Rome was not built by Romans and the very few who made a lasting artistic contribution to the Eternal City were labeled with the adjective “Romano”. Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio, Bernini, Borromini and Canova, just to name a few of the most famous artists in Rome, were not born here.
And the Villa we want to tell you about is Tuscan first and Finnish then: a beautiful site and an interesting story.
It all begins with the Medici family in Florence. The man who built the Villa between 1515 and 1520, Baldassarre Turini, was Tuscan and was a good friend of the very powerful Florentine family who had a pope elected in 1513 under the name of Leo X and a few years later another one: Clemens VII. Baldassarre Turini was an important figure in the staff of both Popes, knew Raphael and Michelangelo well, and was also appointed head of the road and urban planning office.
This man commissioned the first modern Villa of Rome. After the end of the Roman Empire no more villas were built in Rome and surroundings for more than a millennium. The fact that a villa was being built was also a sign that the city and the surrounding countryside was safe again. But the first villas in Italy were erected in Tuscany by the Medici and here is the major Tuscan influence in this site. Only a Tuscan could conceive a Villa right out of the city.
Turini suffered the Roman summer heat and wanted a cooler place with fresh and clean air and he bought some land on the Janiculum Hill which at the time was very wild and uninhabited. He then asked Giulio Romano, a Rome born painter and architect very close to Raphael, to design his Villa. Romano worked at some of Rome’s top Renaissance buildings, Villa Madama and Palazzo Salviati, where he showed his style: inspired by classical models but interpreted with freedom and personality.
The palace was pretty small as it was not supposed to be a residential building. Its most striking feature is the loggia, a covered area on the side of the building that serves as a porch. It was the first of this kind in Rome, and a very innovative solution at the time. A place supposed to be used during the winter to enjoy the light and during the summer to take advantage of the breeze. The view is breath-taking, it spans from the Vatican to the arch basilica of St John Lateran. At the time, however, the skyline was very different from today’s: you could only see the Pantheon, the Colosseum, some ancient roman ruins on the Palatine hill and a few churches on top of the Aventine. The ceiling decorations are also peculiar. While in the loggia, you’ll also notice a nice old piano of the mid-19th century. Concerts are held here in Spring and Autumn and this piano will please your ears.
The main room of the Villa has beautiful ceiling decorations. It’s most interesting thing, however, is a little graffiti of 1527, a tragic year for Rome that was invaded, ransacked and pillaged by German, Spanish and Italian mercenaries. One of them wrote in Italian on the wall of the main hall “we conquered Rome on May 6, 1527.”
The other key element of this room is the pavilion vault with the beautifully preserved coat of arms of pope Paul V, of the Borghese family. We should stop one moment here and lay out some key facts about the history of the Villa to explain why it was built by a Turini, is named after the Lante family and has Borghese symbols in its most important room.
Well, the Villa was sold by Turini’s heirs to the Lante, a merchant family originating from Pisa, in the mid- 16th century. After relocating to Rome these traders got more and more important and one of them was appointed bishop of Todi and was nearly becoming pope in 1623. His sister married Paul V’s brother. Paul V visited the villa in 1608.
This room also featured for big frescoes by Raphael’s pupils that were detached and brought to Palazzo Zuccari. They were sold in 1891 to Henrietta Hertz after whom the Hertziana Library is named. When in 1817 the Lante decayed and decided to sell the villa, it was the Borghese family which bought it but they weren’t very affectionate to it so they sold it in 1837 to the founder of a nun Congregation. The Borghese kept the frescoes for themselves to sell them 54 years later to Rome’s top German art collector.
In 1950 the Finnish History Institute bought the Villa. It was the first and only scientific centre out of the country until 1984 when a second one was opened in Athens. It focuses on Classical Studies and the Middle Age. It has a library and publishes an academic review. It hosts Finnish students and scholars for their own individual researches and for collective seminars and courses.
It can be visited in working days’ mornings and it occasionally hosts cultural events (other than the concerts that we mentioned above). It must be said that the Finns carried out three renovations in 60 years and that the Villa is also jaw-dropping thanks to their hard work and financial efforts.