Upon entering the Villa, the entrance vestibules lead to the Rotunda, and then into the Gallery. These doors open to the center of the Gallery which extends to the right and left, leading to all of the main spaces on the first floor of the Villa. About twenty meters to the right the space leads to the State Dining Room and Gold Room. To the left, extending slightly longer at about twenty-six meters, this side of the Gallery leads to the Red Room, Library, and Main Stairway. The Gallery plays a very important role in the circulation of the whole plan. The space connects all of the main rooms of the Villa and connects them to create a uniform layout. Although the space is mainly used as a circulation space, it was not overlooked by architect Max Spielmann or owner Otto Petschek. The high ceilings and detailed moldings create a very grand and luxurious feeling in the space. The historic furniture and artwork in the Gallery aid in the experience of walking through the Villa and being transported back in time through history.
When one approaches the Gallery in the Ambassador’s Residence, the architect has set up an almost tangible tension that can only be resolved by finally progressing out of the Rotunda and into the long, extended gallery space. Seen from a plan view, when the Gallery meets the Rotunda (and its two flanking Entrance Vestibules) a strong nexus is created that centers the entire house. The Gallery truly is the gateway to the rest of the Villa, since to access any spaces beyond the Rotunda it is almost impossible to circumvent. The languid nature of the crescent emotionally implies a sense of decadence and luxury paramount to the sense of Old World elegance and pomp that Otto Petschek and his architect Max Spielmann endeavored to capture.
Villa Petschek’s Gallery, although not a defined room, is a central spine that connects almost all of the character defining and important rooms within the Residence. It functions as a sort of pass-through space, reminiscent of the archetypal Long Gallery seen in the Renaissance Period across Continental Europe and England. Developed earliest in France, the Long Gallery originally served a functional purpose, connecting disparate structures on an estate or often providing dry and safe passage to a connecting Church. As the form developed, it began to be used as a display space for objects or collections, much like in the Ambassador’s Residence, meant to impart a sense of wonder or grandeur. Unlike a loggia, although similar, the Gallery provides protection from the outside elements. In French tradition, these Long Galleries could be double stacked or comprised of two levels, that of the gallerie basse and a gallerie haute.
The graceful crescent shape of Villa Petschek’s Gallery however, is the critical difference between itself and the rectangular Long Galleries of Renaissance antiquity. The Petschek Gallery, while functioning as both a pass-through space and display area, derives its graceful curve from architect Max Spielmann’s Beaux-Arts training. This crescent determines the entire shape of the Residence and is perhaps its most iconic feature.
The walls and ceiling of the Gallery are made of stone, likely limestone, with a light cream color and smooth texture. The dark wood frames of the doorways and windows contrast against this light surface. On the wall sit a few wall sconces to help illuminate the space. These lights are a Louis XV style gilt-brass wall light made with three foliate cast scrolling stems emerging from a foliate cast bracket. Additionally, the space is illuminated by chandeliers that line the long crescent shaped space. These appear to be made of glass and brass as well.
Although the Gallery leads to the many other grand spaces within the Villa, it would be remiss to fail to mention the extensive portion of the Residence’s collection housed within its arms. Firstly, while the floor is a parquet wood, it is decorated frequently with multiple blue-toned throw rugs of various styles such as Afghan, Senneh, Peking, and Hamadan. A blue and white Peking Carpet with Dogs of Fo medallion and spandrels is quite a striking addition to the collection. Other rugs however, also exist within this space. Warm tones of reds and maroons characterize a few of the unique textiles displayed across the floor in this space. Starting with the Beshir carpet, it features an indigo field with five moon medallions and herati style pattern, a gulf star border in ivory and madder and three inner and four outer guard strips. Next on display, is a Senneh rug. This rug also has an indigo field with herati pattern, a madder border with flowerhead, vines and botehs and a single guard strip. Following that, is a Karaja runner with an indigo field and botehs, an ivory leaf and vine border, and trip guard strips. Also present is a Tekke Turkman carpet. This carpet has a madder field with five rows of Tekke guys, a sunburst border and serrated let skirts. Lastly, the Hamadan carpet is a cooler tone textile of blues and greens. It also has an indigo field and ivory spandrels all with the herati design, and ivory turtle and vine border and single guard stripes.
An eclectic mix of seating and tabling exists along the Gallery’s corridor, ranging from early 18th Century Venetian Chairs, French Beech Framed Armchairs, to Flemish embroidered Chairs. The dominant style however, is that of the French, mainly concentrating on Louis XV and XVI Styles. This is unsurprising as Otto Petschek looked to Versailles and the French Tradition for his inspiration, and his furniture supplier, Emil Gerstel, created many pieces for the home in this style. However, based on documents discovered at the Residence, Petschek did not just look to France but also considered the Baroque and Rococo periods in Germany.
The various furniture pieces of the Gallery create contrast with the off-white walls and light wood floors. For instance, a German mahogany commode in the French Transitional style. It has a three-quarter galleried oval marble top over two banded drawers, and sits upon slender cut cabriole legs. Second is a French Transitional style cylindrical commode. It has a galleried and marble top over florally inlaid door sitting on square cut slender cabriole legs with galleried under-tier inlaid with musical trophies. Third, a large rectangular table made of oak by Gerstel. It has a moulded top of compound serpentine outline, over a foliate carved and molded frieze sitting upon foliate cabriole and square tapering legs. Following that is some seating, including a bench that came as a set created from giltwood and decorated in white. It has a rounded rectangular upholstered seat on a guilloche frieze and body carved cabriole legs and over scrolled feet. The next seat in the collection is a Regence walnut-framed library armchair. It has an oblong back and armadas upholstered with contemporary tapestry, the down curved arms carved with acanthus and strap work, sitting on cabriole legs similarly cared upon scrolled feet.
Small accessories such as Delft Vases and small boxes ornament the tables and other display spaces in the gallery. Interestingly, elements of Chinese culture have penetrated the interior as well. Perhaps this was in homage to the Chinoiserie fad that ran rampant across Europe and the French Courts in the mid 18th century. These elements of Chinese Style are evident again in the rug selection, a miscellaneous tea caddy present on a table, and the group of late 19th-century hardwood Chinese plant stands with cabriole legs that contain the potted vegetation in the Gallery.
True to form, the Petschek Villa’s Gallery is certainly a space for movement and display, but it is also a space for entertainment. While more formal events are set up in the Winter Garden or rooms of state such as the Dining Room or the Library, the Main Gallery provides a more informal, even casual, atmosphere for entertainment. Due to its proximity to the Winter Garden, the event can extend into this open space as well while feeling organic and connected.