Art in the Villa Farnesina
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Published: Mon, 07 May 2018
This magnificent loggia, designed by Raphael and mostly painted by his crew of helpers in 1518, shows a spectacular amount of skill. Originally the main villa entrance presided here and the room was an open loggia. The walls imitate realistic architectural form using light and shadow to trick viewers with illusion. Nature plays an important role through the abundance of vegetation in the festoons outlining the ceiling and its partitions, and the illusion of sky along the top and semi-circle lunettes. The fruit and vegetables have an enormous amount of detail, many of which were modeled after the variety of exotic and well maintained plants in the glorious gardens. The color scheme in this room feels very cool. The pinkish shades of skin tone pop out from the ceiling and the interplay between the characters shows a mastery of space and expression.
The ceiling depicts of story of Amour and Psyche as narrated in Apuleius’s Golden Ass. Legend has it, Psyche was the most beautiful child of King Anatolia. Jealous of her, Venus (Aphrodite) asks her son Cupid (Eros) to pierce Psyche with a golden arrow so she would fall in love with the ugliest man on earth. He agrees but falls in love with her instead. The two marry, but Psyche upsets Cupid. Advised by the gods, Psyche sets out to regain Cupid’s love through service. She eventually asks Venus for aid. Venus orders Psyche to perform a series of near impossible tasks. With the aid of others she completes enough for Cupid to forgive her. He flies to Mount Olympus and asks Jove to help save Psyche from the last task. Jove does and during a formal council declares his approval of the marriage between Cupid and Psyche. Later, Cupid fetches Psyche and she drinks immortalizing Ambrosia. The two have a child named Volupta (Bliss or Delight) and Venus and Psyche reconcile.
The entire ceiling focuses around the dramatic love story full of courtship, danger, jealously and pleasure. The two main panels show the Council of the Gods and the Marriage of Cupid and Psyche. Along the sides of the ceiling, Raphael depicts other portions of the story. The beginning panel shows Venus pointing downwards while discussing her plan with Cupid. This room clearly carries the themes of nature and love in a very pagan manner. Raphael successfully intertwines the characters and the style of painting while following more realistic and 3-dimensional Renaissance art.
Sala delle Prospective
The name of this room works perfectly. The side frescoes, designed and painted by Baldassare Peruzzi, depict columns going into the distance. Agostino commissioned him in 1519. When standing in the center of the room, the columns follow perfect perspective. Painted with detail, they imitate dark veined marble. They present an architectural foreground to the countryside background that builds on the illusion of nature within the villa. These views conveniently tie in the traditional villa scene because villas were usually built in the suburbs. The continuation of the floor into the fresco emphasizes the illusion and carries the viewer out. Divinities reside above the doors and windows and a frieze of mythological scenes line the ceiling. The forge of Vulcan has a fitting placement on the northern side, above the fireplace. Deeply coffered squares tile the ceiling and give the room a sense of depth. This room clearly plays on illusions of space and successfully engages the viewer to peer out and interact with nature.
Sala di Sodoma
This room is also known as the Agostino’s bedroom and was commissioned in 1519. Walking in, the walls are completely frescoed. The coffered ceiling depicts scenes from mythology, again showing more pagan references. The most eye-catching aspect of the room is Sodoma’s Marriage of Alexander and Roxanne. Roxanne twists her body as she gazes to the outstretched hand of Alexander. Cherubs occupy a large portion of room along the top of the fresco and within. A few even tug at Roxanne’s limbs. The paintings on the side show people in battle and heading towards the marriage. Stairs leading into the fresco draws in and interacts with the viewer. The reoccurring theme of love and drama clearly presides in this room. Many believe the marriage scene reflects Agostino’s third marriage to Francesca Andreazza. His martial ceremony, performed by Leo X, actually took place in the Villa Chigi. Thus, the frescoed theme of marriage and love properly define the private bedroom as a place of their union.
The Villa Farnesina truly embodied its purpose of entertainment. Agostino Chigi used this building for parties, formal dinners, his wedding, theatrical performances and more. The amount of money and time put into the villa shows how ostentatious Chigi felt about showing his fortune. Agostino Chigi would serve dinner guests on lavish plates of silver. To demonstrate his abundance of money to his company, he would order his servants to toss the silverware out of the windows and into the Tiber after their meals. Secretly nets in the water caught the pieces of eatery and eventually made their way back to the villa.
Architectural choices by Peruzzi emphasize the theatrical purpose of the building. Peruzzi alludes to the function by using Vitruvian authority. Vitruvius explains the design of Roman theatre through arithmetic ratios. Lower stories should have pedestals and an entablature respectively one third and one fifth the height of its columns while upper storey pedestals have half the height and columns have three fourths the height of their lower level counterparts. Peruzzi followed the advice with exactness.
In the early 1500s, theatrical events adapted to their environment not the other way around. The u-shape, and open Loggia di Psyche creates an ideal enclosure for performances. At the time, a raised stage flanked the two wings to line the loggia. Actors entered from the room’s openings. Thoughtfully, the frescoes in the Loggia di Psyche just cover the ceiling while the paintings on the walls restrict themselves to architectural and patterned designs. This made setting changes and backdrops easier to create and adapt to during performances. Illusionary perspective and Muses carrying tragic and comic masks along the walls continue the theatrical implications upstairs in the Sala delle Prospettive.
Goals of the Patron
The goal of creating a building to function as a location for entertainment, partying and showing the wealth of the Chigi family definitely succeeded. In addition, bringing nature into the building presents another major goal when building a villa. At first glance the exterior is lined with an abundant amount of windows, allowing natural light in and connecting the rooms to nature as much as possible. Furthermore, the two loggias were originally open. Not only would that add more light, but sweet smells from the garden and even insects and animals had access to the rooms.
The Loggia di Psyche served as the original entrance into the villa. Observing the ceiling, one can see the impact of nature on the fresco. A thick festoon of leaves and a variety of fruit follow the architectural space along the spandrels and ceiling panels. This matches the frieze on the exterior. The earthly colors and background of blue sky incorporate the outside in. Even the semi-circle lunettes above the walls have painted windows with a fictitious outdoor view. The large vertical panels of windows facing the garden flood the room with daylight. Upstairs, the Sala delle Prospettive creates an illusion of countryside views as one gazes at the frescoes and past the columns. The distant horizon generates a feeling of space and infinity. In Sala di Sodoma, Alexander and Roxanne’s courtship is in a covered area, but effort was made to continue the story outdoors on the side frescoes, and in the background of the main fresco. Nature clearly impacted the villa as a major theme throughout the entire building.
The Villa Farnesina houses art from some of the most prominent figures of its time. Each room tells a different story as one can only imagine the splendor and extravagance Agostino Chigi must have experienced when entertaining guests in his new villa.
After the Chigi sold the building to the Farnese family, the Farnese made plans to connect it by bridge with the Palazzo Farnese. Building began but never completed. In later centuries the Bourbon of Naples owned it, and the Spanish Ambassador in Rome. Today the Italian state has used it for the Accademia dei Lincei and the Gabinetto dei Disegnie dell Stampe. The harmonious architecture, meaningful proportions, innovative and eye-catching frescoes swimming in pagan themes of nature and love will attract passers by and art fanatics for many years to come.
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