The Villa Farnesina is one of those discoveries that make art-treasure seekers giddy with joy. Tucked into the lovely landscape of the Trastevere area, Romans seem almost to have overlooked the villa, which houses the work of great artists such as Baldassarre Peruzzi, Sebastiano Piombo, Giulio Romano, Sodoma, and Raphael himself, and it’s a little known stop on the standard Art tour about town.In 1505 wealthy Sienese banker Agostino Chigi commissioned famed architect Baldassarre Peruzzi to design the structure, who employed talented artists of the era to decorate the walls. The vaulted ceiling of the Sala della Galatea offers a gorgeous representation of Cyclops Polyphemus’ beloved, the sea nymph Galathea. Chigi the Magnificent (as friends and admirers often referred to him) asked the brilliant architect to depict his personal horoscope, utilizing popular mythology, and a masterpiece was born.
Two scenes flank the central octagon: Callisto, love of Jupiter to the right, and Perseus and Pegasus to the left, to symbolize Chigi’s great virtue. The side panels of the ceiling represent the twelve signs of the zodiac in the planetary positions they would have held at 7 am on Chigi’s birthday – December 1st, 1466. Chigi’s stellar fortune was particularly lucky, as his chart spanned every singular zodiac sign.The Villa oozes romanticism with its innumerable love cenes: Sodoma’s Marriage of Alexander the Great and Roxanne and a strikingly erotic depiction of Cupid and Psyche.
The splendid depiction of Galathea was most likely inspired by Chigi’s own courtesan-lover, Fornarina (the daughter of a lowly baker – fornaio in Italian), who modeled for the artists. Legend holds that Raphael fell hopelessly in love with the beautiful girl, and threatened to suspend his contributions were she not allowed to spend the night at his country house. Chigi’s wealth was no secret, and he was said to host elaborate banquets, during which he ordered scores of silver platters to be tossed into the Tiber, in a demonstration of his seemingly disposable income (his servants would later fish them them out). The immaculate villa has however seen and suffered the passing of history. During the terrible sack of 1527 mercenaries of Charles V left graffiti on the frescoed walls, one of which reads: “…The Lanzichenecchi (the Holy Roman Empire’s militiamen) have sent the Pope running. Today the glorious structure is the seat of the Accademia dei Lincei and the National Cabinet of Drawings and Prints. The Villa Farnesina (Via della Lungara, 230. Tel 0668027268) is open to the public Monday – Saturday from 9 am – 1 pm.
Take the Villa Farnesina home with you in a stunning artbook from the “Mirabilia Italiae” series. “The Villa Farnesina in Rome” is dedicated to the spectacular 16th Century villa, which houses breathtaking artworks. The Italian Renaissance comes alive in 368 vibrant photographs, architectural plans and diagrams. The quality of the photography allows you to explore the finest details of the villa, in particular the first published photos of the restoration of Raphael’s frescoes since its completion.
A collection of essays and explanations by Christoph Luipold Frommel guides the reader through an art-history lesson of the glorious architectural wonder. Availaible in all good bookshops at 400 euros. For more information visit the website: fcp.it
Photos courtesy of fcp.it