The single most important development in the layout and appearance of the middle-class house between the fi fteenth and the late eighteenth century was in the introduction and spread of compact non-hierarchical forms. . . . It was in the suburbs and environs of London that the most powerful models, both architectural and social, were to appear. . . . These houses were, in effect, villas. (Nicholas Cooper, 1999)1

The villa is one of the most celebrated ideal architectural forms. James Ackerman, in his classic work on the type, highlighted its longevity and continuity of function through the ages as a rural or semi-rural retreat. However, as he discussed, while the ideology of the villa has remained remarkably intact the forms it has taken have varied widely, embracing all the major Western architectural styles. Ackerman presented the villa as essentially architecturally innovative and identifi ed it with the modern, in contradistinction to what he called the ‘traditional’, farmhouse.2 However, even Ackerman had to acknowledge points at which his progressive narrative broke down. Early fi fteenth-century Italian villas, for example, did not follow the antique classical models being pursued in the cities, but rather maintained the fortifi ed aspect of medieval castles.3 Ancient villa life was revived in the Renaissance, therefore, initially in an architecturally conservative rather than innovative form.