Palazzo Farnese

Farnese Palace frontside

Farnese Palace History

Standing on the Piazza Farnese, the Palazzo Farnese is the most important 16th-century palace in Rome.

In 1495 Cardinal Alessandro Farnese bought a small house from the Augustinian monks of S Maria del Popolo, and from 1514 to 1516 it was restored by Antonio da Sangallo, who was later to direct its complete reconstruction. By 1523 the surrounding buildings had been demolished, and under Sangallo, the first floor and its courtyard were completed.

Piazza Farnese

After Farnese was elected Pope Paul III, he instructed Sangallo to expand the palace. The façade was extended from eleven to thirteen bays; the court acquired two new arcades, making five in total, and the entrance stairway was rebuilt.

When Sangallo died in 1546, the direction of the project was passed to Michelangelo. Although he was involved only briefly, his contribution was decisive. He raised the height of the first floor and duplicated it above with another, equally high, to create the ricetto, or first-floor gallery, roofed by vaults half-oval in section, which made space in the side ranges for servants’ quarters. He also designed the majestic cornice and the treatment of the central window over the entrance, recessed into the wall plane to give an inverted emphasis.

After an interruption following the death of Paul III (1549), construction was resumed under cardinals Ranuccio and Alessandro Farnese. From 1550 the project was directed by Vignola, who concerned himself mainly with the rear elevation, including a three-bay central loggia on the first floor. This loggia, overlooking the Tiber, was closed by Giacomo della Porta when he succeeded Vignola after the latter’s death in 1573 and replaced with one above it, which was closed on the court side of the building. When Ranuccio Farnese became the first of the family to make the Palazzo Farnese his permanent residence, he began the decoration of the interior with the north rooms on the façade and the front of the right wing.

Farnese Palace

Francesco Salviati was commissioned to fresco the Sala dei Fasti Farnesiani, but he finished only the ceiling; the cycle was continued by Taddeo and Federico Zuccaro and is a brilliant example of Roman Mannerist historical painting. Alessandro Farnese commissioned the decoration by Daniele da Volterra of the corner room on the first floor.

The greatest patron, however, was Cardinal Odoardo Farnese, who lived in the Farnese Palace from 1592. He had the Salon decorated in the style of Michelangelo and arranged the completion of the first-floor rooms, providing them all with painted ceilings. Then, in consultation with his librarian, he arranged for the decoration of the camera and the gallery overlooking the Tiber.

For the frescoes of these rooms, Annibale Carracci was called from Bologna in 1595, soon to be followed by his brother Agostino and other colleagues. Annibale painted the Camerino Farnese, showing his mastery of the mythological genre.

At the center was the canvas of Hercules at the Crossroads; at the sides were Hercules Bearing the Globe and Hercules Resting from his Labours, and in the lunettes Ulysses and the Sirens, the Catanian Brothers Carrying their Parents, Perseus and Medusa and Ulysses and Circe. The frescoes of the ceiling of the gallery, begun by Annibale in 1597, were inspired by the exploits of Alexander the Great and elaborated in the classicizing taste advocated by Giovanni Battista Agucchi. A large central scene of the Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne is flanked at the sides with episodes representing the Loves of the Gods: on the right Paris Receiving the Golden Apple; on the left Pan Seducing Diana; at the ends Ganymede and Apollo and Daphne; and opposite the window Glaucus and Scylla (sometimes identified as the Rape of Galatea), Aurora and Cephalus, Polyphemus Killing Acis and Polyphemus Wooing Galatea. Between these large paintings are smaller ones and some monochrome medallions, and there were busts in niches along all the walls.

Farnese Palace detail

It is difficult to identify the work of specific assistants. In 1602–1604 Domenichino painted the Virgin and the Unicorn on the door in front of the windows and Perseus and Andromeda among the scenes along the windows; afterward he decorated the Loggia Tiberina with frescoes that were detached between 1816 and 1826 and placed near the bedroom of Ranuccio and Odoardo. In addition to carrying out the decoration of the Farnese’s palace interior, Odoardo also commissioned the Romitorio (hermitage) on the Tiber, as well as the layout of the gardens and the Piazza Farnese.

In 1635 the Farnese palace was left to the French embassy, and the camera on the Via Giulia was destroyed in 1662. All that remains are Annibale’s canvases Aurora and Night and Venus Sleeping, Rinaldo and Armida, and Diana and Actaeon. Of the Romitorio frescoes commissioned by Odoardo from Giovanni Lanfranco, only SS Anthony Abbot and Paul the Hermit in the Desert and St Simeon the Stylite survive. The gallery constitutes a landmark in 17th-century Italian painting and culture. The serene but subtly melancholy evocation of the pagan world was decisive in spreading throughout Europe the new neo-classicist approach of the early 17th century and brought the artists of the Bologna school to the attention of the international art world.

In the 18th century, the remaining camelina was lost when the adjoining church of S Maria dell’Orazione e Morte was rebuilt, and many of the artworks were sent to Naples and Caserta after passing to the Spanish Bourbons in 1787. The massive, powerful but simple structure of the palace served as a model for numerous later works in Rome, especially the palaces of Domenico Fontana in the Vatican, the Lateran, and the Quirinale Palace.

Palazzo Farnese Location

Address: Piazza Farnese, 67, 00186 Roma, Italy. Get help with directions using the map provided below:

Palazzo Farnese Map

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