Villa Farnesina is one of my favourite spots in Rome. Visitors I take there are always enchanted, but never overwhelmed, because it is relatively small yet truly stunning. I would recommend this Renaissance villa along the Tiber as the perfect way to start a relaxing or romantic weekend. Be careful though– it is only open from 9 am until 2 pm Monday to Saturday.
The interior of the villa, designed by architect Baldassare Peruzzi for banker Agostino Chigi in the early sixteenth century, is sumptuously decorated with colourful frescoes. The most famous of these, found in the first room visitors walk into, is the Triumph of Galatea by Raphael. I remember the first time I saw this fresco in real life I stopped and gazed at it for about ten minutes. I like the sense of movement in the painting, and the cherubs pointing their arrows at Galatea, a sea nymph who falls in love with a shepherd in Greek mythology.
While this fresco commands the most attention, it is not the only jewel in the room. If you look up in the Loggia of Galatea you can also admire brilliant frescoes by the villa’s designer Peruzzi on the ceiling, which depict more mythological and astrological themes. Here is one I like especially, portraying the nymph Callisto riding on Jupiter’s chariot:
Moving on through the villa, you will come to the Loggia of Cupid and Psyche. This room boasts more frescoes designed by Raphael and his workshop, including paintings on the ceiling showing scenes from the fable of Psyche, such as her marriage to Cupid:
Next door is the Room of the Frieze, named after the thin frieze that runs around the top of the wall depicting scenes from the life of Hercules. In here I also spotted some interesting grotesques, a style of art I am particularly fond of:
Upstairs the largest room is called the Hall of the Perspective Views. Here you can see rural views and perspective paintings by Peruzzi, as well as more mythological scenes. It wasn’t so easy to capture individual sections on the camera in here, it is best viewed as a whole. Here is one example of the perspective art:
Finally you come to the Room of the Marriage of Alexander the Great and Roxana. This is a small room that is nevertheless covered, and perhaps swamped, by its wall frescoes. It was originally Chigi’s bedchamber, and he commissioned Giovanni Antonio Bazzi to paint the walls with scenes relating to Alexander’s marriage. Here is one:
On your way out of the villa, take a look right around it to admire its beauty from outside. There are small fountains and lemon trees in the grounds and in spring and summer time pretty flowers are also blooming. No wonder Cardinal Alessandro Farnese decided to snap this place up at the end of the sixteenth century.
Here’s the villa in February…