Travelling through Italy. Villa Farnese in Caprarola (Viterbo)

Click on image to enlarge it

Aerial view of the Villa.    Photo (c) Ruggero Arena

Aerial view of the Villa. Photo (c) Ruggero Arena

A traveller planning a trip in Italy often considers first the ‘famous’ places like Venice, Florence, Rome or Pompei and classic area like Tuscany’s vineyard or the seascape of Cinque Terre and Sorrento. Undeniably worth a first visit, these places lure masses of tourists while hundreds of incredible gems of art and architecture are seldom visited (even by Italians).

One of the best characteristics of the Italian peninsula is the amazing variety of landscapes. The view, territory, even the light changes every few kilometers, small towns and big towns are scattered everywhere and very few are not worth a visit. The majority of these places are many centuries old and the signs of the past are quite visible and charming. Some of these places host exceptional architectural, artistic and/or archaeological treasures.  Caprarola, about one hour north of Rome, is a small, quaint, late mediaeval hill town that wouldn’t be a likely tourist destination if it weren’t for an absolutely spectacular building: the Villa Farnese.

Plan of the Villa Farnese

Plan of the Villa Farnese

The Building

Villa Farnese is a XVIth century massiveRenaissance architecture construction, finished in the Mannerist style, built on a five-sided plan with a cylindrical courtyard and buttresses supporting the upper floors.

In 1504, the future Farnese Pope Paul III acquired the estate, had designs made for a fortified castle by the architects  Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and Baldassare Peruzzi and started its construction around 1520. The grandson of Pope Paul III, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, planned to turn the partly constructed fortified edifice into a villa by commissioning Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola to change the original plans. The works resumed in 1556 and ended around 1573.

Front view of the Villa

Front view of the Villa

View of the sky from the courtyard

View of the sky from the courtyard

The villa’s interiors are arranged over five floors with the main rooms located on the first floor or “piano nobile”.

Here we find the large central loggia (the Room of Hercules) that looks down over the town.

View of the Ambulatory from the courtyard

View of the Ambulatory from the courtyard

Entrance to a room on the Piano Nobile  from the Ambulatory

Entrance to a room on the Piano Nobile from the Ambulatory

Structure of the "Scala Regia"

Structure of the “Scala Regia”

Detail of the ramp of the Scala Regia

Detail of the ramp of the Scala Regia

Scala Regia:   Detail of its upper structure

Scala Regia: Detail of its upper structure

Access to the Piano Nobile from the Scala Regia

Access to the Piano Nobile from the Scala Regia

The frescoed vault of the Scala Regia

The frescoed vault of the Scala Regia

The Villa exterior wall showing the buttress

The Villa exterior wall showing the buttress

View of the Villa (Piano Nobile) from the gardens

View of the Villa (Piano Nobile) from the gardens

The Chapel.  Detail of the circular room

The Chapel. Detail of the circular room

To either side of the loggia are two circular rooms: one is the Chapel, the other accommodates the principal staircase or Scala Regia, a graceful spiral of steps supported by pairs of Ionic columns rising up through three floors and frescoed by Antonio Tempesta.

The first floor level has two grand apartments symmetric in plan and completing the enclosure of the courtyard. Each has a series of five rooms which begin with the largest (a reception hall) near the loggia and proceed with increasing intimacy and decreasing size.

The gardens of the villa are as impressive as the building itself, a significant example of the Italian Renaissance garden period.

 

Partial view of the Room of the World Map

Partial view of the Room of the World Map

The decorations

While the structure of the villa is particularly beautiful, the extensive decorations of the building are its most amazing feature.

Frescoes and stuccoes cover most of the ceilings and walls. The frescoes present mythological, religious and historical-political scenes (many related to the Farnese family), the “grotesque motifs’ frescoes are mixed with delicate stuccoes to frame the frescoed images of Gods, Saints, and people. ‘Grotesque’ describes the fantastic, bizarre and unpleasant images used to decorate Italian interiors from the XVth century, after their discovery in “grottoes” located in unearthed villas of the Imperial Rome. The Villa Farnese decorations were executed by many hands under the supervision of Antonio Tempesta.

The various rooms are named after the subjects depicted in the space or the intended function.  I list the names of the rooms of the “piano nobile” because they are as intriguing as the rooms themselves: AMBULATORY, LOGGIA OF HERCULES, CHAPEL, ROOM OF FARNESE DEEDS, ANTEROOM OF THE COUNCIL, ROOM OF AURORA, ROOM OF THE WOOL-MAKERS, ROOM OF SOLITUDE or THE PHILOSOPHERS, ROOM OF HERMATHENA, ROOM OF THE TOWER, ROOM OF PENITENCE, ROOM OF JUDGEMENT, ROOM OF DREAMS, ANTEROOM OF THE ANGELS and ROOM OF THE WORLD MAP.

As I normally do, rather than continue with a very long description of the place and what is relevant, I include here a selection of images whose subjects I found particularly interesting or beautiful. It should be realized that reproductions could never convey the complexity and beauty of the place; the Villa is truly a visual treat and visiting it is a fascinating journey in the past. It needs to be experienced to be appreciated.  I spent hours visiting the (almost deserted) villa and look forward to see it again during the summer, when the ground floor, and the casino will be open and the gardens in bloom.

Room of the World Map. One half of the Celestial Map on the vault

Room of the World Map. One half of the Celestial Map on the vault

Room of the World Map. The other half of the Celestial Map on the vault

Room of the World Map. The other half of the Celestial Map on the vault

The Farnese Coat of Arms in the Room of Farnese Deeds

The Farnese Coat of Arms in the Room of Farnese Deeds

Room of Farnese Deeds. Detail of a fresco. Francis I welcomes Charles V and Cardinal Farnese.

Room of Farnese Deeds. Detail of a fresco. Francis I welcomes Charles V and Cardinal Farnese.

Room of Farnese Deeds.  Julius III returns the city of Parma to the Farnese

Room of Farnese Deeds. Julius III returns the city of Parma to the Farnese

Room of Farnese Deeds.  The Marriage of Ottavio Farnese and Margaret of Austria

Room of Farnese Deeds. The Marriage of Ottavio Farnese and Margaret of Austria

Room of Hermatena.  Mercury and Minerva

Room of Hermatena. Mercury and Minerva

Room of the tower. Cieling panelling

Room of the tower. Cieling panelling

 Room of Aurora. Vault fresco. Aurora heralded by Twilight chases Night away.

Room of Aurora. Vault fresco. Aurora heralded by Twilight chases Night away.

Room of the woolmakers.   Arachne challenges Minerva to a weaving contest and Minerva destroys the loom and changes Arachne into a spider

Room of the woolmakers. Arachne challenges Minerva to a weaving contest and Minerva destroys the loom and changes Arachne into a spider

 Room of the wallmakers.   The three Graces at the spring after Cupid has stolen their clothes.

Room of the wallmakers. The three Graces at the spring after Cupid has stolen their clothes.

Room of the woolmakers.  Detail of the ceiling. Vault panel: Minerva teaches mankind to wear clothes.

Room of the woolmakers. Detail of the ceiling. Vault panel: Minerva teaches mankind to wear clothes.

Room of the woolmakers. Ceiling details.

Room of the woolmakers. Ceiling details.

Detail in  the ceiling of the Room of the woolmakers.

Detail in the ceiling of the Room of the woolmakers.

Room of the woolmakers.  Another detail.

Room of the woolmakers. Another detail.

Room of Solitude or the Philosophers.   Detail of the ceiling.

Room of Solitude or the Philosophers. Detail of the ceiling.

Room of penitence.  The vision of Saint Antony

Room of penitence. The vision of Saint Antony

Room of Judgement.  The judgement of Salomon

Room of Judgement. The judgement of Salomon

 Room of Judgement.  Moses judge of the Israelites.

Room of Judgement. Moses judge of the Israelites.

Room of dreams.  Jacob's dream on the vault

Room of dreams. Jacob’s dream on the vault

Anteroom of the Angels.  The Archangel Michael announces the end of the plague.

Anteroom of the Angels. The Archangel Michael announces the end of the plague.

The Anteroom of the Angels.  Vault detail: The banishment of the rebel Angels.

The Anteroom of the Angels. Vault detail: The banishment of the rebel Angels.

Anteroom of the Angels.  An Angel with Jerusalem

Anteroom of the Angels. An Angel with Jerusalem

Anteroom of the Angels, detail.

Anteroom of the Angels, detail.

Anteroom of the Council.  The truce of Nice between Charles V and Francis I.

Anteroom of the Council. The truce of Nice between Charles V and Francis I.

Anteroom of the Council.  Detail of the ceiling.

Anteroom of the Council. Detail of the ceiling.

Anteroom of the Council.  Detail of a vaulted corner

Anteroom of the Council. Detail of a vaulted corner

 

Reference: http://www.sbap-lazio.beniculturali.it/

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *