Palazzo Farnese

November 9, 2011 / Art & Archaeology
Rome, Lazio

Everyone knows the High Renaissance Palazzo Farnese in Rome. Many try to go visit and some succeed, though it is generally closed to the public as it houses the French Embassy.

It began as a palace for the Farnese family in the 16th c., with construction undertaken first in 1513, an initiative that was thwarted by the Sack of Rome in 1527, and then relaunched when Alessandro Farnese became Pope Paul III in 1534. The Palazzo was completed in 1589.

Over time, many 16th century architects had a hand in its construction and renovations, including Antonio da Sangallo the Younger (one of Bramante’s assistants at St. Peter’s) Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola, Giacomo della Porta, and even Michelangelo, after Sangallo’s death.

The Farneses were landowners in the Viterbo area who ranked as minor nobility. The lineage died out when Elizabeth Farnese married the Bourbon King of Naples and became Queen of Spain. Palazzo Farnese thus became the property of the Bourbons. Garibaldi changed all this when he took Italy back from the French in 1860, ending the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and kicking out the Bourbon kings. The Bourbon family returned to the Palazzo Farnese between 1860 and 1870, until Italian unification, when they moved from Italy to France.

In 1874 the French Government bought the palazzo from the Italian Government but were told by Mussolini in 1936 that they could not own it, only ‘rent’ it. The French now have a 99 year lease, ending in 2035… for a total rent of one Euro per month!

Many of the original works of art, including 150 sculptures, paintings and ceramics that spanned five centuries of the Palazzo and the Farnese family are located in museums around Europe. However, some of the Farnese art collection, including large statues of Hercules and Flora, are located in the National Archaeological Museum and the Capodimonte Museum, both in Naples.

The spectacular ceiling in the grand salon was frescoed by Annibale Carracci on commission as a wedding gift. Entitled ‘The Loves of the Gods’, it links Classicism to Roman High Baroque in a tromp l’oeil, reminiscent of both Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and Raphael’s style. The other even more spectacular ceiling is in a room not often open to the public as it is in the French Ambassador’s office!

Suzanne McMillen, AWAR, helped contribute to this article.

Gretchen Bloom

by Gretchen Bloom reader and Central Italy expert. Also a recent Senior Advisor at the UN’s World Food Program as well as head of WFP’s Programme Unit in Kabul, Afghanistan, for 15 months. Expert in gender issues and community health.

11 Responses to “Palazzo Farnese”

  1. Paula (Giangreco) Cullison

    Fascinating article, especially since my parents were from Sicily and I always heard about the Bourbons. The next time I am in Rome, I will make a point of going to the High Renaissance Palazzo Farnese (now French Embassy). Grazie!

  2. Janet Reider

    The piece on Palazzo Farnese made me even MORE determined to see the palazzo but also more frustrated – EVERY time I’ve tried to make a reservation sometimes weeks, other times months in advance, during the days and time frames of when the palazzo is opened to the public I get a reply that there is no availability….. regardless of my telling them how flexible I am! Perhaps I need to get buddy buddy with Sarcozy!
    If ANYONE has an idea re. how obtain entrance into the palazzo I’m open to suggestion…

  3. Roberto Limone

    Why is there no mention of the fact that it is possible to contact the French embassy in Rome to make a reservation for entry to the building?

  4. Anne Robichaud

    Gretchen, great piece! ….. and as you had mentioned, the wealthy Farneses had huge holdings in much of Latium – and here in Umbria, too – so no wonder there was a revolt when Paul IIi passed his salt tax in 1540 (Dio mio, like taxing water!)
    Solution? THe people saved on salt as best they could, taking it out of their bread…so Umbria, Abruzzo, Latium and the Marches – once Papal States – still have saltless bread!
    Here in Umbria, we are reminded daily of Paul III!

  5. mike stellern

    i would also like to know if there are any suggestions on how to get in for a tour.

    Mike Stellern

  6. Gian Banchero

    Take a look at the portone -large doors– at the front of the building, how well I know what they might lead to; no, not an in-house foyer but maybe to a large garden-court with fountains, flowers, statues…the works. I’ve been inside several palazzi as such, once in the garden-court the “real world” is a universe away and the silence is astounding! Great article, thank you.

  7. Mairin O'Mahony

    It would have been lovely to see some pictures of the interior. My London friend has managed to get in two or maybe even three times and raves about it, making me very jealous!

  8. You can visit the Palace if you contact the group responsible for organizing the visits. The group is INVENTEZ ROME and the person to speak to is Lionel Carrara. They give tours in French, English and Italian.

    I would also like to point out that the French Government is also responsible as part of the lease to maintain and do all necessary repair to the Palace which cost them a fortune each year on top of the One Euro rent.
    No bargain in the end.

  9. margaretlb

    In fall 2010, France Today magazine had a article about the Palazzo Farnese and how it would be open for timed, pre-reserved visits for several months. That article was my catalyst for watching airfares and I found a GREAT/UNHEARD-OF BA RT $505 from Newark Airport for April. I spent a solo week in the Eternal City and capped it off on my final day with my visit to this fabulous Palazzo. Certain of the original collection was on loan from the museum in Naples – Hercules, the “Most Beautiful Backside:)”, and other sculptures and a few paintings. By far, it was the Caracci ceiling and the Ambassador’s office that were incredible, stupendous, WOW!

  10. Dave Anderson

    Thanks for the article on Palazzo farnese.
    By coincidence we had been to see a live screening of Tosca from Covent Garden and Palazzo farnese featured as the setting for all of act 2 where Baron Scarpia lived and Tosca sang at a concert.
    It was sad to see that the article didn’t mention that Palazzo farnese featured in Tosca.
    But the stage setting included the large statues mentioned in the article.


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