All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in July 2014.
Veduta del Giardino Farnese (Book 5) (Map D3) (Day 6) (View D7) (Rione Trastevere)
In this page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
The Plate (No. 88)
Rome during the Papal rule experienced many floods because the river bed was not dredged properly and over the centuries its width decreased; this view by Giuseppe Vasi shows that in the XVIIIth century mounds on both sides of the river narrowed the space between the two banks. In addition Giardino Farnese was already projecting from the right bank.
The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1748 map here below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Palazzino Farnese (La Farnesina); 2) Other buildings for the family; 3) Palazzo Corsini; 4) Casino Farnese al Gianicolo. 3) and 4) are shown in detail in other pages. When Vasi made reference to the family, it was not to relatives of the Farnese, but to their household servants, as the word derives from Lat. famulus, servant; the ancient Romans used gens to mean an enlarged family.
In the late XIXth century the river bed was enlarged to the detriment of the garden which is now rather small; in addition high walls were built on the river bank. Today it is difficult to see the small casino on the Janiculum which Vasi mentions in the plate; it is located to the left of the Monument to Giuseppe Garibaldi.
The building for the servants was modified in the XIXth century and the loggia on the roof of la Farnesina is smaller than in the plate.
The villa was built between 1508 and 1520 for Agostino Chigi, a very rich banker from Siena who made a fortune by financing the popes in return for concessions such as the mining of the mines of alum at Tolfa or of salt-works.
According to tradition in 1518 at the end of a party held in a (lost) loggia near the Tiber Agostino Chigi ordered that the precious wares used for the banquet should be thrown in the river (although he is suspected of having put nets in the water to recover them). He was on such good terms with Pope Julius II that he was allowed to add to the six mountains and a star of his coat of arms, the oak which was the heraldic symbol of the Della Rovere, the family of the pope (you may wish to see a coat of arms of Pope Alexander VII, a member of the Chigi family). He was buried in the family chapel at S. Maria del Popolo.
The building was designed by Baldassarre Peruzzi who was also responsible of its decoration which he personally executed or commissioned other painters, including Raphael.
In 1590 the property was bought by the Farnese, who for some time considered linking it to their palace on the other side of the river with a boat bridge; because the villa was smaller than the palace it was called la Farnesina (-ina being a suffix which means small).
Villas built in the second half of the XVIth century (such as Villa Medici) had a decoration which covered almost every inch of their main fašade. The walls of la Farnesina appear rather bare with the exception of the cornice and of a relief above the entrance of the rear fašade (you can see it in the image used as background for this page); we know however that they had a (lost) graffito decoration by Peruzzi, similar to that of Palazzo Vitelli at CittÓ di Castello.
The decoration of the interior reflects the culture of the time, when the myths narrated by Greek and Latin writers were regarded as symbols of a superior civilization which Renaissance men wanted to emulate.
Sala di Galatea is so named after a fresco by Raphael portraying the nymph, but the overall purpose of its decoration is to show the position of stars and planets on December 1, 1466 the day Agostino Chigi was born. Astrologers were held in high esteem and actually many astronomers did not refrain from providing horoscopes to the wealthy and the powerful.
The story of Cupid and Psyche is one of eternal love and Agostino Chigi wanted it to be painted (by Raphael and others) as a love tribute to Francesca Ordeaschi, his mistress who bore him four children and whom he married in 1529.
In the hall on the first floor Peruzzi showed his mastery of perspective laws by painting a series of fake balconies over the City of Rome and the surrounding countryside. The decoration was completed by portraits of the twelve Olympian gods and by fifteen episodes from the Metamorphoses by Ovid. The Forge of Vulcan was painted on the mantelpiece.
The episodes narrated by Ovid in the Metamorphoses are often dramatic and even gruesome, but Peruzzi and the other painters depicted them in such a way that these aspects are forgotten owing to the beauty of the subjects. You may wish to see a page with more information about the Metamorphoses in ancient and modern art and the meaning of some of the paintings shown in this page.
At the time the villa was built the frescoes at Pompeii had not yet been uncovered, yet it was known that the Romans decorated their cubicula (small bedrooms) with paintings having an erotic content. Agostino Chigi thus commissioned il Sodoma a fresco portraying the first night of marriage of Alexander the Great and Roxana, his Persian bride.
When the gardens of the villa were excavated to enlarge the Tiber riverbed an ancient Roman house was found and its cubicula were painted with erotic scenes (you may wish to see one of them - it opens in a separate window). The frescoes are now at Museo Nazionale Romano.
The gardens were embellished with ancient statues and reliefs, but when all the Farnese properties were acquired by Charles VII, King of Naples, all movable works of art were relocated to Naples or Caserta, where the king built a very large royal residence.
Read William Dean Howells' account of his visit to this site in 1908.
In 1927 the villa was bought by the Italian State and its interior was brought back to its pristine splendour.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Next plate in Book 5: Ponte Sisto
Next step in Day 6 itinerary: Porta S. Spirito