The villa called the Farnesina is situated on Via della Lungara, opposite the Corsini Palace. The Sienese banker, Agostino Chigi, named "magnifico" by his contemporaries, acquired the villa, which had been completed in 1509 by Baldassarre Peruzzi, a Sienese architect of great renown. The villa, a wonderful example of Renaissance art, was decorated by such famous painters as Raffaello, Sebastiano del Piombo, Giovanni Antonio Bazzi (called Sodoma), Giulio Romano and Peruzzi himself, and it was furnished with such magnificence that it aroused general admiration. In the rooms of the Villa high prelates, noblemen, poets, men of letters and artists used to meet; comedies were performed there and sumptuous banquets were held. The most famous of these were the banquet of 30 April 1518 and the one in honour of St. Augustine's day in 1519. The first banquet, with a magnificent decor of tapestries and carpets was laid out in the stables, which at that time were placed near the Tiber and were later demolished when a high Tiber wall was built. The second banquet, on the occasion of the wedding of Agostino and Francesca Ordeasca, which was blessed by Pope Leo X, was held in a setting of pomp and splendour, in the great hall of the villa, and in the presence of the Pope himself, twelve Cardinals and many guests.
After Agostino Chigi's death, the villa was bought by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (from whom the Villa takes its name). It passed to the Bourbon family in 1714; and finally a long lease of the villa at ground rent was given to the Spanish Ambassador Bermudez de Castro, Duke of Ripetta, who later redeemed it. The Italian State bought the Villa from the Duke's heirs and in 1928 it was destined to become the home of the Reale Accademia d'Italia. After the suppression of the Accademia d'Italia in 1944, the villa became the property of the Lincei Academy, which, by law, had succeeded the suppressed Academy.
The Farnesina is set in the midst of a beautiful garden of bergamot trees, cedars of Lebanon, cypresses, laurel bushes and evergreens. On the ground floor of the Villa an entrance hall leads to the Loggia of Psyche, (recently restored) painted in fresco (after designs mainly attributed to Raffaello) by the Master himself and by his pupils Giulio Romano, Francesco Penni, Raffaellino del Colle and Giovanni da Udine. It was da Udine who painted the wonderful festoons of flowers, leaves and fruits, each in a separate square. The frescoes represent episodes in the story of Eros and Psyche as told by Apuleius in the "Metamorphosis"; particularly worthy of note are those of Venus showing Eros her rival Psyche, Eros talking to the three Graces, Venus going to Olympus on her chariot pulled by doves, and the "Amoretti" seen within curvilinear triangles, depicting the triumph of Eros over all mortal and immortal beings. The story ends with two scenes painted on the pseudo tapestry of the ceiling, representing the Council and the Banquet of the Gods, during which the marriage between Eros and Psyche is arranged and celebrated.
On the left of the Loggia of Psyche is the Room of the Frieze, round which is a fresco of mythological scenes painted by Baldassarre Peruzzi. The labours of Hercules, the myth of Orpheus, Mercury with the heifers of Apollo, and the Rape of Europa are particularly remarkable for their wealth of detail.
On the right is the Hall of Galathea, which contains Raffaello's famous fresco representing the triumph of the nymph Galathea, on a shell pulled by dolphins. All around there are delicate and idealized landscapes painted by Gaspare Dughet, and higher up there is an arresting Head of a Young Man, against a rough background. In the past this was attributed to Michelangelo but modern opinion is inclined to ascribe it to Sebastiano del Piombo or, more probably, to Peruzzi. The lunettes, representing several myths, and the wide square in which the cyclopean figure of Polyphemus stands out, are the work of del Piombo. The vaulted roof, painted by Peruzzi, presumably represents the position of the stars at the time of Agostino Chigi's birth, indicating his horoscope.
A light and elegant staircase leads from the entrance hall to the first floor and into the wonderful Salone delle Prospettive designed by Peruzzi. Here the walls seem to open on to shining landscapes, framed by columns, and an amazing sense of reality is achieved. A frieze runs along the upper part of the walls, depicting mythological scenes; it is attributed to a painter of the school of Raffaello, probably Giulio Romano. Over a great fireplace on the left is to be seen the Forge of Vulcan, attributed by some to Peruzzi and by others to the Roman school. Beside this fireplace three doors open off into the National Collection of Prints. During recent restorations, an ancient "graffiti", in German gothic, came to light between the columns. It marks the passage of the Lansquenets and states: "1528 - why shouldn't I laugh: the Lansquenets have put the Pope to flight".
Finally a door leads to the room which was Agostino Chigi's alcove, painted in fresco chiefly by Giovanni Antonio Bazzi (called Sodoma) and representing episodes of the life of Alexander of Macedonia. On the wall opposite the windows, the fresco of the marriage between Alexander and the Persian princess Roxane is of particular note; on the other walls there is Vulcan's Forge, the meeting of Alexander with Darius's widow, a battle scene, and the episode of Alexander subduing Bucephalus. Almost certainly this last fresco was not painted by Sodoma, but by an unknown stylised painter of a later date.
Quisquis huc accedis: quod tibi horridum videtur mihi amoenum est; si placet, maneas, si taedet abeas, utrumque gratum.
[Trad.: Whoever enters here: what seems horrid to you is pleasant to me. If you like it, stay, if it bores you, go away; both are equally pleasing to me. ]