada commissioned an architect from Brescia, Antonio Tagliaferri, to design and build the extraordinary Villa Lattuada right on the bluff overlooking the distant Resegone mountains where the ruins of the old priory stood. The villa, perhaps one of his finest buildings, is a fascinating synthesis of eclectic and romantic styles with elegant white marble embellished facades and two castellated panoramic towers. Its pinnacles, pointed gables and steeply slanting ridge roof bring to mind German castles and Gothic cathedrals, the great architect’s distinctive hallmark. Tagliaferri satisfied his taste for faithfully reconstructing a manor house as best he could, by inserting so many different Tudor-style architectural elements that, as he wrote in 1881, “one feels obliged to bow and think of queens, ladies-in-waiting and pages; the Villa evokes the same fantasies as does the reading of historic novels or the glimpse of ruined crenellated castles.”
Tagliaferri’s architecture was grandiose in style and new to the Brianza area where the tradition of building stately villas was more commonplace; however it was a style that blended perfectly into the surrounding romantic countryside. Even King Umberto I was so taken by the incomparable view and fascination of the regal villa that he chose it for his clandestine sojourns.
From afar Villa Lattuada appears suspended between earth and sky: a gleaming castle to watch over the tranquil Lombardy countryside.