In Naples, a 19th-century palace passed down for generations

An elaborate gift from a king to his wife, Villa Lucia has enraptured for decades, and the home’s current inhabitants are continuing the love affair.

Article by Gisela Williams

Naples villaThe neoclassical southern facade that overlooks the Bay of Naples features reliefs depicting mythological scenes. Photography by Allegra Martin.

In the heart of Naples, Italy, a city whose peeling jewel-toned apartment buildings and Baroque churches often call to mind a faded but still glorious opera set, there is a 25-acre private park so lush and tranquil, it feels more like an enchanted woodland. Though it is mostly wild — a tangle of holm oaks, palms and flowering acanthuses intersected by a few winding trails — at its centre is a romantic neoclassical marble fountain carved in the early 1800s. Positioned above a shallow pool, two winged figures — Hymen, the ancient Greek god of marriage ceremonies, and Eros, the mischievous god of carnal desire — gaze at each other over a decorative urn. “Both the stillness of this place and this fountain are so sacred to me,” says the artist and jewellery designer Margherita Marzotto, 32, admiring the work as if for the first time.

But Marzotto, in fact, spent her childhood summers playing hide-and-seek in this garden. The property — which also includes Villa Lucia, a palatial Bourbon-era house — was developed by Ferdinand I, the king of the Two Sicilies, as a home for himself and his new wife, Lucia Migliaccio, the Duchess of Floridia, in 1817. “Their relationship was quite a scandal at the time, partly because they married only two months after the king’s first wife died,” says Marzotto. “And the villa was their love pavilion.” After passing among several subsequent owners, the estate has been in Marzotto’s family for almost a century and has cast a spell over her for as long as she can remember — not least since 2016, when she and her husband, Barthélémy d’Ollone, 41, a French musician and gem hunter, began living in the house for part of each year.

Naples villa
The dining room is decorated with 19th-century frescoes of floral wreaths, birds and fruit. The chairs and ornately carved table are from the 18th century. Photography by Allegra Martin.
Naples villa
The great room of Margherita Marzotto’s family villa in Naples, Italy, features a grand piano made for the king of Naples and a copy of “L’Aurora,” Guido Reni’s 1614 fresco of the Sun Chariot guided by the Hours and Apollo. Photography by Allegra Martin.

Constructed in 1807 and updated by the government minister Cristoforo Saliceti not long after, the structure was built into a steep slope just below the garden, in the city’s hilltop Vomero neighbourhood. Under Ferdinand’s direction, it was transformed by the architect Antonio Niccolini into a grand two-storey manor in which the king and his wife could both escape and entertain. Accordingly, the house has two radically different faces. The fanciful northern facade with views of the park is modelled after that of a Doric temple preserved in the ruins of Pompeii, roughly 30 kilometres southeast. Fronted by five nine-metre-tall fluted columns, its stone and stucco surface is covered with otherworldly frescoes depicting cherubs, angels, swooping red-and-blue birds and mythological creatures. “That one’s a hippocamp,” Marzotto says, pointing to an animal with the upper body of a stallion and the lower body of a fish. “They were said to be the horses of Poseidon.”

The villa’s southern facade is more restrained. Painted pale butter yellow, it is decorated only by a series of stone reliefs set above the seven shuttered French doors that line a narrow upper balcony. A second, wider terrace, bordered by leafy hedges and oleander trees, extends from the ground floor toward the hillside. As we stand there, it is immediately clear why Niccolini made this side of the building relatively unassuming: There was no point in competing with the vista beyond it. Spread out some 180 metres below is the city’s historic harbour, with its medieval fortifications and park-lined waterside avenues and, beyond it, stretching to the horizon, is the Bay of Naples, bookended to the east by the bruised purple slopes of Vesuvius and to the west by the hazy, rugged form of Ischia. “We still marvel at this view every time we’re here,” says d’Ollone.

Much like Naples itself, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, the house is a place where the layers of time seem unusually, tantalisingly porous. In the 16th century, the land on which Villa Lucia now stands was a place of prayer for an order of Benedictine monks; d’Ollone likes to imagine that, before that, it was the site of a pagan temple. “One feels a deep sense of calm here,” he says, adding with a laugh, “it’s the only corner of the world in which Margherita and I don’t argue.”

Naples villa
In the mauve salon, which has views of Capri and Mount Vesuvius, a painting of Marcantonio Trevisan, the doge of Venice from 1553-54, and an 18th-century cabinet depicting a hunting scene with Capodimonte porcelain figurines. Photography by Allegra Martin.

Marzotto’s great-grandfather Italo de Feo, an Italian politician and intellectual, bought the 700-square-metre villa in the 1920s from one of the heirs of the industrialist and art collector Alfonso Garofalo, converting it into a salon of sorts. He changed very little inside, preferring to keep its rooms spare and open. With his death in 1985, the house passed to Marzotto’s maternal grandmother, the late senator and journalist Diana de Feo, who filled it with cosy seating areas and artwork she picked up on her travels, using it as a place to host both fellow dignitaries and family members. And while Marzotto herself grew up on a rural estate outside Venice, she soon became enraptured by Naples. “The energy here is stronger, more dramatic than in the north,” she says. “The city has a wild elegance that has always fascinated me.”

Indeed, it’s these two places — Villa Lucia and Naples — that inspire the fantastical designs of Ollone & Ollone, the fine jewellery house Marzotto founded with d’Ollone and his brother Melchior in 2016. For the last several years, the villa has served as a temporary base for the couple — when they’re not in Naples, they divide their time between Paris and Hong Kong — as well as for their business. It is here that Marzotto, working either at a desk facing the distant island of Capri or at a table on one of the home’s terraces, sketches each numbered piece — whether a gold ring featuring a 10-carat Ethiopian emerald encased in a setting that resembles the centre of a poppy or one with a three-carat neon blue-green Paraíba tourmaline from Brazil embraced by coral-like gold tentacles — before it is handmade by master artisans in Paris, Naples or Bangkok.

At the core of the company is its founders’ dedication to redefining what is truly precious. The d’Ollone brothers began sourcing rare stones from small mines (alexandrite from Russia, Mahenge spinel from Tanzania) 15 years ago, typically selling them to collectors. Not long after Marzotto met d’Ollone in 2014 at a carnival party in Venice, she joined one of the brothers’ trips to Madagascar, where they worked directly with the country’s miners to buy Santa Maria aquamarines at fair prices. The journey inspired Marzotto to make a pendant using one of the stones, whose colour reminded her of the waters around Capri, and gold she’d panned for alongside women from a village in which the group had stayed. She went on to study goldsmithing under Gerard Courcoux, a now-retired master jeweller who often supplied pieces to the king of Thailand, and soon she and the d’Ollones realised that their skills would be best applied producing their own designs — ones that would express Marzotto’s creativity and represent a new form of luxury, defined by respect for the environment and for the work of skilled craftspeople. “How nature creates such a diversity of colours is a miracle. Once you start learning about gemstones, you become obsessed,” says Marzotto, lifting her hand to show me one of the brand’s early pieces, a ring inspired by the story from Greek mythology of the nymph Daphne’s transformation into a tree. At the centre of its delicate gold band — sculpted to resemble unfurling branches — is an 11-carat spessartite stone the colour of an Aperol spritz. “There are also diamonds hidden in its most secret nooks,” she says.

Naples villa
The kitchen is decorated with 19th-century Neapolitan tiles. Photography by Allegra Martin.
Naples villa
In a corner of the primary bedroom, a 19th-century daybed serves as a dog bed. Photography by Allegra Martin.

The promise of unseen treasures defines the villa, as well. The home’s upper level consists almost entirely of two large, connected salons. The first, a more intimate space carpeted with worn Persian rugs, is filled with 18th- and 19th-century furniture (barrel-back wooden armchairs carved with mermaids and upholstered in powder blue silk; a crooked white Murano glass chandelier) that the Marzottos purchased with the house and have kept in the family. The lilac-painted walls are adorned with formal landscape paintings and portraits of European royals (King Charles III, Ferdinand I). Originally intended for entertaining guests, the room is where the couple like to read and work. “This is our TV,” jokes d’Ollone, pointing to an ornate 18th-century carved wooden Neapolitan cabinet set atop a matching table with decorative turned legs. When opened, the cabinet reveals a painted backdrop of a hunting scene and a tiny stage, set with rare porcelain figurines of soldiers on horseback, flute-playing cherubs and wine-pouring women made by the city’s renowned Capodimonte ceramics factory. The piece inspired the design of the brilliant red silk-covered jewellery boxes, each resembling a miniature theatre, in which Ollone & Ollone presents its creations.

The second living room — a grand hall with a grey-and-white terrazzo floor and a copy of the Italian Baroque painter Guido Reni’s majestic 1614 ceiling fresco, “L’Aurora,” which depicts Apollo driving his horse-drawn chariot into the dawn — is divided into multiple seating areas. Across from an ornate 18th-century gilded desk and chair, two long cornflower blue gingham couches face each other over a low wooden table heaped with books, and near one of the French windows is a mahogany grand piano that was made for King Ferdinand. “When my mother was young,” Marzotto says, “this room was almost completely empty except for the piano and a monumental Aubusson tapestry commissioned by the king in the early 1800s and used as a carpet.”

Naples villa
On Marzotto’s worktable, one of her hand-painted jewellery boxes inspired by details of the villa. Photography by Allegra Martin.

The ground floor of the house, reached by a marble staircase lined with prints purchased by Marzotto’s grandmother at a Paris flea market, is more informal. A large bedroom, which features a pair of Napoleonic-era four-poster beds and a bust of Seneca by the late 19th-century sculptor Vincenzo Gemito, overlooks the bay. And two smaller bedrooms, both of which double as libraries, flank a sunny dining room whose walls are painted with a neoclassical mural of pigeons and woodcocks flying amid wreaths and swagged garlands of flowers. In the middle of the space, a large oval wood table, inlaid with onyx, stands near a carved white marble fireplace. The comparatively small kitchen — whose walls and old-fashioned wood cabinets are painted a faded sage green — is down a long, narrow hallway, a remnant of a time when, like those of many grand houses, the room was used only by servants. “At some point, we’d like to have a big kitchen on the top floor where the salons are,” says d’Ollone. “We love to cook and, these days, the kitchen is usually the heart of a house.”

Naples villa
A 19th-century marble statue of Diana, the goddess of the hunt, in the main entrance. Photography by Allegra Martin.
Naples villa
Marzotto and her husband, Barthélémy d’Ollone, in the villa’s garden, in front of the facade that overlooks the Bay of Naples. Photography by Allegra Martin.

For now, though, when he and Marzotto entertain at Villa Lucia, it is generally on one of the terraces. Once a year — typically in spring or fall, when the weather is warm — the couple invite a small group of Ollone & Ollone’s customers and friends to spend several days in Naples, during which the pair take them to places in the city that have inspired their work. The brand’s first collection referenced Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s marble sculpture “Apollo and Daphne” (1622-25), and so Marzotto and d’Ollone organised a treasure hunt that led their guests to Baroque artworks across Naples. The second year, the collection alluded to the sirens that in Homer’s “Odyssey” swim in the Gulf of Naples: The couple arranged a mermaid-themed tour of the area that included a visit to the famous 19th-century mermaid-shaped fountain in the Piazza Sannazaro and a boat trip to the tiny island of Procida. But more than these excursions, it is the intimate alfresco meals at Villa Lucia — when the couple serve local dishes such as ricotta-stuffed zucchini-flower fritters and penne alla Nerano at long, candlelit tables while musicians play their favourite old-school Italian songs — that tend to make an indelible impression on guests. “True luxury is not an expensive dinner at a restaurant,” says d’Ollone as he looks out over the bay from the home’s upper terrace. “It’s the contrast of a wild garden growing in the centre of a busy city or of enjoying the simplest food while looking at this view.”