It could be that we visit the Villa Farnesina earlier than is indicated here, because of the opening hours. If it would take too much time because of the route we’re following, there is one option left: you can visit the Villa on your day off, namely Friday.
The Villa Farnesina was constructed by Baldassare Peruzzi between 1508 and 1511 in commission by Agostino Chigi. We enter through the back entrance. In the 16th century, one would enter via the Loggia. It used to be open, but these days the arches are closed off with glass. We don’t just visit this palace because of its architecture, but mainly for the couple of famous frescos by painters like Raphaël, Peruzzi, Sebastiano del Piombo and Sodoma (Bazzi). Our first stop is the Sala di Galatea (see layout: ground floor; the upper floor has the frescos by artists like Peruzzi). This gallery, too, used to be connected openly to the adjacent garden. The arches were later closed off and given windows. The ceiling, the lunettes and the walls of this sala have frescos by artists like Peruzzi, Beccafumi, Sebastiano del Piombo and Raphaël.
The hall was named after Raphaël’s famous fresco titled Galatea. It is a rather strange hotchpotch. The intent was to only depict mythological stories on the walls and that the ceiling would be painted a sky-blue.
One of the lunettes has a monochrome face. The story goes that Michelangelo made this was Raphael was working on his Galatea. He wanted to know is his young rival would be a threat. Michelangelo dressed up as a farmer and headed for the villa. After insisting for a while, and a small bribe, the farmer managed to get inside. He then allegedly used a piece of charcoal to create the head in the lunette and …
“An old tradition dictates that this is Michelangelo’s head. The famous sculptor, painter and architect had used a ruse to get into the villa and admire the work of his colleague and rival Raphael. When he had finished inspecting the work, he left his card by painting his face in one of the lunettes. Raphael immediately recognised Michelangelo’s hand and did not erase the fresco. It is a good story, but it is definitely not true. The fresco is actually the work of Peruzzi, who also painted the mythological scenes on the ceiling that show the celestial bodies at the time of Chigi’s birth in November of 1466.” Cited from Corvinus
The head in the lunette is currently attributed to Peruzzi. Contrary to what Houbraken writes about Raphael, Agostino Chigi does intervene at times. For instance, he had the nude Polyphemes covered with a blue mantle. Allegedly, his wife was not very fond of a nude, large giant.
This hall was named after Raphael’s fresco for a reason. In a letter from 1514 addressed to Baldassare Castiglione, Raphael comments that he required many other beautiful women to paint this beauty. This clearly has a resemblance to the story about the Greek painter Zeuxis. In that regard, Raphael is a vastly different painter than Caravaggio. Raphael was a child of the Renaissance like Michelangelo. In those days, nature was to be displayed in perfection, as Michelangelo’s statue of David shows.
Raphaël placed the face of Galatea in the dead centre of the image. She is pulled along, standing on a shell, by two dolphins. Her body is displayed in a rather complex contrapposto. The stance is far from being realistic if you imagine being dragged along the waves on a small shell. Looking at the composition, you will see it is made up of various diagonals. For instance, pay special attention to the cupids with their readied bows and arrows. The arrow of the left angle continues into the reins used by Galatea to steer the dolphins. The arrow of the other angel continues into the harassed woman: a water spirit. The tritons to the left and right blow their horns to announce Galatea’s arrival. Raphaël’s final work in this hall was admired by all. But it was not so obvious to make, because in those days…
“Wherefore, when his dear friend Agostino Chigi commissioned him to paint the first loggia in his palace, Raffaello was not able to give much attention to his work, on account of the love that he had for his mistress; at which Agostino fell into such despair, that he so contrived by means of others, by himself, and in other ways, as to bring it about, although only with difficulty, that this lady should come to live continually with Raffaello in that part of the house where he was working; and in this manner the work was brought to completion.” Giorgio Vasari ‘The Life of Raphael’ pdf p. 239
Most frescos on the ceiling were designed by Raphaël, but painted by his students including Giulio Romano ,Francesco Penni, Del Colle and Giovanni da Udine. These frescos were restored very recently. And that was a good thing, as some parts of the chalk layer were beginning to get loose from the surface. Prior restorations had attempted to solve this problem by adding t-shaped copper clamps to the loose chalk layers.
Looking at the vault, you will see how Raphaël came up with a pretty nice frame to tell the story of Psyche. He paints a pergola, kept together by garlands of flowers and fruit. The centre has painted canvases to shield against the bright sunlight.
These canvases depict the story of Psyche. This used to connect beautifully to the open loggia. The story is based on the Metamorphosis by Apuleius. It is about a woman named Psyche, so beautiful that men admired her more than the goddess Venus. Needless to say, the goddess wasn’t pleased. She was out for revenge and sent her son Eros, god of love, to deal with poor Psyche. Eros was to make her deeply infatuated with a miserable and deformed little man. But as it turned out, the son of Venus became completely captivated by Psyche’s beauty at first glance. He kidnapped her to live together with his new wife. One day Psyche was intent on finding out who her husband really was. She dripped some hot oil from the lamp onto her beloved. Eros woke with a startle and fled. He now had to confess his sins to his mother. After hearing what had transpired, Venus went berserk. The girl had to be punished, one way or the other. But time and again, Psyche, with the aid of other Gods, managed to flee. Eventually Jupiter intervened to ensure the beautiful Psyche would stay safe from harm.
‘The Three Graces’, a fresco of three women. The one with her back to the spectators may be Chigi’s mistress.”
On the lunettes (crescent-shaped arches) are the various stages of Psyche’s troubled relationship with Eros’ jealous mother, Aphrodite.” Cited and translated Wikipedia (Dutch)
For a beautiful website about the 160 plant types that are seen in the pendentives and the spandrels: click here.
Vasari describes the frescos as follows:
“And on the ceiling he made the Council of the Gods [Zeus] in Heaven, wherein, in the forms of the Gods, are seen many vestments and lineaments copied from the antique, and executed with very beautiful grace and draughtsmanship. In like manner he made the Marriage of Psyche, with ministers serving Jove, and the Graces scattering flowers over the table. In the spandrels of the vaulting he executed many scenes, in one of which is Mercury with his flute, who, as he flies, has all the appearance of descending from Heaven; and in another is Jove with an air of celestial dignity, kissing Ganymede; and in another, likewise, lower down, is the Car of Venus, and the Graces, with Mercury, drawing Psyche up to Heaven; with many other scenes from the poets in the other spandrels. And in the spherical triangles of the vaulting above the arches, between the spandrels, are many most beautiful little boys in foreshortening, hovering in the air and carrying all the instruments of the gods; Jove’s lightnings and thunderbolts, the helmet, sword, and shield of Mars, Vulcan’s hammers, the club and lion-skin of Hercules, the caduceus of Mercury, Pan’s pipes [and Psyche entering her wedding feast], and the agricultural rakes of Vertumnus. All are accompanied by animals appropriate to their character; and the whole work, both as picture and as poem, is truly beautiful. Round these scenes he caused Giovanni da Udine to make a border of all kinds of flowers [160 plant types], foliage, and fruits, in festoons, which are as beautiful as they could be.” Giorgio Vasari ‘The life of Raphael’ pdf p. 239
photos: Slices of Light and Web Gallery of Art
We head up the staircase to arrive at the Salone delle prospettive.
This is where Peruzzi painted the walls. We have seen something similar on Sunday in the home of emperor August atop the Palatine. You can clearly see that Peruzzi was influenced by the classic wall paintings. But there is still a big difference: Peruzzi had mastered perspective. His vistas that seem to break through the wall are perfectly executed. This is not true for the painter who worked in Augustus’ house. There is no consensus, but it is likely that classic painters did not yet fully command the laws of perspective.
During the Sacco di Roma of 1527 – febr. 1528 (Wikipedia), the Landsknechts (mercenaries) were stationed at the Villa Farnesina. They mocked the Pope with the following words: Was sol ich Schreibers.. nd nit lachen di Landsknecht haben den Babst lauffen machen
Why should I who write not laugh – the Lansquenets have made the Pope run
Inscription date 1528
We leave the villa and continue south, walking towards a church built on a villa from antiquity. As we arrive in the Via dei Genovesi, we take a right turn to stand in the narrow Via di S. Cecilia. We then continue underneath a gate where we stand near an enclosed garden, with a large antique vase in its centre.