A reader's review:
Another excellent book by professor David R. Coffin, produced years ago under the aegis of Princeton, and thus the scholarship is outstanding.
The book contains precious information on about two dozens villas; I was particularly interested in three Villa Giulia, Villa Farnesina and Villa d'Este. These have been long favorites, and I wanted to learn more.
Villa Giulia description offers insight for who was responsible for what there - allegedly, the overall architectural design of the Villa is by Vasari, reviewed by Michelangelo. Current attribution speaks of Vignola being responsible for the overall design, with Bartolomeo Ammanati designing the fabled nymphaeum, pinnacle of mannerist style. There is great information in the book about its previous frescos and sculptures, decorating the interior; since nothing survives from 16th century in this particular Villa, it is interesting to read about what was there, and of course, regret that we will never see that splendor again. The book speaks about inhabitants, but curiously omits the notorious fact that Pope Julius III, since his ownership of the Villa starting in 1551, devoted much of his life there to delights with his favorite Innocenzo Ciocchi Del Monte, 17 years old at the time of Giovanni Maria Ciocchi del Monte was elected Pope Julius III.
Much better preserved is Villa Farnesina, and the book gives a splendid account on the history of the Villa, its ownership by Farnese family and then of the major art patron Sienise banker Agostino Chigi, who financed Rafael's masterpiece frescos in Loggia of Galatea and Loggia of Cupid and Psyche. The whole history of Rome is briefly reviewed along the history of the Villa, whose land Chigi bought in 1505, a year before he and his heirs were made members of then current Pope Julius II family, the Della Rovere. There are descriptions of Baldassare Peruzzi work, although at the time of publishing, in 1977, not all frescos were denoted; since then extensive research obviously produced great results, and now every medallion and detail is described in current literature on the Villa. This Villa is an exquisite creation of Italian Renaissance, and the pages devoted to it are full of valuable information on its architectural details as well.
The third Villa of great interest was Villa d'Este; anyone who has ever been to that amazing place, from Michel Montaigne in 16th century till today, had never left unimpressed. Numerous artists immortalized that unique garden and architectural union in their pictures; Franz Liszt composed a marvelous opus "Les jeux d'eaux a la Villa d'Este" upon visiting the wondrous place.
Villa d'Este was built by Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, the son of Duke Alfonso I of Ferrara and Lucrezia Borgia; the construction started in 1550. Ippolito d'Este was set to outperform his contemporary and arch-rival cardinal Farnese with his Palazzo Farnese in Caprarola (which is also greatly described in the book).
Concluding, the book is a cornucopia of knowledge, and no review can do justice. It certainly enticed me to visit Palazzo Farnese at Caprarola and also to study Villa Medici, another treasure, which is a stone throw from Spanish Steps and Trinita del Monte. Also, it is encouraging to realize that today all these Villas appear in splendor, compared to photos in the book taken before 1977 - one good things about modernity seems to be that great care is taken about these irreplaceable monuments of the past, and this is what makes Citta Eterna and Italy in general an endless source of fascination.