At the beginning of the 1550s, the execution of the villa for the Barbaro brothers at Maser became an important threshold for Palladio in defining a new typology of country buildings. For the first time (even if the solution finds precedents in Quattrocento villas), the manorial house and the barchesse were aligned to make a compact architectural unity. At Maser, this phenomenon is probably to be connected with the villa’s particular location on the slopes of a hill: the linear disposition guaranteed a greater visibility from the road below, and furthermore the unevenness of the terrain would have necessitated costly terracing with barchesse arranged according to the course of the slope.
If it is true that in many respects the villa differs markedly from other Palladian buildings, this was doubtless the product of interaction between the architect and an exceptional patron. Daniele Barbaro was a refined man, a profound scholar of antique architecture and Palladio’s mentor after Trissino ‘s death in 1550: they visited Rome together in 1554 to complete the preparation of the first translation and critical edition of Vitruvius, edited by Barbaro and illustrated by Palladio, which would be published in Venice in 1556.
Marcantonio Barbaro, an energetic politician and administrator, had a key role in many of the Republic’s architectural choices, and together with his brother Daniele was an untiring sponsor of Palladio’s promotion in Venetian circles. A connoisseur of architecture himself, Daniele received an explicit homage from Palladio in the Quattro Libri for his invention of an oval stair.
Palladio engaged in the villa’s construction with great ability, succeeding in transforming a house pre-existing on the site, coupling it to the rectilinear barchesse and excavating a nymphaeum from the hillside with a fishpond, from which — thanks to a sophisticated hydraulic system — water was conveyed into the service areas and thence reached the garden and brolo. In the text of the page in the Quattro Libri relevant to the villa, Palladio emphasised exactly this technological feat, which recalled ancient Roman hydraulics. It is evident that rather than Venetian villa-farms the models for the Villa Barbaro were the grand Roman residences, like the Villa Giulia, or that which Pirro Ligorio executed at Tivoli for Cardinal Ippolito d’Este (to whom, incidentally, Barbaro dedicated his edition of Vitruvius).
On the interior of the villa, Paolo Veronese executed what is considered one of the most extraordinary fresco cycles of the Venetian Cinquecento. The power and quality of the illusionistic space which overlies the Palladian one has led some to hypothesize some sort of conflict between painter and architect, especially since Veronese is not mentioned in the caption to the plate in the Quattro Libri. Moreover, evidently influenced (and probably intimidated) by the taste and personality of the Barbaros, it is very probable that Palladio was assigned a technical and generally coordinatory role, leaving to the patrons — if not, according to some, Veronese himself — ample space for invention: what seems to prove this is the fanciful design of the façade, which it is difficult to attribute to Palladio.