"The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne" (detail), ca. 1597, by Annibale Carracci (Palazzo Farnese, Rome)
Among the ancient Roman traditions that were revived by Renaissance Italians was the building of suburban villas. Like those of their ancestors, such residences were used as havens from the pressures of urban life. Also like their earlier models, these villas—adorned with the most magnificent of art—allowed their owners and guests to indulge in a voluptuous and relaxed luxury that contrasted with the formality of the world of the courts.
Rocky Ruggiero, a specialist in the Early Renaissance, explores the history, legends, design, and art of three of the most beautiful and well-preserved of the Renaissance villas and how they reflected their owners and their times.
10–11 a.m. Villa Farnesina, Rome
Built in 1505, the Villa Farnesina was the first Renaissance pleasure palace and belonged to the fabulously wealthy papal banker Agostino Chigi. From Raphael’s celebrated fresco of Galatea, to Giulio Romano’s Loggia of Psyche, to the illusionistic Sala della Prospettiva, the decorations of the palace delighted many a pope and international ruler. On one occasion, dinner was served on golden tableware that guests were asked to dispose of by casting it into the river Tiber.
11:15 a.m.–12:15 p.m. Palazzo Te, Mantua
The tradition of the Renaissance pleasure palace was exported to the north of Italy, where the Gonzaga family of Mantua recruited Giulio Romano to serve as their court artist and design the extraordinary Palazzo Te. Dating from 1525, the palace served as both getaway home as well as a lavish venue to host the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. The structure is adorned with portraits of horses from the Gonzagas’ prized stables, seductive paintings of the myth of Psyche, and perhaps the most singular fresco cycle of the Renaissance in the Room of the Giants by Giulio Romano.
12:15–1:15 p.m. Lunch (participants provide their own)
1:15–2:30 p.m. Bernini in the Villa Borghese, Rome
Bernini’s breathtaking mythological statues of Apollo and Daphne and Pluto and Persephone in the Villa Borghese are but a few of the sublime statues produced by the famed sculptor while he was still in his early twenties. The sensual nature of Bernini’s art clearly reflects the directions of his patron, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, who built the villa in 1607.
2:45–4 p.m. Caravaggio in the Villa Borghese
Borghese was one of the greatest art collectors in history, and his holdings could not have been complete without key works by Caravaggio. Described by his contemporaries as the “cursed painter,” Caravaggio’s violent, photorealistic, and sometimes-shocking works redefined Baroque painting. Borghese owned six of the artist’s approximately 50 known paintings, which are still on display in the villa today.
Ruggiero, who divides his time between Italy and the United States, has lectured on Italian art and architecture for American university programs in Italy for the past 20 years, including those of Syracuse, Kent State, Vanderbilt, and Boston College.
World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1 credit*
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