Touristy Trastevere is full of signs pointing you towards Villa Farnesina. The museum is mentioned in most guide books. And yet, whenever I go, there’s hardly anyone there. If you’ve already visited the Vatican Museums and resented having to push through the crowds to admire Raphael’s frescoes, this is your chance to experience Raphael in peace and tranquillity, in a gorgeous Renaissance villa.
Villa Farnesina belonged to the Renaissance banker Agostino Chigi, one of the wealthiest men in Europe. He could afford to hire some of the greatest artists of the day to decorate his riverside villa, so no expense was spared. Raphael and his workshop painted the festive “Cupid and Psyche” in the room where Chigi hosted celebrations and theatrical events, as well as “The Triumph of Galatea”; there were rumours that the beautiful nymph was based on Imperia, Chigi’s courtesan lover.
The few people who come are there to see the Raphael frescoes, but every room in the villa is spectacular. My favourite is the Hall of Perspectives on the first floor, a magical room which blends urban and rural landscape and architecture, glimpsed between illusionary columns. Look out for the graffiti on the walls, written by soldiers during the Sacking of Rome in 1527.