Villa Kerylos, between sea and sky

Villa Kerylos, between sea and sky

fresque villa kerylos

 

villa kerylos

Villa Kerylos in Beaulieu-sur-Mer

At first glance, the whitewashed walls of the Villa Kerylos appear as a straightforward piece of architecture based on the whims of the sun and sea, concealing, like a close-guarded secret, the Greek-inspired décor within. But once past the threshold, the visitor, greeted by the Greek phrase Xaipe (Be happy) inlaid into the mosaic floor, is invited to enter a home, or, rather, a fantasy world where ancient Greece has been conjured up as if by magic.

 

thermes villa kerylos

The thermal baths

chaise des atelliers bettenfeld

Bettenfeld leather strap chair

Located in Beaulieu-sur-Mer and designed after the ancient Greek houses built on the island of Delos, Villa Kerylos was the dream of a single man, Théodore Reinach (1860-1928), a renowned Hellenist and great enthusiast of ancient Greece. In 1902, Reinach hired Emmanuel Pontremoli, an architect from Nice, to construct the Villa.[1] From the atrium to the thermal baths, by way of the private apartments, the whole interior is of Greek inspiration: the atmosphere, configuration, as well as the names of the rooms and their decor. Jacqueline de Romilly, the classical Greek scholar, had already noted on one of her visits that “It is not a classical monument; one can’t even classify it (the villa) as being inspired from any one period and very few objects there date from antiquity. Yet, it is all Greek.”

This sense of unity is due mainly to the soft hues of the walls and floors, which range from room to room according to the colored mosaic tiles or the varieties of marble veined with pinks and grays. With a feeling of tranquility, the visitor is free to roam and contemplate the cohort of gods that adorn the frescoed walls,[2] or, further still, linger before the stunning furniture made by the cabinetmaker Bettenfeld[3], which includes leather strap stools, ivory-inlaid oak chests and cabinets after models found at Herculanum, or even Egyptian-style chairs. The overall elegance – also witnessed in the bronze work and drapes – recalls the contemporary creations of the Vienna Secession or the work of great interior designers like Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann (1879-1933). For a moment, the visitor is transported back in time. Yet, the surrounding mood regains its rightful place; under our fascinated gaze, Greece is here, recreated, eternal, before the deep blue expanse of the Mediterranean Sea.

A remarkable villa, it is the only one of its kind in the world, an expression of happiness contained between sea and sky. Théodore Reinach knew it when he had what could be called the Kerylos motto inscribed on the South wall: “It is here in the company of Greek orators, scholars and poets, that I will retire peacefully in eternal beauty.”

[1] A student of Victor Laloux, Emmanuel Pontremoli (1865-1958) won the Grand prix de Rome in 1890. Having worked at Pergamum and Didyma, he acquired extensive knowledge in archaeology. Rightly so, the Villa Kerylos is seen as his masterpiece.

[2] The frescoes are by the decorative painters Gustave Louis Jaulmes and Adrien Karbowsky.

[3] The villa’s furniture was created by the Bettenfeld workshop, in the faubourg Saint-Antoine in Paris, after designs by Pontremoli.