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 Essential Architecture-  ROME

Farnese Palace Palazzo Farnesse. 


Antonio da Sangallo the Younger. 


Rome, Italy




Italian Rennaisance


System cut stone masonry. Rectangular plan around courtyard. 


  A mid-18th century engraving of Palazzo Farnese by Giuseppe Vasi.

Palazzo Farnese is a noble and historical 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 widely admired High Renaissance private palace was designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger (1484-1546). Construction of the palace began in 1517, commissioned by Alessandro Farnese, who had been made Cardinal in 1493 when he turned 25 (thanks to his sister, who was Pope Alexander VI Borgia's official mistress) and was living a princely lifestyle. When he was made pope, as Paul III, he employed Michelangelo to add a third story and revise the courtyard, as an emblematic "power house" suitable to the Farnese family. Dominating a small city square, which makes it more prominent, the memorable features of its facade are the alternating pediments that cap the windows of the piano nobile, the central rusticated portal and Michelangelo's projecting cornice. The central window Michelangelo revised when the cardinal became pope, adding an architrave to support the largest coat-of-arms with papal tiara Rome had ever seen. When Paul stepped to the balcony, the entire facade became a setting for his person.

The palazzo was redesigned in 1534 and 1541, modified under Michelangelo from 1546 onwards and completed by Giacomo della Porta 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 Caracci (1560-1609) and other artists, 1597-1608. For generations the room with Herculean frescoes, housed the famous sculpture from Greco-Roman antiquity known as the Farnese Hercules.

On the garden side, which faces the Tiber, Michelangelo proposed to give the palazzo's vast bulk some breathing room with a bridge to link the center of the garden facade with the Pope's villa, the Villa Farnesina on the Trastevere side.

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 Mussolini ransomed it in 1936, the French Embassy remains, under a 99-year lease.

The Palazzo Farnese houses the great scholarly library amassed by the Ecole Franšaise de Rome, concentrating especially on the archeology of Italy and medieval Papal history.