Villa Olmo: Centre for the Arts
Villa Olmo is the most celebrated and sumptuous of the historic homes of Como and one that made Como one of the driving forces of the Enlightenment in Italy. Simone Cantoni succeeded in realising the needs of a cultured and progressive aristocracy, bringing good taste to those buildings "remodelled in the modern fashion" while fully embracing the ideas of the Enlightenment at a time that saw Lombardy, and Milan in particular, become one of the liveliest centres in Europe.
In the words of the academic Nicoletta Ossanna Cavadini, it was a true "philosophical world" based on the proportions of the golden section. The architect was in tune with the personality of the principal Marchese Innocenzo Odescalchi who returned from Rome in 1780 with an up-to-date and cosmopolitan education and committed himself to a programme of cultural renewal of the whole Como area, including the building of a suburban villa in line with the reforming ideas of the enlightened thinkers.
Simone Cantoni (Muggio 1739-Gorgonzola 1818) was the most famous member of a family of master-builders and architects from the Ticino canton of Switzerland who had been working since the sixteenth century in the Ligurian Riviera and in France and Germany. He embraced a strict neoclassical architecture in which the references to the ancient world and to French culture contributed to the creation of a new language, though still formally complying with the classical principles and rules that had been taken up again in the eighteenth century.
The result was stylish works expressing high aesthetic and compositional values that fully met the time’s tenets of "good taste". Cantoni (seen above, in a painting of the time), over the course of his long career, built a hundred or so works in Lombardy. The repertory of villas by him in the Brianza and Como areas stand out as particularly good examples.
Villa Olmo was itself begun at the end of the eighteenth century and completed in 1812. It passed from the hands of the Odescalchi family to the Raimondi, and hence the Visconti di Modrone and finally in 1925 to the municipal authority which has used it to host cultural events and art exhibitions. It was in effect a visiting card for Cantoni that gave him the chance to build country houses such as Villa Giovio in Breccia and Villa Odescalchi at Fino Mornasco. In his later years he built the Seminario Maggiore and the liceo classico "Alessandro Volta" secondary school in Como.