Villa Farnesina has some curious fruits.. – Rome, Italy

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The Villa Farnesina is a Renaissance villa in Rome, in the Trastevere neighborhood. Other than the palazzo’s in the center of the city that usually faced the road and didn’t have a big garden, the villas were usually outside of the city center and had an open loggia that faced a garden. Rich families often had parties and banquets in these villas. This villa is decorated with many frescoes of high quality, painted by amongst others Raphael. The frescoes inside it depict mostly mythological scenes.

The ceiling of the loggia is decorated with multiple scenes that tell the love story of Cupid and Psyche. The story goes that Psyche was a beautiful princess, so beautiful that everyone in her area forgot to worship the goddess of beauty, Venus. She of course, got jealous and tells her son Cupid to punish her. He accidentally scratched himself with an arrow and then fell in love with Psyche. Some time later, Psyche’s parents heard an oracle saying that she was to marry a monster that was even feared by the gods and that they had to leave her at a mountain top. They did and Psyche was carried by the wind to a big house, where her husband would make love to her every night in the dark and leave in the morning. He told her that she could never see him, or he would have to leave her. After a while, Psyche fell in love with her husband.

Psyche had two sisters and when they were allowed to visit her once, they grew very jealous of all the riches in the house. They then told her that she should be careful and that her husband is a monster, so he would probably eat her at some point. Psyche then became afraid and that night, after she and her husband had made love and he had fallen asleep, she lit an oil lamp to look at him. It appeared to be Cupid. Then a drop of hot oil came from the lamp and landed on Cupid’s shoulder. He woke up and quickly flew away.

Psyche was heartbroken and tried to make things right by talking to Venus. Venus, who still didn’t like Psyche, made her do all kinds of impossible tasks, and Psyche completed them all, because she always had help. The last task Venus gave her was to get a box of beauty from the underworld. Unfortunately, Psyche got tempted and took a look in the box. The box did not contain beauty, but sleep, so Psyche fell into a deep sleep. Luckily, Cupid had just recovered from the wound on his shoulder by then and he went to the underworld to kiss her, so that she would wake up again. Afterwards, he pleaded with Jupiter to make Psyche immortal, so that he could be with her forever. Jupiter approved and Psyche became a goddess.

On the ceiling of the loggia, we see two main scenes: the wedding DSC00922
feast of Cupid and Psyche and the council of the gods about whether or not Psyche could become immortal. On the sides, we see various scenes from the story. The scenes are separated by fruit garlands. And if you look very closely at those fruits, you can discover multiple curious things… One of them is depicted here on the right. The exact function or meaning of these peculiarly shaped fruits is unclear and it was an interesting discussion topic during our art history excursion. Would it be a reference to the sexual life of the owner of the villa or maybe just a joke that the painters made?

There are also other beautiful frescoes in the villa. Another famous one is the Triumph of Galatea, a water nymph. On this fresco by Raphael, she rides in a sort of shell chariot through the water, surrounded by other sea creatures. Raphael tried to create an example of ideal beauty when he painted Galatea. On the top floor, there are many more frescoes. One room that I found very special was completely decorated with illusionistic frescoes. When you were standing in the middle of the room, it really looked like the marble columns were real and you were watching out over a pretty village.

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