Palazzo Farnese, Rome: Wikis


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Palazzo Farnese in Rome
A mid-18th century engraving of Palazzo Farnese by Giuseppe Vasi.
The Papal Arm of Farnese Pope Paul III
Detail of the Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne by Annibale Carracci, the Farnese Gallery, 1595.
The Virgin and The Unicorn, probably by Domenichino, ca 1602

Palazzo Farnese is a High Renaissance palace in Rome, which currently houses the French Embassy in Italy.

"The most imposing Italian palace of the sixteenth century", according to Sir Banister Fletcher[1], this palace was designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger (1484-1546), one of Bramante's assistants in the design of St. Peter's. Construction began in 1515 after one or two years of preparation,[2] commissioned by Alessandro Farnese, who had been appointed as a Cardinal in 1493 at age 25 (thanks to his sister, who was Pope Alexander VI Borgia's official mistress) 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 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.[3] The courtyard, initially open arcades, is ringed by an academic exercise in ascending orders (Doric, Corinthian, and Ionic). The piano nobile entablature had a frieze with garlands added by Michelangelo.

The palazzo was further modified under Michelangelo after Sangallo's death in 1546 onwards, adjusted for the papal nephew Ranuccio Farnese by Vignola and completed by Giacomo della Porta's porticoed facade towards the Tiber, for the second cardinal Alessandro Farnese, finished in 1589. Several main rooms were frescoed with elaborate allegorical programs including a series of frescoes on Hercules, and The Loves of the Gods by Annibale Carracci and other artists, 1597-1608. For generations the room with Herculean frescoes (Sala d'Ercole) housed the famous sculpture from Greco-Roman antiquity known as the Farnese Hercules. Other works from the family collection of classical sculpture were also housed in the Palazzo.

On the garden side of the palace, which faces the River Tiber, Michelangelo proposed an innovatory design to give the palazzo's vast bulk some breathing room with a bridge across Via Giulia (completed) and would have linked the centre of the garden facade of the palace with the Pope's villa, the Villa Farnesina, on the opposite side of the river with a bridge. In the sixteenth century, two granite basins from the Baths of Caracalla were placed in the Piazza Farnese, the "urban" face of the palace.

Following the death of Odoardo Cardinal 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".[4] 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.[5]



The Palazzo's design has been mimicked in several buildings outside Italy, including the Château Grimaldi near Aix-en-Provence, France, the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., USA, and the Chief Secretary’s Building in Sydney, Australia.

Puccini's Tosca

In Puccini's opera Tosca (1900), set in Napoleonic Rome, the heroine's confrontation with the malevolent Chief of Police, Scarpia, takes place in Palazzo Farnese. The Palazzo was inherited from the Farnese by the Bourbon kings of Naples, from whom the French government purchased it in 1874. Though the government of Benito Mussolini ransomed it in 1936, the French Embassy remains, under a 99-year lease for which they pay the Italian Government a symbolic fee of 1 euro per month.

Palazzo Farnese library

The Palazzo Farnese houses the great scholarly library amassed by the Ecole Française de Rome, concentrating especially on the archeology of Italy and medieval Papal history. The Ecole Française de Rome embarked on a massive project of publishing as much of the documentation of the constructing of the palazzo, its frescoes and furnishings, library and works of art, fully annotated and indexed. The first three volumes are:

  • F.C. Uginet, Le palais farnèse à travers les documents financiers (Rome 1980).
  • A. Chastel, Le Palais Farnèse. Ecole Française de Rome I.1 and I.2 and II (Rome 1980-82).
  • F. Fossier. Le Palais Farnèse III.2. La bibliothèque Farnèse. Étude des manuscrits latins et en langue vernaculaire (Rome 1982).
  • B. Jestaz, Le Palais Farnèse III.3. L'inventaire du palais et des propriéeés Farnèse à Rome en 1644 (Rome 1994)


  1. ^ D. Cruikshank, ed. Sir Banister Fletcher's A History of Architecture, 20th edition 1996:873.
  2. ^ The definitive date, based on new documentary information was published by Christoph Frommel, (in A. Chastel, ed. Le palais Farnèse; Murray 1963 cited construction beginning in 1513, Giedion in 1514
  3. ^ "The incredibly pretentious magnificence of this residence for a single man points to the imminence of Baroque.... This monumental window seems to await the arrival of the great overlord who is about to show himself to the populace", remarked Siegfried Giedion, Space, Time and Architecture (1941) 1962, pp 56-57.
  4. ^ Quoted from: Colvin, Clare. Eccentric Rebel Without a Crown. Independent, May 24, 2004.
  5. ^ Pavel Muratov. Images of Italy. Berlin, 1924. Reprinted St. Petersburg, 2005. ISBN 5352014762. Vol. 2, page 155.


  • Murray, Peter (1963). The Architecture of the Italian Renaissance. Schocken Books, New York. pp. 158–164.  

External links

Coordinates: 41°53′41″N 12°28′15″E / 41.89472°N 12.47083°E / 41.89472; 12.47083

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