Villa Madama

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Villa Madama
Il giardino di Villa Madama.jpg
Garden with Raphael's loggia
General information
Town or city Rome
Country Italy
Coordinates 41°55′42″N 12°27′10″E / 41.928353°N 12.452781°E / 41.928353; 12.452781
Construction started 1518
Completed 1525
Client Cardinal Giulio de' Medici
Prime Minister of Italy
Design and construction
Architect Raphael
Antonio da Sangallo the Younger

Villa Madama is a prominent rural house or villa built during the Renaissance.

The villa situated half way up the slope of Monte Mario to the west of Rome, Italy, a few miles north of the Vatican, and just south of the Foro Olimpico Stadium. Even though incomplete, this villa with its loggia and segmented columned garden court and its casino with an open center and terraced gardens, was highly influential for subsequent architects of the High Renaissance.


Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, cousin of the reigning pontiff Leo X, commissioned the initial design of the villa from Raphael. Raphael died at the age of 37 in 1520, with work at the villa far from completed, and construction, started in 1518, passed on to his disciples, one of the most brilliant teams ever assembled on a site, although without Raphael to smooth over disputes, they quarreled incessantly. Antonio da Sangallo the Younger produced the final plans and supervised the actual construction, though who is responsible for which details of the design remains cloudy.

Ceiling decoration of one bay of the garden loggia (Giovanni da Udine, c. 1521)

The decorations are by Giulio Romano and Baldassare Peruzzi, both major architects in their own right; Giovanni da Udine completed the stucco bas-reliefs imitating work found in Nero's recently rediscovered Domus Aurea; and finally, both Giovan Francesco Penni ("il Fattore") and the Florentine sculptor Baccio Bandinelli worked there too. Aside from the Raphael loggia, the villa's greatest artistic element is the salone painted by Giulio Romano, with its magnificent vaulted ceiling. After Giulio de' Medici became the second Medici pope, as Clement VII in 1523, work resumed in 1524-1525 only to stop again in 1527 during the Sack of Rome. During this time, the villa suffered damage. While parts of it were rebuilt, the villa was never completed.

Legacy and gardens

The Villa Madama was one of the first of the revived Roman type of suburban villas designed for parties and entertainment built in 16th century Rome, and it was consciously conceived to rival descriptions of the villas of Antiquity, like Pliny's famous description of his own.

It had a courtyard with a monumental flight of steps, a circular court around which formal gardens were arranged, an open air theater excavated in the hillside, a hippodrome below, and a terraced garden with views of the Tiber river.

In the garden facing the loggia, the Elephant Fountain, designed by Giovanni da Udine, commemorates the Indian elephant "Annone", brought to Rome by a Portuguese ambassador for the consecration of Leo X in 1514.

Ownership after completion

Viewed from a distance

The "Madama" of its name was Margaret of Austria, the same who is remembered in Palazzo Madama in Rome, seat of the Italian Senate. After the death of Clement VII, the villa remained Medici property, first belonging to Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici, and later to Duke Alessandro, Lord of Florence, who married Margaret of Austria, the illegitimate daughter of Charles V, but left her a widow at the age of 15. She married Ottavio Farnese, a nephew of Pope Paul III and was soon widowed again, but at Margaret's death, the villa passed into the Farnese family, Dukes of Parma and Piacenza, who let it slowly fall into ruin.

The villa was restored by Carlo, Count Dentice di Frasso, who acquired the property in 1925, and his American wife, the former Dorothy Cadwell Taylor. Eventually the Frassos leased it to the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and it was soon purchased by Mussolini in 1941. Mussolini's monumental neo-Roman Foro Italico sports complex is next to the villa, on the site of its racetrack.

Villa Madama is the property of the Italian Government, which uses it for international guests and press conferences. Entrance is limited and touring of gardens requires prior permission with Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On April 20, 2015 the Italian EU Presidency hosted a dinner in the Villa Madama for all Speakers and Presidents of national parliaments of the European Union.

Further reading

  • Attlee, Helena (2006). Italian Gardens - A Cultural History (paperback). London: Frances Lincoln. pp. 240 pages. ISBN 978-0-7112-3392-8.
  • Greenwood, W.E. Villa Madama Rome, A Reconstruction (New York: William Helburn, Inc., 1928)

External links

  • Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website: Villa Madama
  • Satellite photo.
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