Palazzo Farnese, Rome

Palazzo Farnese, Rome

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Rome in the Footsteps of an XVIIIth Century Traveller

All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to [email protected]

Page revised in September 2020.

Caprarola - Gardens of Palazzo Farnese
(view of Vallerano - this page is also part of Giuseppe Vasi's Environs of Rome description)

Palazzo Farnese, Rome - History

"Palazzo Farnese, Rome, is the most imposing Italian palace of the sixteenth century. The 56 m (185 ft) façade, occupying the longer side of a spacious piazza, is three storeys tall (recalling Florentine palaces) and thirteen bays wide. It is built of brick with strong stone quoins and has a heavily rusticated portal. Each storey has different window frames (alternating pediments for the piano nobile) placed in dense rows against the flat neutral wall surface, which enhances the sense of scale. The crowning cornice was substantially enlarged by Michelangelo (who also designed the window over the portal) and casts a heavier shadow onto the façade than that envisaged by Sangallo. Sangallo's spectacular three-aisled vestibule (c. 1520-), inspired for example by Roman nymphaea, with its central barrel vault supported on Doric columns, is notable for the sculptural quality of surface."

— Sir Banister Fletcher. A History of Architecture . p873.

The palazzo was begun in 1517, redesigned 1534 and 1541, modified under Michelangelo from 1546, and completed 1589.

— details from Sir Banister Fletcher. A History of Architecture . p873.

Piazza Farnesse, on Vicolo de' Venti.

Roger H. Clark and Michael Pause. Precedents in Architecture . New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1985. two squares diagram, p187. place-at-center diagram, p198. concentricity diagram, p203. — Updated edition available at

James Stevens Curl. Classical Architecture: an introduction to its vocabulary and essentials, with a select glossary of terms . New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1992. ISBN 0-442-30896-5. NA260.C87. exterior photo from across plaza, f4.24, p79.

Howard Davis. Slide from photographer's collection. PCD .0218. PCD.2260.1012.1537.014. PCD.2260.1012.1537.013.

Sir Banister Fletcher. A History of Architecture . Boston: Butterworths, 1987. ISBN 0-408-01587-X. NA200.F63 1987. discussion p873. — The classic text of architectural history. Expanded 1996 edition available at

Sir Banister Fletcher. Sir Banister Fletcher's A History of Architecture . 18th ed., revised by J.C. Palmes. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1975. ISBN 684-14207-4. NA200.F63. description, p822. drawings, p826.

Henry A. Millon. Key Monuments of the History of Architecture . New York: Harry N. Abrams. LC 64-10764. NA202.M5. plan drawing of plaza, p335.

Peter Murray. Architecture of the Renaissance . New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1971. ISBN 8109-1000-4. LC 70-149850. NA510.M87. worm's eye axonometric drawing, f262, p177.

Ludwig G. Heydenreich and Wolfgang Lotz. Architecture in Italy 1400 to 1600 . Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1974. ISBN 14-0560.38-6. NA1115.H4913. section drawing of vestibule, fig63, p201.

Alene Stickles, University of Oregon. Slide from photographer's collection, August 1993. PCD.3189.1011.1916.067

Farnese Palace

Set in the middle of a small piazza, Palazzo Farnese is an impressive testament to the great artists of the Renaissance: Antonio da Sangallo, Michelangelo, Vignola, and Giacomo Della Porta. Considered one of the wonders of Rome, its sheer size has earned it the nickname “the die”.

It all began when Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (the future Pope Paul III) purchased and then demolished the original buildings on the site to create the piazza and his own magnificent residence. Design of the project was awarded to Antonio da Sangallo the Younger. Work began in 1514, but when the original architect died in 1546, Michelangelo was called in. He designed the first two floors, built the third, and adorned the façade with a central balcony. He also had planned to build a bridge that would span the Tiber and connect the rear of the palazzo to the Villa Chigi – also called the “Farnesina”(the little Farnese) – on the opposite bank. But because of the death of Pope Paul III, the project was never completed, although a vestige remains in the form of a short portion of bridge that passes underneath the Via Giulia behind the palazzo. Vignola and Giacomo della Porta were also involved in the project. Some of the construction materials came from ancient Ostia quarries the ceiling beams – which had to be very long and sturdy – were brought in from the Carnia woods.

Ownership of the Palazzo Farnese changed repeatedly over the years. In the 18 th century, the palazzo became the property of the Bourbon Kings of Naples and was re-named “Palazzo Regio Farnese”. For a period in 1860, Francesco II of Naples lived there after losing his kingdom. In 1911 it was purchased by France and then sold to Italy, which in turn rented it back to the French under a 99-year lease for a nominal amount. Since 1874 it has been the headquarters of the French Embassy.

The palace has three floors, which find clear expression on the superb, linear façade. The austere brick ornamentation is variously shaded (due to different baking temperatures), this colouring having been revealed during a recent restoration. It is unclear why such dissimilar bricks were used. Was this multicoloured brick layer intended to be visible, or were the different colours ultimately meant to be hidden with plaster? When one considers other Roman palazzos of the same period, the second hypothesis is more credible.

A Latin inscription clearly visible on the façade commemorates the pope and cardinal responsible for the palazzo's construction.

The interiors include works by important artists: Daniele da Volterra (the famous “Breeches-Maker,” who painted trousers on Michelangelo's nudes in the Sistine Chapel), Taddeo Zuccari, and Annibale Carracci.

The palazzo blends seamlessly with the splendid piazza around it. Piazza Farnese unfolds symmetrically to the viewer with the austere and massive facade of the palazzo as a backdrop. There are two fountains, one on each side, made from two large basins originally from the Baths of Caracalla a lily – the Farnese symbol – has been added to the centre of these. Both basins were originally located in front of the Basilica of San Marco (in the Piazza Venezia), and initially only one was placed in the centre of Piazza Farnese.

Completing the piazza is the 18 th - century church of Saint Brigida, a Swedish saint who founded a convent on the site in 1300. Facing the Palazzo Farnese is also the 18 th - century palazzo of Gallo di Roccagiovine, begun by Baldassarre Peruzzi its massive structure and large doors conceal a splendid interior courtyard and monumental staircase.

For many years the piazza was the central place for Rome's tournaments, bullfights, and festivals. In addition, the spectacular summer flooding events that later made Piazza Navona famous started here.

How to visit Palazzo Farnese in Rome

Palazzo Farnese, a Renaissance jewel in central Rome as well as home to the French embassy to Italy, can be visited by the public on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The 45-minute tours, which must be booked at least a week in advance, are led by professional guides and are conducted in French, Italian or English. The Wednesday tour, at 17.00, is held in English.

There is also an option for group tours for up to 25 people but for security reasons strict rules apply and tours must be requested at least three months in advance.

The tours offer the chance to discover Sangallo&rsquos atrium, the courtyard, the garden and the Hercules Room with its tapestries inspired by Raffaello&rsquos frescoes.

A higlight of the tour is the Carracci Gallery, the 17th-century Baroque masterpiece whose restoration in 2014-2015 uncovered hidden drawings, dates and signatures.

Carracci Gallery at Palazzo Farnese in Rome

The gallery contains frescoes and stucco of mythological scenes completed primarily by the Bolognese maestro Annibale Carracci between 1597 and 1607. Carracci was assisted in this task by his brother Agostino and several of their protégés such as Domenichino and Giovanni Lanfranco.

Palazzo Farnese has played an important role in Rome&rsquos history, politics and art, and over the centuries it has hosted countless diplomats, kings, artists, popes and cardinals. Construction of the palace began in 1517 after a design by architect Antonio da Sangallo the younger.

On the death of Sangallo in 1546, Michelangelo took over the project, modifying Sangallo&rsquos designs. When Michelangelo died in 1564 Giacomo della Porta oversaw work on the building until its completion in 1589.

For full visiting details for the palace, located near Campo de' Fiori, see Inventer Rome website.
Cover photo French embassy to Italy / Mauro Cohen.

The Farnese, their Duchies and their Palaces

What we know, the origins of the Farnese are in central Italy, where they owned some castles. They were warriors, serving the Pope and the feudal lords of the area. It is said that it was uncommon for a Farnese to die in his bed: they were used to fall in battle. Despite of this, the origin of their fortune is not a warrior, but a woman, famous for her great beauty: Giulia Farnese. This girl became the lover of the Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia) and favoured the appointment to cardinal of his brother Alessandro. Since then, the very clever and very greed Alessandro did not stop to operate in favour of himself and his family. Alessandro became Pope in 1534, with the name of Paul III. He laid the foundation for the greatness of the family: he established the two Duchies of Castro (1538) and Parma and Piacenza (1545) and the alliance, artfully managed, with Charles V of Spain, sealed by the marriage between his grandson Ottavio and the natural daughter of Charles V, Margaret of Austria.

Here’s why you need to visits Rome’s Palazzo Farnese and Villa Farnesina

taly is known for its beautiful palazzos and villas, many of which date to the 15 th and 16 th centuries. But although tourists flock to these architectural landmarks, few know the difference between the structures.

Prime examples found in Rome are the Palazzo Farnese and the Villa Farnesina. The structures are located within walking distance of one another, but are on opposite sides of the Tiber River. The former was first designed in 1517 for the Farnese family, who were minor nobles and landowners, primarily in Viterbo. All of that changed in 1534 when Alessandro Farnese became Pope Paul III, who undertook a major renovation of the palazzo.

The building’s history involved some of the most prominent Italian architects of the 16 th century, including Michelangelo, Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola and Giacomo della Porta. Urban palazzos typically faced toward the street and resembled stylized versions of defensive castles. Normally, palazzos are rectangular in shape and enclose a courtyard. This massive palazzo and its facade still dominate the Piazza Farnese.

Pope Paul III employed Michelangelo to redesign and complete the third story and also revise the courtyard. In 1541, Michelangelo made the central window on the second floor into a balcony for the Pope, adding an architrave to give a central focus to the facade, above which is a large Papal stemma, the family coat-of-arms with a Papal tiara.

On the garden side of the palazzo which faced the river, Michelangelo proposed the construction of a bridge which would have linked the palazzo with the Farnese holdings on the opposite bank. Although never completed, remnants of a few arches are in fact still visible in the back of the palazzo towards Via Giulia.

Villa Farnesina was built for Agostino Chigi, a rich Sienese banker and the treasurer for Pope Julius II. It was completed in 1510, just a few years before Palazzo Farnese. He used architect Baldassare Peruzzi, also of Siena, for the design and construction. The multi-talented artist also painted many of the frescoes in the villa. Chigi commissioned frescoes by other artists including Raphael, Sebastiano del Piombo and Giulio Romano. The themes were inspired by the stanze of the poet Angelo Poliziano, a key member of the circle of Lorenzo de’ Medici. Best known are Raphael’s frescoes on the ground floor in the loggia, depicting the classical and secular myths of Cupid and Psyche and The Triumph of Galatea.

National Day of Unity Celebrated in Italy

Intended to be less like a castle and more like an airy pavilion, villas were designed with a U-shaped plan. In the case of Villa Farnesina, it has a five-bay loggia between the side wings. In its original configuration, the main entrance was through the north facing loggia which was open. Today, visitors enter on the south side and the loggia is glazed.

The villa was acquired by the Farnese family in 1584 and was added to their existing property to become Villa Farnesina. Today the villa is owned by the Italian State and houses the Accademia dei Lincei, a long-standing and renowned academy of sciences. The main rooms of the villa, including the loggia, are open to visitors.

In 1874, the French government bought the Palazzo Farnese from the Italian government. Benito Mussolini informed France in 1936 that they could not own the historic palazzo, only rent it. The French government has since had a 99-year lease, which ends in 2035. It pays a token rent of only one euro per month. Unfortunately, since the palazzo houses the French Embassy, the hours for guided tours are quite limited. For tours in English, the hours are 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm on Mondays and the cost of the tour is several times more than the monthly rent.


"The most imposing Italian palace of the 16th century", according to Sir Banister Fletcher, [1] this palace was designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, one of Bramante's assistants in the design of St. Peter's and an important Renaissance architect in his own right. Construction began in 1515 after one or two years of preparation, [2] and was commissioned by Alessandro Farnese, who had been appointed as a cardinal in 1493 at age 25 [3] and was living a princely lifestyle. Work was interrupted by the Sack of Rome in 1527.

When, in January 1534, Cardinal Alessandro became Pope Paul III, the size of the palace was increased significantly and he employed Michelangelo who completed the redesigned third story with its deep cornice and revised the courtyard as well. The post-1534 developments were not only a reflection of Alessandro's change in status but employed architecture to express the power of the Farnese family, much as at their Villa Farnese at Caprarola. The massive palace block and its facade dominate the Piazza Farnese.

Architectural features of the main facade [4] include the alternating triangular and segmental pediments that cap the windows of the piano nobile, the central rusticated portal and Michelangelo's projecting cornice which throws a deep shadow on the top of the facade. Michelangelo revised the central window in 1541, adding an architrave to give a central focus to the facade, above which is the largest papal stemma, or coat-of-arms with papal tiara, Rome had ever seen. When Paul appeared on the balcony, the entire facade became a setting for his person. [5] The courtyard, initially open arcades, is ringed by an academic exercise in ascending orders (Doric, Corinthian, and Ionic). The piano nobile entablature was given a frieze with garlands, added by Michelangelo.

On the garden side of the palace, which faced the River Tiber, Michelangelo proposed the innovatory design of a bridge which, if completed, would have linked the palace with the gardens of the Vigna Farnese, Alessandro's holding on the opposite bank, that later became incorporated into the adjacent villa belonging to the Chigi family, which the Farnese purchased in 1584 and renamed the Villa Farnesina. [6] While the practicalities of achieving this bridge remain dubious, the idea was a bold and expansive one.

During the 16th century, two large granite basins from the Baths of Caracalla were adapted as fountains in the Piazza Farnese, the "urban" face of the palace.

The palazzo was further modified for the papal nephew Ranuccio Farnese by Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola. It was completed for the second Cardinal Alessandro Farnese by Giacomo della Porta's porticoed facade towards the Tiber which was finished in 1589.

Following the death of Cardinal Odoardo Farnese in 1626, the palazzo stood virtually uninhabited for twenty years. At the conclusion of the War of Castro with the papacy, Duke Odoardo was able to regain his family properties, which had been sequestered. The resulting inventory (see below) is the oldest surviving complete inventory of Palazzo Farnese.

After Odoardo's death, Pope Alexander VII allowed Queen Christina of Sweden to lodge in the palace for several months, but she "proved a tenant from hell". [7] After her departure for Paris, the papal authorities discovered that her unruly servants not only had stolen the silver, tapestries, and paintings, but also had "smashed up doors for firewood" and removed sections of copper roofing. [8]

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Palazzo Farnese, Rome - History

For this exhibition, the Palace will be open by reservation only, and will welcome the return of the Museum Farnesianum the Hall of the Emperors and the Hall of the Philosophers will be recreated and, for the occasion, the famous Dacian prisoners will resume their place alongside the porphyry statue of Apollo, known at the time as Roma Triumphans.

The French Ambassador to Italy, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, shows some of the treasures of the Palazzo Farnese (in French):

Farnese Hercules
Roman copy of a lost original by Lysippus
Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples
Thanks to new technology, the courtyard will be virtually occupied by the imposing silhouettes of the Farnese Atlas, the Farnese Hercules and the Farnese Bull. Generous loans from the magnificent collection of the National Archaeological Museum of Naples have enabled the return of these works.

Among the most notable furniture, the worktable from the Museum of Ecouen, designed to hold the Farnese's collection of coins and cameos. Tapestries from the Quirinal, lent by the President of the Italian Republic, and from Chambord Castle, as well as Renaissance ceramics, retake their place in the salons of the main floor.

The portrait of Pope Paul III by Titian, Christ and the Canaanite woman painted by Annibale Carracci for the private chapel of Cardinal Odoardo, works by Sebastiano del Piombo, Carracci and El Greco testify to the rich collection of paintings newly exhibited in the northeast gallery. The collection of preparatory drawings by Annibale Carracci (from, inter alia, the Louvre) and frescoes from the Palazzo Fava in Bologna illustrate the design of the famous fresco cycle The loves of the Gods by Carracci. Most of the paintings mentioned are from the Capodimonte Museum of Naples, and from museums in Parma and Bologna.

Annibale Carracci, The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne (1595)
Palazzo Farnese, Rome
The exhibition aims to revive the intertwined stories of Popes, cardinals, kings, ambassadors and artists who, for five centuries, met and lived in the Farnese Palace, contributing to making it an exceptional and vibrant place.

The Palazzo Farnese was commissioned by Alessandro Farnese (1468-1549), who in 1534 became Pope Paul III. Begun in 1514 by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, the construction of the Palace continued under the direction of Michelangelo (1546-1549), then Vignola and Giacomo della Porta, who completed it in 1589.

Domenichino, Virgin and a Unicorn (1602)
Palazzo Farnese, Rome
The Cardinals Ranuccio, Eduardo and Alessandro Farnese, Paul III's descendants, entrusted to the greatest artists of the time the painted decoration of the ceremonial rooms: Towards 1560, the grand salon of the Fasti around 1600, the Camerino, then the Carracci gallery. The remarkable Farnese collection of sculptures, paintings, art objects and books continued to expand.

Towards the middle of the seventeenth century, the interests of the Farnese family moved from Rome to Parma, then the family died out and its possessions passed in the first half of the eighteenth century to the Bourbons of Naples, to where the complete Farnese collection was transferred.

Watch the video: A rare visit to Palazzo Farnese, one of Romes secret gems!