Vizcaya History


Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. (Photo by JW Bailly CC BY 4.0)


General Information on Vizcaya

  • The Deering family earned their wealth primarily through the Deering Harvester Company, a manufacturer of agricultural machinery.
  • James Deering undertook the construction of Vizcaya Villa in 1912, and hosted an opening party on December 25, 1916. Guests dressed as Italian peasants. The construction of Vizcaya involved nearly a tenth of the population of Miami.
  • James Deering hired Paul Chaflin as Artistic Director. Deering and Chaflin purchased art in Europe for Vizcaya.
  • Deering and Chaflin met Colombian Diego Suarez in Italy. Deering hired Suarez as the Landscape Architect of Vizcaya.
  • Many of the builders of Vizcaya were Afro-Carribean.
  • The main building is inspired by Italian and Spanish architecture, and the Gardens by French and Italian traditions.
  • The property of the main house was surrounded by a moat. It was first filled with water, and then with cacti.

The Art of Vizcaya

  • The first sculpture one encounters when entering from the west side of the house is a sculpture of Dionysus (or Bacchus), god of wine and ecstasy.
  • The symbol of the Vizcaya Villa is a Spanish caravel. Sculptures and images of the boats can seen throughout the house.
  • The barge at Vizcaya serves as a breakwater, creating a calm area for boats.
  • The sculptor of the figures on the barge was Alexander Stirling Calder, father of the great Alexander Calder. Deering felt Stirling Calder had made the breasts on the northern female figure too large. The artist did not wish to rework his sculpture, but relented when additional compensation  was agreed to.
  • At the top of the north staircase the French words “J’ai dit (I have spoken)” are proclaimed in stained glass. This simple statement reflects Deering’s attachment to Vizcaya, as well as his sense of grandeur as the phrase is a play on his initials “JD.”

Vizcaya Village

  • Vizcaya was intended as a self-sustaining endeavor, a type of small village. This required staff to be present year round.
  • Approximately 16-18 staff maintained the house, and 26 gardeners and workers were permanent residents of the house.
  • Vizcaya Village had extensive crops and some livestock.
  • Vizcaya Village was identifiable thanks to its large banyan tree.
  • James Deering invited all the people of Vizcaya Village to the main house every Christmas.


Stephanie Sepúlveda  & John William Bailly 18 January 2019



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