The rediscovery of the soul of the villa Astor

Villa Sirena

The only known photographic album of the Villa Astor built and decorated by the New Yorker William Waldorf Astor the wealthiest man in the world at the time.

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The present album is an important and unique documentation about the villa acquired in 1905 by William Waldorf Astor, perched on the cli s of the Sorrentine Peninsula, overlooking the Gulf of Naples and Mount Vesuvius. It will become "a re ection of his personality: a sensual and harmonious feast of contrasts and a coexistence of light and shade” and one of the most beautiful estates of Italy and Europe.

This 24 large unpublished photographs retain all their contrast and cover for 12 of them, the splendid garden decorated with antiques, for 10, the rich interior and for the last two, a view of Sorrento Coast with the villa and its gardens in the foreground as well as a view of the facade of the house of them.


"In himself and in the lonely life he led amid the environments he had acquired or created – surroundings partly noble and magni cent, partly fantastic and baroque – Lord Astor was an extraordinary and singular personality.’ From ‘A Personal Impression of William Waldorf Astor, by a Friend’, The Times, 1919.

Born in New York, William Waldorf Astor was the only child of nancier and philan- thropist John Jacob Astor III (1822–1890) and Charlotte Augusta Gibbes (1825–1887). Only two generations earlier, his great-grandfather, John Jacob Astor I, had left the village of Waldorf, near Heidelberg in South West Germany, to nd a future for himself across the Atlantic. And what a future he found: after amassing great pro ts through fur trading and a great shipping empire, he ploughed his money into property on Man- hattan Island, earning the title the Landlord of New York.

William Waldorf Astor achieved some success with a political career, winning a seat in the New York State Assembly and a seat in the New York State Senate then he moved his family to England and bought the Pall Mall Gazette, a daily newspaper, in 1892, and later bought the London weekly paper, the Observer.

Considered as the wealthiest and the most extravagant American of his time, he was a discerning art collector who undertook extensive renovations of his British estates and gardens at Cliveden and Hever Castle, and at his o ice at Two Temple Place in London.

In 1905, after being appointed ambassador of the United States in Italy, he found a refuge and inspiration in a striking Italian villa set on a promotory above the Bay of Naples, facing Mount Vesuvius. Built on the site of an imperial Roman palace and sur- rounded by rare botanical gardens, the estate was adorned by Astor with an exceptional collection of ne art and sculpture.

Lord Astor named this incredible house Villa Sirena, after the mythical siren who bewitched sailors in the nearby waters.

He also built in the huge garden a small pavilion called Villa Florus. Based on the design of a Pompeian villa and decorated with frescos by Mario Spinetti. Photographer, Simonetti captured the villa Florus in a photo album made for Astor in 1922, today in the collection of the Roman antiquarian Giovanni Carbonni.

We can easily think that the album that we present was also the work of Attilio Simonetti for Lord Astor.

Some interior and exterior area photographed, such as the sports hall or presumably the owner’s personal room, are also evidence that this album was made for William Waldorf Astor himself as a permanent testimony of his favourite places and his nally completed work, "a quiet and luminous paradise, high on a cliff top with his garden and sea views for company".

During the Second World War, the house was named villa Tritone and hosted Benedetto Croce.

Recently, it was bought for nearly 100,000,000 euros and then entirely redecorated by Jacques Garcia in order to make a luxury hotel. On this occasion, a beautiful book Villa Astor, Paradise restored on the Amal Coast was edited in English by Flammarion (we attach a copy).

This book, which was extensively documented by the Astor family archives, did not show any photographs of the interior of the house.

Our unpublished album is the only one to present them.

Oblong 4to (15 x 11 in ; 28 x 38 cm), [24] ff. supporting 24 gelatin silver photographs (7 1/2 x 9 1/2 in ; 24,6 x 19,4 cm), mounted to linen, in paper mats, burgundy straight- grained morocco-like goatskin, 4 bands on the spine, gilt title on the upper board, gilt inner border, gilt edges (contemporary album bought at J. C. Vickery’s shop in London with their gilt stamp to the last inner board).