The Villa Palagonia in Bagheria, Sicily, was built from 1705 for Ferdinando Francesco Gravina, 5th Prince of Palagonia, by the Dominican monk Tommaso Maria Napoli. His eccentric grandson Ferdinando Gravina Alliata, 7th Prince of Palagonia, added the grotesque 'monster' statues circa 1777, three of which are depicted by these drawings. Originally two hundred, just sixty of these statues of beggars, dwarfs, monsters, and other oddities remain.
The villa attracted many visitors and Grand Tourists, some admiring and some fiercely critical. Among them was Sir John Soane, whom it has been said was so inspired by his visit that it led him to set up his own museum at Lincoln's Inn Fields. Goethe visited the villa in 1787 and, horrified by what he saw, described the villa as 'a burst of insanity ... a madhouse' and the statues as 'beggars of both sexes, men and women of Spain, Moors, Turks, hunchbacks, deformed persons of every kind, dwarfs, musicians, Pulcinellas ... deformed monkeys, many dragons and snakes, every kind of paw attached to every kind of body, double heads and exchanged heads.'