All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to email@example.com. Text edited by Rosamie Moore. Page revised in July 2010.
Casino di Villa Albani fuori di Porta Salara (Book 10) (Day 2) (Map A1)
In this page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
Mausoleo di Lucilio Peto
The Plate (No. 190)
When in 1761 Giuseppe Vasi published this etching Cardinal Alessandro Albani was still in the process of finalizing the decoration of the casino where he intended to arrange his spectacular collection of ancient statues, reliefs and vases. The whole villa was conceived as the container of this collection to the gathering of which Cardinal Albani devoted all his long life (1692-1779).
In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Fountain with ancient statues and Egyptian granite cup; 2) Lying statue between two sphinxes; 3) Porticoes with statues and granite columns (in the final arrangement of the collection, the portico housed statues of ancient Roman emperors).
The small 1748 map by Giovanni Battista Nolli was drawn when Cardinal Albani had already bought the site of his villa (which belonged to the Accoramboni), but he had not yet redesigned it; the map shows 1) Villa Accoramboni-Albani; 2) approximate location of Mausoleo di Lucilio Peto along Via Salaria; 3) Porta Salara; 4) Villa Borghese; 3) and 4) are shown as reference points to locate Villa Albani and are covered in other pages.
"ALEXANDER ALBANI VIR EMINENTISSIMUS INSTRUXIT ET ORNAVIT - ALEXANDER TORLONIA VIR PRINCEPS IN MELIUS RESTITUIT" the bronze letter inscription signals a major change which occurred to Villa Albani in 1866; the heirs of Cardinal Albani sold it to Prince Alessandro Torlonia; the heirs of the latter have adopted a not very liberal admittance policy; however the high walls which surround their estate can be circumvented by kindly requesting the hospitality of one of their neighbours.
The casino is as it appears in the etching; according to Vasi it was conceived by Cardinal Albani himself; its detailed design is attributed to Carlo Marchionni; today it is seen on a background of modern buildings, but an etching by Giovanni Battista Piranesi - it opens in another window shows it surrounded by the Roman countryside.
Napoleon Bonaparte moved to Paris many ancient statues which embellished Roman palaces and villa. They were returned to their owners after 1815, but King Louis XVIII of France managed to buy some of them for the Louvre Museum.
Cardinal Albani was a collector of antiquities, but also a merchant of them; during his life he gathered three collections; the first one during the 1720s, soon after having being nominated cardinal by Pope Innocent XIII, the successor of Pope Clement XI, Albani's uncle. Due to financial difficulties many statues of this collection were sold to the King of Poland in 1728 and in doing so Cardinal Albani ignored laws issued by his uncle to prevent antiquities from being sold outside the Papal State. Also a second collection which included most of the ancient busts which are on display at Musei Capitolini was sold in 1734, but in this case the buyer was Pope Clement XII, who feared that otherwise also these works of art would have ended up abroad.
Cardinal Albani was often asked by the popes to undertake diplomatic missions, but he also developed relations with foreign powers for his own benefit; he reported what was going on at the Stuarts' Roman residence (Palazzo Muti Balestra) to the Hanoverian King George I of England; he helped Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoy to be recognized as the legitimate king of Sardinia; he always supported the Habsburgs' cause and was rewarded with being appointed Austrian ambassador to the Papal State.
In 1740 President Charles de Brosses wrote a few lines on the cardinals who were about to enter the conclave which elected the successor of Pope Clement XII; the following is his portrait of Cardinal Alessandro Albani : Nephew of Pope Clement XI, a man of spirit, a gentleman and very well introduced in the Roman society; he loves gambling, women, theatre, literature and fine arts, of which he is a great expert (Lettres familières écrites d'Italie en 1739 et 1740).
The gardens were the first part of Villa Albani to be designed; the cardinal was advised on their layout by Giovanni Battista Nolli; their purpose was mainly to provide an appropriate setting for the cardinal's third collection of antiquities (which is usually referred to as Collezione Albani).
Art historians have debated at length whether Villa Albani is in the mainstream of Italian villas originating from Villa d'Este or has too many French elements. Today they prefer to highlight a conceptual link with Villa Adriana, the villa of Emperor Hadrian, from which some of the finest pieces of Collezione Albani came; the central parterre in front of the casino was limited at its opposite end by a portico which resembled that of the Canopus of Villa Adriana; the link however is not so much justified by visual reminders, but by the overall purpose of the two complexes, where people of great erudition would walk and engage in conversation and their minds would be continuously stimulated by the natural and artistic environment.
The casino was mainly a museum in an XVIIIth century sense; its rooms and their decoration were put together to emphasize the value of the antiquities which were exhibited there; a similar approach was followed a few years later in the design of Museo Pio-Clementino which housed the collection of ancient statues owned by the popes. The exterior of the casino mixes late baroque elements with anticipations of Neoclassicism; the reliefs of military symbols which decorate the cornice metopes are based on patterns which can be found in Roman monuments of the Ist and IInd centuries.
Fountains were an integral element of an Italian villa and Villa Albani was no exception; many of them were the result of assembling ancient statues and basins of precious stones, such as the one at the centre of the parterre which can be seen in the etching.
Villa Albani had its grand fountain; two streams came down from the parterre to the rear part of Canopus; at their junction a statue portraying Amphitrite (Poseidon's wife) was the focal point of a series of cascades; the fountain was known as Fontana dei Sette Fiumi (Seven Rivers). This fountain was probably already lost when the Torlonia sold the southern part of Villa Albani, which was very intensively developed in the early XXth century; Amphitrite is now confined in what has become a rather derelict part of the villa.
Cardinal Albani was assisted by Johann Joachim Winckelmann in the arrangement of his collection; from 1759 to his death in 1768 Winckelmann spent most of his time at Villa Albani studying the collection; in 1764 he wrote History of Ancient Art, a text which became the Bible of the neoclassical movement.
Read Henry James's account of his visit to Villa Albani in 1873.
The image used as background for this page shows the heraldic symbols of the Albani on the rear side windows of the casino.
Mausoleo di Lucilio Peto
In 1887 in Via Salaria, almost opposite the entrance to Villa Albani, chance excavations led to unearthing the mausoleum of Lucilius Paetus and his sister Lucilia Polla. They lived at the time of Emperor Augustus and their tomb follows the pattern of Cecilia Metella and Sepolcro dei Plauti.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Next plate in Book 10: Casino della Villa Patrizi
Next step in Day 2 itinerary: Villa Ludovisi