Once upon a time wealthy fabric merchants built for themselves a palazzo in then rural 15th-century Milan, where within its gardens Leonardo da Vinci strolled to recharge while working on “The Last Supper” in nearby Santa Maria delle Grazie. Belonging to the court of the Sforzas, the Atellani’s built their palazzo near the noble family seat, Sforza Castle, heralding the projection of Milan’s social life within the palazzo’s walls during the Renaissance. It was here, at Palazzo Atellani, that epicurean banquets and midnight dances in candlelit rooms and in the gardens provided the atmosphere for elegant women meeting honored cavaliers, senators, arms men, and architects of the dukedom. But not for long, as the Sforza dukedome collapsed in 1499 along with their wealth, their palazzo falling into disrepair as the centuries progressed.
Fast forward, 1920: the great grand-uncle of the present owner, who resides on the ground floor with his brothers and sisters, saved the palazzo from further deterioration by purchasing it. Architect and designer Piero Castellini Baldiserra relayed to House Beautiful how “Even as a child in the 1950’s I remember fields of cultivated land just outside the house” – difficult to imagine in the Milan of today.
Piero’s grandfather, the architect Piero Portaluppi, restored and expanded the palazzo in his own free-spirited way beginning in 1920. If his name rings familiar it should: he designed Villa Necchi, its restrained modern glamour made famous once again in the 2009 movie I Am Love.
The magic begins once you leave behind the bustling city streets and enter the ordered decay of the central courtyard, where ancient wisteria frames a tableau of stone carvings, columns and capitals. Throughout the palazzo’s gardens and within its rooms the present owner, Piero Castellini, has curated an expansive collection of Greek and Roman antiquities and a curious assortment of objects.
Utterly breathtaking and fantastical, the oft photographed, published, Googled, and “Pinned” room at Palazzo Atellani is the entrance hall, which the current Piero aptly calls the winter garden. Its trompe l’oeil walls depicting a series of botanical studies were painted in the 1920’s by a pupil of Portaluppi . Set within successive grids to imitate framing, verdant foliage reaches upward toward a faux tented ceiling rendered in the same diluted teal, a “sea” of mosaic “waves” below. Filled with stacks of Castellini’s ancient books, pictures and frames (some empty), and an assortment of curiosities, I am seduced by the mysteries contained within and want to explore its secrets further.
The bronze greyhound once belonged to Maria Callas; Piero Portaluppi designed the mosaic floors.; the Piedmont Carrara marble bust is 18th-century.
A more recent photo taken by Richard Powers reveals a chest displaying Castellini’s collection of busts standing in for a bench piled with books. Through the doors to the left is the sitting room, to the right the dining room.
The latest reincarnation of the winter garden, as featured in the February issue of Italian AD, features a much simplified and lighter aesthetic with fewer collections and provincial painted furniture. While this room would be beautiful empty, I much prefer the mysterious allure of its previous incarnation.
A door bears four original drawings from the book Antiquités étrusques, grecques et romaines tirées du cabinet de M. Hamilton from 1766.
The salon featured butter yellow walls and striped silk curtains in Tivol from Lelievre and a rich pairing of furnishings when first published by House Beautiful in 2004, including a Louis XII stool as coffee table, a Louis XVI armchair from Piedmont covered in vintage needlepoint, and a custom sofa covered in a deep goffered velvet.
Still later, the sitting room retained its Italian noble grandeur and interesting mix of styles and periods, as photographed by Richard Powers in the above two images.
In an early photo ochre silk curtains and Venetian red lacquered 18th-century dining chairs counter the cool minty green walls – which apparently read darker here than in reality. Many of the fabrics, such as the striped silk covering the dining chair in the foreground, come from the Castellini family line of textiles, C&C.
A later photo of the dining room by Richard Powers insinuates a change in color for the walls from green to gray but a recent photo, below, suggests otherwise. It might be agreed that this last photo of the dining room exhibits the true mint green described by House Beautiful.
The dining room appearing much as it did when first photographed eleven years ago.
Alternating stripes of a blue and green wallpaper by Tessuti Mimma Gini cover the walls of the family sitting room, featuring a grand walnut and oak bookcase from a Tuscan pharmacy beneath portraits of famous Italian painters of the 16th, 17th and 18th-centuries, and Piero’s collection of 1600 pieces of marble excavated from the ruins of ancient Rome (top three photos). Beyond the red silk covered chaise longue is the family dining room.
A hand-painted forest scene in the family dining room invokes the rural elegance of an Italian country house. The inlaid doors are surrounded by Fior di Pesco marble.
In the sala dello zodiaco zodiac symbols designed by Piero Portaluppi decorate the walls and floors.
Another dining room, perhaps the breakfast room, was photographed by Richard Powers and, as with many of the photos he photographed, discovered at The Caledonian Mining Expedition Company blogpost.
In a bedroom a painted settee covered in Pierre Frey’s toile de Nantes is accented with pillows covered in the family’s C&C Caramel silk.
One of the bedrooms, as photographed by Richard Powers.
A view of the palazzo and its gardens as photographed by Richard Powers.
And again here, as photographed by Piero’s daughter Olympia for Italian AD.
Photos by Simon Watson for House Beautiful, September 2004
First photo by Davide Lovatti for T Magazine, March 1, 2013
Piero’s daughter, Olympia, photographed his apartment for the February, 2015, issue of Italian AD and is the author of her own blog, Milly and Olly.