Pictures, photos. Images of Villa Palagonia, Sicily, the Baroque chateau & grotesque statues. In 1705 Francesco Gravina, prince of Palagonia and Knight of the Golden Fleece, commissioned Dominican Monk and architect, Tommaso Maria Napoli, to build him a Villa. The resulting Baroque Villa Palagonia is a fine example of the style complete with a lavish mirrored ball room and sumptuous decorations. This was an age of excess and the Villas that the aristocracy built had to outshine their neighbours.
When Francesco's grandson, the hunchback Ferdinando Gravina Alliata, inherited the Villa Palagonia things changed dramatically. It is fair to say that Ferdinando was eccentric in the extreme and his mind had probably been warped by the stigma of his hunchback. He hung mirrors that distorted the reflections of his visitors and hid spikes under velvet cushions. He placed grotesque statues at the gates of the villa Palagonia which led to it being known as the "Villa of Monsters".
Grotesques were part of the theatrical style of the Baroque as can be seen in the paintings of Gaetano Gandolfi, but Ferdinando took the practice to a malicious level. His wife had many lovers so in revenge Ferdinando commissioned statues of them to be made. The result were cruel grotesque caricatures sculpted in rough tuff volcanic stone that he arranged along the garden wall of the Villa Palagonia for all to see. As the main rooms of the Villa are on the first floor this meant that the statues were at eye level whenever Ferdinando and his wife glanced out of the window.
History does not record the effect of the statues had on Fernando's wife or her lovers but it does record the outrage of Goethe who visited Bagheria as part of The Grand Tour. He described hideous depictions of hunchbacks, dwarfs, Turks, men and women with animal bodies or double headed monsters. Goethe described 200 statues, of which 60 remain today, and his indignation made the Villa Palagonia a "must see" for aristocrats and the wealthy from all over Europe who took The Grand Tour of Italy and Sicily.