Villa Farnesina

An exquisite villa built in 1511 AD (Baldassare Peruzzi) just outside the old walls of Rome on what were once Julius Caesar's orchards and vineyards.

Here Caesar reportedly lodged Cleopatra in his Water Palace (44 BC), technically circumventing the Roman rule never to allow a foreign monarch inside the capital and presumably also saving his wife, Calpurnia, from the embarrassment of being confronted with Caesar's mistress inside her own city. From here Cleopatra and her illegitimate son by Caesar, Caesarion, escaped by boat when she heard the news of Caesar's murder. (The Caesarian operation was first performed by Egyptian doctors, and named for Cleopatra's son after his delivery).

The Roman home of Agostino Chigi, Renaissance millionaire banker, and good friend of Pope Leo X (Leonardo de' Medici's second son). Chigi spared no expense in decorating this lovely place, and offering fabulous banquets.

Held in the pavilion built over Caesar's Water Palace, these feasts finished with the precious gold and silver plates being thrown into the river (to be fished out later as there was an invisible net in the water to catch them).

One banquet was held in Chigi's stables, to show the Riario family when they were building a Palazzo on the other side of the road, that dinner in his stables was more luxurious than it could ever be in their place. Raphael (1483-1520) painted the frescoes on and off from 1512 to 1518.

Chigi, a great art patron, allowed Raphael's mistress to live here in order to get the master to do more work, but the painter died at the age of 37. Giorgio Vasari, painter and biographer, wrote that Raphael was killed by overwork (or overplay) as "he continued his amorous pleasures to an inordinate degree".

The Loggia of the Villa Farnesina

Once Villa Farnesina's entrance, now the back veranda. A delicious deep leafy glen painted by Raphael and Giulio Romano with their students.

This theme of Psyche, and its coloring, draws the garden and the house together. Above Mercury's hand is an erotic symbol, if you can find it!

The second room downstairs was another Loggia facing the river. Raphael alone painted the scene of Galatea on the half-shell being pulled by complaisant frisky dolphins; his brush strokes shine out with perfect mastery. Michelangelo is said to have passed by one day and painted in a large head (left wall), to show his disapproval of the overly small scale of Raphael's frescoes.

The upper floor holds the prints of the Gabinetto delle Stampe, and occasionally has exhibitions. Chigi's bedroom has frescoes painted by Sodoma, said to be his best. In spite of Chigi's great fortune, his descendants cut such a swathe through his money that in 1590 the Villa was sold to the Farnese family, who hoped to throw a bridge across the Tiber to join their two palaces. They never made it. Carnage ensued when the embankment was built (1879) and the design of the garden was lost forever including the destruction of the big trees.

The stables, that could house 100 horses, also went. The Pavilion and vestiges of Caesar's Water Palace were destroyed. Many of the frescoes and mosaic are now on display at the Palazzo Massimo Museum .

Via della Lungara, 230 Tel. 06 68802323 Mon - Fri 9am-1pm