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Villa and Panza Collection - FAI

Architecture and nature draw and inspire artists from all over the monto

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Where is


Parco di Villa Panza, 21100 Varese VA, Italia (428m s.l.m.)


What it is and where it is

Unique and celebrated in the world as a center of contemporary art for its outstanding 20th-century collection, it holds more than 150 works by American artists inspired by the themes of light and color that coexist in ancient settings with Renaissance furnishings and collections of African and pre-Columbian art. The large park, which houses three parterres - the first in the French style, the second and third designed according to the canons of English Romantic landscaping -, stimulates artists' sensibilities by activating a fruitful dialogue between art and nature, and is now enriched with environmental art installations.

Why it is special

Here Giuseppe Panza di Biumo, captivated by the kaleidoscopic and powerful light and the perfect combination of architecture and nature, conceived with his wife Giovanna his own art collection, which, in terms of intuition and originality, is today a unicum on the international scene; he selected a small nucleus of artists for each movement, acquired numerous works and composed a collection of about 2,500 wonders. Beginning in the 1970s, he invited a number of leading artists on the international scene who, inspired by the site, created celebrated site-specific installations of Minimal Environmental Art.

Not to be missed

The juxtapositions of antique furniture, contemporary art, and a primary art collection; the Empire Salon, in which neoclassicism meets David Simpson's iridescent acrylic painting; Meg Webster's Cone of Water, an emblem of the subtle balance between geometric rigor and the unpredictability of nature, between the natural and man-made environment; Robert Irwin's and James Turrell's installations in which light becomes the essence of the work itself; Dan Flavin's Varese Corridor, for an immersive experience of light and color; Ground Zero, Wim Wenders' moving tribute after September 11, 2001.

A bit of history

The Villa immersed in the extensive grounds, commissioned by Ascanio Orrigoni in the late 1500s, stands on the hill of Biumo Superiore and dominates Varese. Its history continued with Paolo Antonio Menafoglio, who in the mid-1700s made it a hub of cultural circles, then it knew a new season with Duke Pompeo Litta Visconti Arese, who, in the early 1800s, transformed it into a representative setting. In 1937 Ernesto Panza di Biumo bought the property and entrusted Piero Portaluppi with some rearrangement works. In the 1950s it took on a new destination with Count Giuseppe Panza, who donated the Villa and Collection to FAI in 1996.


Francesco III d'Este fell in love with Varese while observing it from the park of Villa Panza, where he was a guest of Count Menafoglio in the mid-1700s. Fascinated, he purchased the hunting lodge built at the foot of the Mirabello Hill and transformed it into what is now the Este Palace and Gardens. Piazza Litta is also home to the entrance to Ville Ponti, period mansions set in a scenic century-old park, now owned by the Varese Chamber of Commerce and used as a conference center and multipurpose space for all kinds of events.

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"A place that represents the heart of European culture and at the same time [...] the union between Europe and America in its full expression." (Wim Wenders, 2015)


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