Villa Medici Rome
Rome's Villa Medici is located on the Pincian Hill at the top of the Spanish Steps. By the end of the Roman Republic the Pincian Hill had become known for its ornamental gardens and this continued up until the fall of the Roman Empire. The Villa Medici occupies part of the site of the ancient garden of Sallust.
In 1540, the present villa was purchased by Cardinal Crescenzi and enlarged by the architect Nani di Banco Bigi. The garden remained primarily vineyards. After his death in 1544, the villa has bought by Cardinal Giovanni Ricci di Montpulciano and work on the villa was continued by Nani's son, Annibale Lippi. Large amounts of money also were spent developing the garden and supplying it with water.
Cardinal Ferdinando de Medici bought the villa in 1576, after Cardinal Ricci's death and five years later it was known as the most lavish villa in Rome. The front of the villa has often been compared with a fortress because of its stark white facade, but the villa's garden facade is one of the most highly ornamented of any Renaissance villa.
This seventeenth century engraving by Giovanni Francesco Venturini shows the garden facade's loggia. Cardinal de Medici was a patron of the sculptor Gianbologna; his famous sculpture of the god Mercury is at the center of the loggia and most of the other sculptures are ancient.
The mid-eighteenth century engraving below is by Giuseppe Vasi and shows how the entire garden facade displayed ancient reliefs which were interspersed with niches for statues. Much of this ancient art came from the della Valle collection, one of the most important collections of the High Renaissance. It was actually difficult for anyone other than the Popes and the relatives of a current Pope to collect ancient art in Renaissance Rome. Some families refused to excavate on their own properties out of fear that the Popes would claim the finest pieces. The della Valle collection was especially rich because many of the pieces were acquired before the collecting of antiquities became fashionable in Rome. This engraving also shows the size of the large open courtyard.
The engraving below by J. Larus dates from 1614 and shows the basic layout of the garden. While there have been some minor changes in the design of the parterre, the basic layout of the garden has remained unchanged. Between the courtyard and the planting beds of the parterre, there is a broad walk which runs from side to side in the engraving. On the right side of the engraving, the walk ends with the famous group of Niobe and her children, one of the most important groups of ancient sculpture to survive. They were found in April of 1583 and purchased by Cardinal de Medici in June of the same year. They are now in the Uffizi, but were only moved to Florence in 1770. The Venus de Medici is considered to be one of the most beautiful statues to survive from the ancient world and is one of greatest treasures in the Uffizi. In 1677 the people of Rome were very surprised when Pope Innocent XI granted permission to remove her from the Villa Medici to Florence. He apparently felt that this statue was too indecent for Christian Rome. Many of the ancient sculptures in the Uffizi were removed from this villa during the late eighteenth century, but it was unusual for Popes to grant approval during the seventeenth century.