The best hidden gems are always next to the most known places of a city. And this makes them even more special! After taking a pic or two on the Spanish Steps, you should walk up the staircase and turn to the left. Because here you’ll find the heavenly Villa Medici in Rome.
Where is Villa Medici in Rome?
Villa Medici is on the top of the Pincian hill (Pincio, in Italian), one of the wonderful panoramic points of Rome. And this already gives you a hint of the views you will get from there.
Why is it called Villa “Medici”?
The Villa takes its name from the famous Medici family. The Medici’s have been an influential noble family that in the 1400s ruled over Florence, promoting and boosting the arts and culture in the city. Some of them made it to Rome, providing the city also with a Pope, Leo X (1513-1521).
Villa Medici in Rome was built by the cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici, son of Cosimo I, who at 20 years old moved to Rome and settled in this area of the city. You must imagine that the area of Piazza di Spagna at the time was countryside. Quite different from the glamorous landscape we see today!
The facade of Villa Medici
How beautiful is this facade, so richly decorated? Right on top of the main arch you can see the emblem of the Medici family, the six spheres.
And all over the facade you will notice an incredible amount of stuccos and decorations. Many of them come from Ancient Roman ruins, such as the garlands of the Ara Pacis of Augustus and the Arcus Novus of Diocletian (an arch which used to be on the modern via del Corso).
The Villa from the Medici until today
10 years after the construction of Villa Medici, the cardinal Ferdinando was elected Grand Duke of Tuscany. He therefore moves back home, abandoning his clerical career (which he did not start voluntarily). Villa Medici remains abandoned and when the Medici family is extinguished, the property goes to the House of Habsburg-Lorraine.
The Habsburg-Lorraine put the property on sale, and guess who buys it? Napoleon! Napoleon buys Villa Medici to house the headquarters of the Academy of France.
Today villa Medici is a private villa, which still belongs to the Academy of France. The Director of the Academy of France lives in Villa Medici. The position of Director is considered a political office, and the president of France contributes to the election of the Director.
Anyway, to live in Villa Medici, you do not necessarily have to be the Director of the Academy. In fact, also the artists of the Academy have the privilege to temporarily move to this wonderful location. The artists live and work inside the villa and in the garden! (I’ll tell you more about the artists later in this article)
The Garden of Villa Medici in Rome
This beautiful garden can only be partially visited, because it’s a private area. This is where the artists of the Academy live and work.
The garden of Villa Medici also includes some fruit plants to produce apples, pears, and vineyards. The goal is to have a little production at the Villa.
The wonders you will find in this garden have also been filmed in the movie “The Great Beauty” by Sorrentino. Such as this beautiful group of sculptures, with the scene of the massacre of the Niobids, carried out by Apollo and Artemis to take revenge for the offences towards their mother.
This group of sculptures was found in the 1500s in the area of the Horti Lamiani, where this is believed to belong.
The small study of the Cardinal Ferdinando de Medici
The “studiolo” (small study) of the Cardinal Ferdinando de Medici, is one of the highlights of this wonderful place. You can find this in the garden, it is a separate structure from the Villa itself.
What was this “small study” for? In the 1500s many patrons had small rooms where they could escape their everyday lives and relax in secret. This study included a secret door which opens directly to the countryside, so rumors were he invited people in secret to spend time together in his private rooms.
The small study of Ferdinando included two rooms which will take your breath away. The first is decorated with frescoes that make the room look like it’s an aviary. There are so many birds depicted in the room, which makes the walls look like an encyclopedia of birds! You must imagine that at the time it was not as easy to find images of all kinds of birds, so think of how much work has been put into designing these frescoes!
The following room is even smaller and it’s decorated with grotesque frescoes, which means they were inspired by the frescoes found in the Domus Aurea of Nero. A very common pattern in the 1500s.
Inside Villa Medici
Before entering the Villa, have a look at the incredible panoramic view over the city 😍
Inside the villa you will find the Grand Salon, a hall used for cultural events and decorated with lush tapestries.
As you walk upstairs, you will find the private apartments of the Director of the Academy of France, which of course are not open to the public. But we can get an idea of how those look like, by visiting the rooms where the cardinal Ferdinando de Medici lived in the 1500s.
In these rooms you will find the original decorations of the walls and ceilings. The furniture is from later times, 1700s and 1800s.
The decorations have mythological themes, such as the wedding of Jupiter and Juno, the metamorphosis of Ovid and astrological themes, which the Medici family was passionate about.
The artists of the Academy of France today
French king Louis XIV founded the Academy of France, which still exists today in Villa Medici.
The lucky artists that get to study and work here are not novelty students. They are artists that are already known for their carreer and that won a scholarship to the Academy.
These students don’t necessarily have to be French, but they are required to speak French. Each year, 16 students are chosen according to their career and the project that they intend to work on while here in Villa Medici. The subject of their project must be around Villa Medici, or the city of Rome in general.
The artists can be of any field of art: painting, sculpture, architecture, music, literature, cinema, restoration, culinary art.
As these artists already have a career, the average age is between 30 and 45 years old. When the artists win the scholarship, they move to Villa Medici together with their families. The scholarship has a duration of 1 year and during this time the artists get a full salary.
The academic year ends in July, and around June and July the artists exhibit their works in the villa and garden, which is open to the public! You can check the dates and opening times on the Academy of France website.
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