Villa Farnese

From Academic Kids

The Villa Farnese at Caprarola is sometimes incorrectly known as the Villa Caprarola. It should not be confused with the Palazzo Farnese, Rome


First Impression

The Villa Farnese at Caprarola is massive. That phrase is probably one of the most accurate descriptions of every aspect of this Renaissance masterpiece built circa 1550 in the Monte Cimini. The Monte Cimini are a range of densely wooded volcanic hills approximately 35 miles north-west of Rome. The journey from Rome to the Villa, even today, heightens the sense of anticipation and drama of a visit: one drives over empty roads, past the Lake of Vigo, through a great gorge with tremendously loud torrents of water, then on the hillside appears the grey stone village of Caprarola, and there towering on the summit of the hill, is the five sided Villa Farnese, its reddish gold stone glinting menacingly at the landscape, its buttress like lower floors supporting the piano nobile above, and above again on two floors sits an almost complete two storey villa in itself. If the Villa Capra "La Rotunda" was designed to sit harmoniously in its landscape, then the Villa Farnese was designed to dominate and master all it surveyed, trees, gorge, cowering peasants and the approaching traveller.


The Villa Farnese was commissioned by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese a grandson of Pope Paul III who was known for advancing the ambitions of his relations. Farnese was a courteous man of letters, however the Farnese family as a whole became unpopular with the following pope, Julius III. Alessandro Farnese decided it would be politic to retire from The Vatican for a period. He therefore selected Caprarola on the family holding of Ronciglione, being both near and far from Rome as the ideal place to build a country house. The wilderness of the site would have also made any attack difficult, an old fortress or rocca had been built there many years before for this very reason. The five-sided foundations of this fortress were able to be in part re-used for the new villa.


Architecturally the Villa is one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture. Ornament is used sparingly to achieve proportion and harmony. Thus while the house stands out in its landscape, the severity of the design is also a complement to it. This particular style, known today as mannerism, was a reaction to the ornate earlier high renaissance designs of twenty years earlier.

In 1550 the architect chosen for this difficult and inhospitable site was the Bolognese Giacomo Barozzi_da_Vignola. Vignola in his youth had been heavily influenced by Michelangelo. His plans as built were for a pentagon constructed around a circular colonnaded courtyard: a unique plan. In the galleried court, paired Ionic columns flank niches containing busts of the Roman Emperors. The gallery and upper floors were reached by five spiral staircases around the courtyard: the most important of these is the Scala Regia ("Royal Stairs") rising through the principal floors.

Outside, the Villa Farnese is approached by steps from the village Piazza. a series of terraces begin with the basement sotteranei excavated from the tufa. surrounded by steep curving steps leading to the terrace above. This basement floor in the foundations appears as a series of buttresses and retaining walls, large heavily grilled doors in the rusticated walls appear to lead into the bowels of the house, while above them a curved balustraded external double stairway leads to the terrace above. Which in turn has a formal double staircase to the principal entrance on the 'Piano dei Prelati' floor. This bastion like floor (appears as a 2nd ground floor) is rusticated, the main door a severe arch flanked by three windows each side, the facade at this level is terminated my massive solid projections.

Above this is the double height piano nobile, five huge arched windows incongruously dominate the facade over the front door, above this sit a further two floors, the numerous windows divided by rusticated pilasters in dressed stone.


The principal staircase or 'Scala Regia' is a graceful spiral of steps supported by pairs of Ionic columns rising up through the three floors, frecoed by Antonio Tempesta

On the piano nobile are a series of 12 state rooms, are justly famed for their frescoes by the brothers Taddeo Zuccaro and Federigo Zuccaro. The frescoes portray the exploits of such worthies as Alexander the Great, Hercules and of course the Farnese family themselves: in the 'Hall of the Farnese Annals' decorated by the Zuccaro brothers, the Farnese are depicted at all their most glorious moments, from floor to coffered ceiling. Another amazing room is the Summer Dining Hall, this hall too is frescoed, bit also contains grotto like sculpture.


The gardens of the Villa are as impressive as the building itself. The Villa's fortress theme is carried out in a moat and three drawbridges; the gardens are designed around the moat. The lower garden is reached from a drawbridge from the terrace of the piano nobile. This is a garden of box topiary, parterres and fountains. A grotto like theatre was once here. A walk through the woods from here leads to the well known Casino, a small habitable summerhouse. A 'catena d'acqua' (a kind of cascaded rill) flows from the loggia of the casino to the fountains below. The ornate and frescoed casino has its own parterres, rather like a small villa in miniature.


Alessandro Farnese died in 1589 bequeathing his estates to relations - the Farnese dukes of Parma. The lights were already dimming in the Villa, the Cardinal's fabulous collection was transferred eventually to family properties in Naples. In the 19th century the villa became for a while the residence of the heir to the throne of the newly united Italy, but by now the lights were barely a flicker.

Today the Casino, and its gardens are one of the homes of the President of the Italian Republic. The empty main Villa, owned by the State, is open to the public. The numerous rooms, salons and halls all with their marbles and frescoes, and the architecture of the great, palazzo like, villa are still as impressive and daunting as they were first intended to be.

External Link - Photographs

[1] ( Farnese


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