Talk about fortunate families. Pope Alexander Borgia took Giulia Farnese (‘la Bella’) as a mistress. A result was that Giulia’s brother, in papal favor, was appointed Cardinal. Next he’d acquired a Palace. Luckier still, he later became Pope himself, Paul III, who was able to coopt a line of papal architects to embellish and extend his property. So Sangallo and then Michelangelo designed the Palazzo Farnese façade. It’s embossed walls and Michelangelo’s ‘cornacchione’ proclaim, ‘Here’s family with clout’. The ‘dado’ – dice or cube – soon became known as ‘Rome’s fourth wonder’.
The Atrium and the Cortile beyond are the work of Sangallo, the latter’s triple order of columns modeled after the ancient Teatro di Marcello. Also Roman are the decorative sarcophagi, though much of the family’s ancient statuary collection is now elsewhere.
POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE, FARNESE STYLE
Climb the stairs to the Piano Nobile; at one end the Sala dei Fasti Farnesiani the wall murals celebrate Paul III as peacemaker, although one can’t help remarking the massed lances and cannons. With his hallmark forward-jutting beard he’s flanked by Peace and Religion, while to the right a much smaller Charles V and Francis I shake hands like papal puppets. To the left Renown, rather unnecessarily, blows her trumpet to celebrate Europe’s main man and arbiter. A far cry from the family’s origins that was once described as a ‘a dynasty of rapacious barons.’ The other wall, by Salviati and Zuccari, tells with copious spin, a different story. The 14 century Etrurian and pre-papal warlord, Ranuccio il Vecchio is depicted as Aeneas, weaponry being handed down to him fresh from Vulcan’s forge. In other scenes he rides to victory, son Pietro bearing the Farnese flag, its lilies anything but peaceful.
There is more grandeur in the Salon or Hercules room. The original Hercules statue is in Naples, but the room itself, two stories high, is still a match for scale. A majestic fireplace is propped by della Porta’s statues: ‘Abundance’ and, to be honest, an unattractive crone-faced ‘Peace’. Both originally were meant for Pope Paul’s tomb. Proof that wood can also be miraculous is Sangallo’s ceiling, the family crest again is the proud focus.
‘What is this thing called love?’ asks the song. There’s no more glorious answer than the Caracci Galleria on the same floor. “This o so populated heaven”, to echo art expert Francesca Pini’s description of the even “gloriouser” Galleria- its 133 square meters have been restored by an all-female team of restorers. Stucchi dulled with time dazzles white again; the gold trompe-l’oeil frames, seem freshly polished, as do the fake bronze medallions, each with an Ovid story tucked inside. Deities have lost their cracks/ varicose veins/ wrinkles, the most notable being Andromeda, who was originally modeled on perfect marble. And love? Crazy, tormented, idyllic, betrayed, sometimes fatal, it’s all there.
Entry Fee 9€ (Children under 10 not allowed)
Guided Visits on Mon, Wed, Fri
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