Rome has a number of hidden gems. Villa Farnesina is one of them; a magnificent house museum full of beauty.
The wealthy Renaissance banker Agostino Chigi — treasurer to Pope Julius II — had this delightful villa built as his summer house. Although reduced in size over the years, the palazzo still has magnificent gardens.
As we approached the villa on the day we visited, we first saw the gardens from the street, and there was a huge, dignified hawk taking a drink from a fountain. What a surprising sight!
Chigi spared no expense in building his palazzo, a place he wanted to impress others — even the pope. That’s a tall order, but one of Chigi’s decorators was none other than Raphael, one of the greatest painters of the Renaissance. Raphael decorated two amazing rooms where Chigi would entertain his guests. In one room, Raphael painted the story of Galatea, a sea-nymph (depicted at the top of this post). Galatea is seen becoming divine, her red drape flying behind her as she glides across the ocean on a seashell chariot drawn by two dolphins. Look up to see the ceiling that reflects the positions of the planets around the zodiac on Chigi’s birth date, November 29, 1466.
Another gorgeous room is the Loggia of Cupid and Psyche, again, painted by Raphael. It is a breathtaking room.
The vault depicts the wedding feast of the two lovers.
On the first floor, there is a wonderful room all done in trompe-l’oeil. The illusion gives the impression that the room is an open air loggia surrounded by giant pillars, beyond which lies views of the city. Look closely and you’ll see how the room’s real floor seems to extend into the paintings,
There is a lovely myth associated with Villa Farnesina. In the gorgeously ornate Loggia of Galatea is a lunette with a black-and-white sketch of a man’s head, which looks nothing like any of the other paintings in the villa. Legend attributed this drawing to Michelangelo, who allegedly drew it as a joke on Raphael. While this is no longer thought to be true, there has got to be a great story underneath it all.
In 1577, the palazzo passed to the Farnese family, which is how the palazzo received its current name. It was named Farnesina to distinguish it from the Palazzo Farnese, located just across the Tiber. While Michelangelo may not have created the face in Villa Farnesina, he did create the wonderful arch off of the Villa Farnese, now covered with ivy, which was part of a project to link the two villas — a project that never came to fruition.