With airs that remind us of Tuscany, Villa Ocampo emerges from the top of Barrancas de San Isidro in Argentina. Early in the last century, its gardens, dotted with ancient trees, were the playground of writer Victoria Ocampo during her childhood, and later the stunning property would become the meeting place of the intellectual elite.
In 1890, engineer Manuel Ocampo— father of the Argentinean writer—built the house in an eclectic style with materials brought specially from Europe. The roofs, reminiscent of Northern France, stand out in distinctly Victorian style supported by Italian columns. Victoria, the woman who filled the mansion with her intellectual curiosity, was born on the same year the house was completed.
The excitement of progress of the 1900s is reflected in its three floors and the basement. From the main hall, an imposing staircase with Italian balustrades offers an open view of the majestic stained glass ceiling that filter the exterior light. Lamps in statues, pillars, and the original Otis elevator, still in operation, Corinthian columns and a collection of portraits of the Ocampo family by Argentine painter Prilidiano Pueyrredón shape the most refined spirit of the early 20th century.
The Ocampo family raised their six daughters with foreign governesses on ten acres of pristine parks. Inside a bookcase on the second floor, one can still see some classics of world literature with children scribbles.
Victoria inherited Villa Ocampo and lived there from 1940 until her death in 1979. The sumptuous hues of the Belle Époque decoration eventually gave way to the brilliant white of modernity. A clear example is the music room, where white walls and couches, oriental cabinets and a black grand piano mark the new style. In this piano, Igor Stravinsky premiered his composition Persephone, which he dedicated to Victoria, his cherished friend.
Victoria Ocampo earned a leading role in the intellectual environment of her time by challenging the conventions of her time through an overwhelming will and a sharp pen that marked the direction of the avant-garde.
She filled the mansion with her dear friends. In the legendary living rooms of Villa Ocampo, one Bauhaus lamp illuminates the black and white portraits of Victoria`s famous friends. José Ortega y Gasset, Indira Gandhi, Manuel Mujica Lainez, Albert Camus, Alfonso Reyes, Rabindranath Tagore and Paul Valéry, among others, once graced the house during her many gatherings. Twelve thousand books are Victoria’s tangible heritage and the reflection of her ample perspective. The emblem of this historic house, Victoria’s white-framed eyeglasses, rests on one of the shelves of her study as a testament to her erudite intellect.
"Although I felt like a citizen of the world, I was deeply rooted in my Barrancas de San Isidro", wrote Victoria Ocampo in 1976. ■
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