Villa Farnesina ☆☆

The Sala delle Prospettive frescoed by Peruzzi, Villa Farnesina, Rome, Italy (Photo by Combusken)
The Sala delle Prospettive frescoed by Peruzzi

The Villa Farnesina is a gorgeously frescoed private Renaissance villa belonging to a famous 16th-century banker

Baldassare Peruzzi built this modestly sized but sumptuously decorated villa for banking mogul Agostino Chigi in 1508–11.

Lucky for posterity, Chigi had particularly good taste in artists and he hired the likes of Raphael, Sodoma, and the multi-talented Peruzzi to decorate the interior of his sumptuous new villa.

Downstairs: The Loggia of Galatea

The Loggia of Galatea has a ceiling painted by Peruzzi with Chigi's horoscope symbols, lunettes by Sebastiano del Piombo featuring scenes from Ovid's Metamorphosis, and the famous Galatea by Raphael.

This perfectly composed Renaissance fresco depicts the nymph and her friends attempting to flee on the backs of pug-nosed dolphins from their mermen admirers, with an arch of oft-reproduced cupids hovering above, their arrows of love already taut in their bows.

Downstairs: The Loggia of Cupid & Psyche

The ceiling in the Loggia of Cupid and Psyche is frescoed as an open pergola of flowers and fruit that frame scenes from the myth of Psyche, a woman so beautiful Cupid himself fell in love with her.

The fresco cycle was designed by by Raphael, but largely executed between 1510 and 1517 (and restored in the 1990s) by Raphael’s students Giulio Romano, Raffaellino del Colle, and Francesco Penni.

Conspicuous consumption

Chigi loved to show off his vast wealth. At one memorably extravagant dinner held here on a now vanished loggia overlooking the Tiber River, Chigi had his servants toss the emptied silver plates into the river after each course.

(Of course, Chigi didn't get so rich by being stupid; nets downstream collected all the tableware before it got too far.)

The master himself probably drew up the preparatory sketches and may have daubed his brushes a bit at the plaster as well, but Raphael spent most of the time he was meant to be here working visiting with his girlfriend, La Fornarina, the daughter of a baker who lived a few blocks down the road, just inside the Trastevere gate in the city walls where there is now restaurant bearing her nickname. (Her famous portrait by Raphael hangs in the Palazzo Barberini painting gallery.)

It was after one such visit that Raphael came home with a high fever, which quickly worsened until the young genius died on April 6, 1520 from—and this was the official report—a "surfeit of love." Raphael was buried in the Pantheon.

Chigi, who died the same year, was buried in a now-famous chapel—designed by Raphael, later embellished by Bernini—in Santa Maria del Popolo.

Upstairs: The Peruzzi and Sodoma frescoes

In the grand Sala delle Prospettive upstairs, Peruzzi frescoed every inch of the walls to masterfully carry trompe-l'oeil to its extremes—the name of the room is a bit of a pun, and could be translated either as "Room of Perspectives" or "Room of Views."

The frescoes allowed Chigi to glimpse, straight through the walls, the (slightly idealized) outside world of Roman country and cityscape, peeped from between the painted marble columns of a (fake) open loggia.

It was as if every day were a warm spring day and he could dine al fresco with views of the surrounding countryside.

Even with the frescoes faded by time, Peruzzi’s painterly and architectural tricks create a pretty convincing optical illusion. Notice how, from the correct angles, the room's real flooring and coffered ceiling are continued into the painted space with perfect perspective.

The imperial army of Charles V, sacking the city in 1527, didn't seem to have much respect for this talent, scratching into the frescoes' plaster anti-papal epithets in gothic German script and signing their names and in one place the date (at the time it was vandalous graffiti; time has turned it into a precious historical record to be preserved behind Plexiglas shields).

The more things change...

Awesome Farnesina trivia tidbit: In the 1870s, workers preparing to build the Tiber embankments stumbled across the remains of an ancient Roman villa on this property which turned out to be from the early 1st century and belong to Augustus' son-in-law, the great general Agrippa.

Like its Renaissance neighbor, the ancient palace had been slathered inside with frescoes, many of which were well preserved thanks to having been buried in mud during the Dark Ages from the very Tiber floods the modern embankments were being built to prevent.

One of the rooms of this ancient palace—nicknamed Villa della Farnesina—was a winter dining room, the walls of which were covered in trompe-l'oeil scenes of the surrounding gardens, as if you were dining outdoors under a tent in springtime. Peruzzi himself could have painted it.

More proof that, in Rome, tastes and trends often didn't change all that much, even over 1,500 years.

You can even see for yourself: That ancient frescoed room has been recreated, with its original frescoes, in the National Roman Museum at Palazzo Massimo alle Terme.

The small bedchamber off this room was frescoed with a delightful scene of the Wedding Night of Alexander the Great by Il Sodoma.

The Tuscan painter frescoed an army of putti helping Roxanne off with her sandals and see-though nightie as Mr. the Great sashays over to join his new bride under the bed canopy (rather less romantic are the Alexander battle scenes frescoed on the room's other walls).

Evening concerts

The museum now hosts regular evening concerts; you can see the schedule and book tickets for performances here: 

Photo gallery
  • The Sala delle Prospettive frescoed by Peruzzi, Villa Farnesina, Italy (Photo by Combusken)
  • The garden facade by Peruzzi, Villa Farnesina, Italy (Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)
  • The Loggia of Cupid & Psyche (1517–18), frescoed by Raphael
  • The Council of Gods in the Loggia of Cupid & Psyche (1517–18), frescoed by Raphael
  • The Loggia of Galatea with frescoes by Raphael and Sebastiano del Piombo, Villa Farnesina, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Polyphemus by Sebastiano del Piombo, in The Loggia of Galatea, Villa Farnesina, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Council of Gods in the Loggia of Cupid & Psyche (1517–18), frescoed by Raphael
  • Monochrome portrait of a young man by Peruzzi, Villa Farnesina, Italy (Photo by Peter1936F)
  • Loggia di Galatea, Villa Farnesina, Italy (Photo by Combusken)
  • The staircase, Villa Farnesina, Italy (Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)
  • The front facade by Peruzzi, Villa Farnesina, Italy (Photo by Peter1936F)
  • Detail of the Sala delle Prospettive frescoed by Peruzzi, Villa Farnesina, Italy (Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)
  • The bedroom, frescoed by Il Sodoma (1517), Villa Farnesina, Italy (Photo by Silke Baron)
  • Ceiling of the bedroom, Villa Farnesina, Italy (Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)
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Tips

How long does Villa Farnesina take?

Figure spending 45 minutes or so in here.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
     
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
     
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).