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Page revised in August 2009.
Casino della Vigna di Papa Giulio III (Book 10) (Day 1) (View C4)
In this page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
Palazzina di Pio IV
Cappella dell'Arco Oscuro
The Plate (No. 186)
In his plate Vasi calls Casino della Vigna (di Papa Giulio III) the building which is now usually referred to as Palazzina di Pio IV (left part of the etching), whereas the building in the background is named Villa Giulia after Pope Julius III, for whom the whole complex was designed. The villa had three casinos: one on the Tiber, where the Pope and his retinue landed (it is lost); a second one on Via Flaminia (Palazzina di Pio IV) and the largest one further inland (Villa Giulia).
The view is taken from the green dot in the small late XIXth century map here below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Façade of the Casino and fountain; 2) Casino and fountain of Villa Sinibaldi; 3) Casino belonging to the Camera Apostolica built by Giacomo Barozzi il Vignola (Villa Giulia). The small map shows also 4) Cappella dell'Arco Oscuro.
The fountain and the decorated wall which stood opposite Palazzina di Pio IV have been replaced by a huge building owned by Cassa Nazionale del Notariato, the very rich provident fund of Italian notaries. The plate shows a lost inscription: Fed. Card. Borr. MDCLXXII which indicates that the property belonged to Cardinal Federico Borromeo, cousin of S. Carlo Borromeo; the year 1672 however is inconsistent, because Federico Borromeo lived between 1564 and 1631.
The main casino of Villa Giulia is attributed to il Vignola, but parts of the complex were designed by Giorgio Vasari and Bartolomeo Ammannati. It is thought that Michelangelo himself provided some advice.
The façade is regarded as a transition between Renaissance and Mannerism (or Late Renaissance): it retains the harmonic proportions of the former, but it shows the attention to decoration which characterizes the latter. It was completed in 1553.
The purpose of the casino was to be a place of leisure for the pope and his guests: this is clearly revealed by the decoration of the arch leading to the main courtyard: two young men raise a curtain as if they were saying that a show was about to start. The three mountains at the top of the arch are a heraldic symbol of the pope. The decoration of the rooms of the casino is to a great extent lost; the remaining paintings however help in understanding the atmosphere at the court of Pope Julius III: they portray scenes of bacchanals, nymphs and satyrs.
One of the most striking features of Villa Giulia is the decoration of its portico: frescoes by Pietro Venale portray a beautiful pergola (an arched structure forming a framework for trailing plants) with rare birds and putti. This kind of decoration was imitated in other buildings of that century (i.e. in the loggia of Palazzo Altemps).
For the decoration of the main courtyard Bartolomeo Ammannati used some ancient granite columns.
The etching by Vasi shows that there were not so many pine trees as there are today; they have been planted at a later period, when they were thought to have a positive effect on malaria. Villa Giulia was used as a leisure residence for only a few years; its proximity to the Tiber made it an unhealthy site in summer; almost all the other villas of Rome were built on high ground and at a certain distance from the river.
The elaborate nymphaeum is attributed to Giorgio Vasari and Bartolomeo Ammannati: corridors, secret passages, artificial grottoes seem to indicate that the popes and his guests loved to play hide-and-seek, although not in the same innocent way children do.
The villa was confiscated in 1556 by Pope Paul IV on the assumption that it had been built with funds from the Papal treasury (although this was the usual practice). In the following centuries the main building was used for all sorts of purposes, including a powerhouse, a hospital and a veterinary school. This until 1887 when it was acquired by the Italian Government: it houses the National Etruscan Museum.
The image used as background for this page shows the decoration of some windows which is based on wreaths of laurels, one of the pope's heraldic symbols (more about the coats of arms of this pope).
Read William Dean Howells' account of his visit to Villa di Papa Giulio in 1908.
Palazzina di Pio IV
The small casino along Via Flaminia was acquired by Pope Pius IV who donated it to his nephew Cardinal Carlo Borromeo. The building is now used as the Italian Embassy to the Holy See and it is officially called Palazzo Borromeo, a tribute to a major saint of the Roman Church.
It belonged to the Borromeo until it was acquired by marriage by the Colonna, who placed above the entrance a papal coat of arms of Pope Martin V Colonna (1417-31).
The decoration of the building was completed by Pope Pius IV and it was designed by Pirro Ligorio, who built for the pope a casino in the Vatican gardens. The Colonna placed a large inscription celebrating Filippo Colonna, Duke of Paliano; he had also the title of Gran Connestabile (Great Constable) of the Kingdom of Naples. He decorated the fountain with flags as a reminder of the 1571 Christian victory at Lepanto to which Marcantonio Colonna contributed.
We learn from Vasi that the Colonna owned an inn on the other side of Via Flaminia: according to Vasi its food was tasty and its wine excellent: unfortunately it does not exist any longer.
Villa Sinibaldi was originally built in the second half of the XVIth century for Cardinal Pier Donato Cesi, a member of a noble family from Acquasparta. It was designed by il Vignola. In 1702 it was sold to the Sinibaldi who in 1750 were granted a new supply of water by Pope Benedict XIV. The Sinibaldi sold it to Prince Stanislaw Poniatowski, nephew of Stanislaw August II, the last King of Poland. At the beginning of the XIXth century Prince Poniatowski modified the building and other changes were made in the following years. Today it is known as Villa Poniatowski and it houses special exhibitions of the National Etruscan Museum.
Cappella dell' Arco Oscuro
In 1686 Pope Innocent XI Odescalchi built a formal entrance to a chapel inside an arch (arco oscuro - dark arch). The relief shows an eagle and a lamp, which are heraldic symbols of the pope.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Next plate in Book 10: Villa e Casino Borghese
Next step in Day 1 itinerary: Porta del Popolo