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'Stable' from The World of INTERIORS

Article from the World of Interiors about the Stable of the castle

The stables  you see here form part of the estate buildings at the Castle of Thiene, near Vicenza in the northern Italy. Though certainly not on the scale of any of those mentioned above, they reflected absolutely the noble owner’s wish t see the pedigree of their horses matched by suitability impressive architecture.


The Porto family, one of the richest in the province, had a passion for all things equestrian. They started building the castle in the mid-15th century, and through the Renaissance added frescoes to the walls of the main Fireplace Room, a new winter garden, a grotto and a well near the main gate by Andrea Palladio. On one of the outside walls of the castle were painted horses, but they have long disappeared. On the first floor four huge equestrian portrait still hang, all depicting a Porto knight with a different breed.


They bred horses, bought and sold them. Perhaps surprisingly it was not until the 17th century that Scipione Porto decided to give his animals their just deserts. The block was designed by Francesco Muttoni, who held the office of public architect in nearby Vicenza, completing many significant villas and palaces (including another stable at Villa Valmarana ai Nani, half an hour away) .


Doubtless these stables were built to impress incoming buyers. Certainly, they broke new ground. The plain exterior gives no clues as to what’s inside. The 32 stalls, 16 per side, have grand columns of red marble from Asiago dividing the spaces. Atop each column is and individually sculpted stone putto – treated with lime for pest control – from the Marinali workshops in Vicenza. Carved hay stalls, made in the barchesse (agricultural workshops) of the villa, line the walls.

The striking chain-motif pattern on the floor is constructed using red stone from the same Asiago quarries (though processed in a different way to the columns) and local white stone, pockmarked in order to assist the horses’ stability. White stone is also set at the front of each stall in herringbone fashion – which wears down more quickly. At the center of the stables, where the horses where washed down and later paraded for potential owners, is a miniature arena of pebbles inlaid into a cement base.


There are unusual features. By the entrance is a trap-door, under which runs a stream. Water was pumped up from here and flowed into the stone channels – suitability inclined – to carry the muck into drainage area below. Wrought-iron hooks facing out from the columns were used for the tack and bridles, while the iron bars that hang down on the inner side of the columns were used as ‘sliders’, enabling the groom to lift the chain that held the battifianco (literally: ‘flank bumper’). That separated the horses, so that they could move from one stall to another without having to go out and in again. It also allowed the horse to be turned around so he could exit the stall walking forwards rather than in reverse. At the centre of the stable was a small opening in the exterior wall which allowed to head groom, who lived in an adjacent house, to keep and eye on the animals without disturbing them.

These stables, although not on the grand scale of others of the era, were carefully planned and creatively designed to suit the family’s needs. Impressive but hardly over the top by the standards of the day. The Portos made a family alliance with the Colleonis at the turn of the 19th century and continued as joint owners of the castello until 1018, when the last of the line died childless the estate passes to a cousin, Antonio Thiene, whose descendants remain owners and guardians of the property.


With the outbreak of the World War I I came a watershed in the role horses played. The advance of the combustion engine soon undermined the principal function of the animal as a means of the transport and haulage. With that change came the demise of stable architecture. Of course, horses have continued to be enjoyed for racing and hunting, but fundamental shift had occurred. The stable at Thiene a vivid reminder of the times when these noblest creatures stood at the center of the Western culture, and their abode was living expression of its importance.


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