The grounds and the façade of Villa Medici served as a collection spot for Ancient Roman artifacts.
Here are some impressions of the façade (see photos #3 ) and other locations of the estate.
The white marble mask of a satyr (see photo #5) was sitting in a niche of the small café in the villa.
The grounds of Villa Medici serve as an outdoor sculpture museum. Among the works on display is a production of an ancient sculptural grouping that represents Niobe and her children; the original can be found at Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence.
These ancient statues were found in Rome in 1583. This sculptural grouping was placed in the park of Villa Medici, at the end of the long allée, which began at the entrance in Via di Porta Pinciana. Leopold I Grand Duke of Tuscany was very fond of this work of art; he arranged a special room for it at Florence’s Galleria degli Uffizi.
The tale of Niobe symbolizes the punishment of pride. Niobe hated Leto, who had only two children, Apollo and Diana. Niobe was prideful of her fertility because her offspring numbered ten or more. As punishment, the gods killed her children and Niobe was turned into a weeping rock.
After having entertained his brother, Joseph II, Emperor of Austria, at Villa Medici in 1780, Leopold I, Grand Duke of Tuscany, decided to move remaining works of art that decorated the grounds and house to Florence. One of the pieces of art that Leopold took back to Florence was Giambologna’s original 1564 elegant bronze “Mercury” (see photo #2) that decorates the villa’s fountain.
The niches, which sheltered ancient busts and figures, are mostly empty today, but in every other way the elegant façade (see photo #1) designed by Bartolomeo Ammannati, a Florentine sculptor and architect, is as it was more than 200 years ago.
Villa Medici was the seat of Ferdinando Cardinal de’ Medici, who, in 1576, bought the property from the Ricci family. The house, known as a casino, was enlarged; and Ammannati designed a loggia.
The grounds are lovely, dotted here & there with classical sculpture. One small sculpture is Janus (see photo #5), the Roman god of doors, of coming & going you might say. He looks backward and forward.
“With S. to the Villa Medici, perhaps on the whole the most enchanting place in Rome. The part of the garden called the Boschetto has an incredible, impossible charm; an upper terrace, behind locked gates, covered with a little dusky forest of evergreen oaks. Such a dim light as of a fabled, haunted place, such a soft suffusion of tender grey-green tones, such a company of gnarled and twisted little miniature trunks — dwarfs playing with each other at being giants — and such a shower of golden sparkles drifting in from the vivid west!”
— from “Italian Hours” 1908 by Henry James
ENCHANTMENT Our tour of the grounds of Villa Medici was conducted in Italian and French only (the two languages of its web site, as well), and at the time of our trip (May 2007) the tours were conducted on the weekends only. It did not matter that we could not understand the guide; whatever he could have said could be read in English in a book or on the web. The point here was to gain access to this beautiful space filled with art and history.
Enviably positioned on the Pincian Hill, Villa Medici was a cardinal’s dream realized. Ferdinando Cardinal de’Medici (1549-1609) bought the property in 1574. He set about converting the small villa into a showplace for his antiquities collection. Between the death of one pope and the election of another, bandits and jockeying nobility contributed to Rome’s instability; any show of wealth would attract unwelcome attention. Also pagan art was not looked on favorably. The Cardinal solved both problems by turning the main facade of the villa toward the garden and the city side was left severely plain. The Medici family coat-of-arms topped with a cardinal’s hat, and an antique marble mask hang over the loggia’s arch. (see photo #2).
This is a happy destination. Académie de France à Rome was founded in 1666 by Louis XIV (see photo #5) as a branch of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in Paris. Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Charles Le Brun and Gian Lorenzo Bernini were its first directors.
In 1802 Napoleon transferred Académie to the Villa Medici from the Palazzo Mancini on the Corso. Select French artists, having won the prestigious Prix de Rome, were honored with a five-year scholarship in the Eternal City to study art and architecture.
A copy of Giambologna’s 1564 elegant bronze “Mercury” (see photo #4) decorates the fountain. Many of the originals from Cardinal de Medici’s collection were removed to Florence when he shed his red hat and cloak and assumed the position of Grand Duke of Tuscany; in their place copies were substituted.
This superbly located palazzo is a beautiful exemple of the Reanaissance architecture. Its gardens, with statues that have been restored recently, would deserve a visit in their own right.
Since July 10 and until September 20, 2009, Villa Medici, the seat of the Académie de France in Rome, opens its rooms and gardens to visitors. During this period of special opening to the public there are guided visits in French and in Italian.
Even after the end of this special opening, there will be other opportunities to visit Villa Medici, since there are often temporary exhibitions here.
Opening time: from 10.00 to 19.00 on Saurday and Sunday, 10.00 to 13.30 and 15.00 to 19.00 on working days. Closed on Monday. The entrance fee is 12 euro.
Superbly positioned on the Pincio hill above Piazza di Spagna, this 16th century villa has kept the name it assumed when Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici bought it in 1576. The villa is now home to the French Academy.