There’s a certain amount of resentment against the French for their possession of two of Rome’s most beautiful buildings, the Villa Medici and the Palazzo Farnese. Their cultural program at the Villa Medici, or L’Académie de France à Rome, is the most lively and engaging of the Academies in Rome. In other words, the outreach is great, and this goes a long way in dampening jealous feelings. While Villa Medici was bought outright by Napoleon in 1803, the Italian government, for a token sum, leases the Palazzo Farnese to France. In exchange, the Italians are leased an 18th century building (w. Gobelin tapestries designed by Jean-François de Troy and murals by the relatively unknown Cignaroli) for their embassy in Paris. The long-term leases started in 1936 and last for 99 years.
Since the Palazzo Farnese is an embassy, it has been very difficult to visit, and especially so in recent years. (Interestingly, the idea for the exhibition came from Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sablière.) Tourists have had to content themselves with admiring the building from the outside; peering up at the Salviati and Zuccaro frescoes, partly visible from the piazza; and looking at the didactic display cradled in plastic to the right of the main entrance. Now, for a few months, the palace is open for the exhibition Palazzo Farnèse (note the accent). On view is the building itself, preparatory drawings for the building and its decoration, antiquities and other artworks from the Farnese collections, and images of the building over time. The exhibition opened on 17 December 2010 and runs through 27 April 2011. Here is the link to the exhibition website.
The Farneses were collectors of drawings. The cartoons of Raphael and Michelangelo, now in Naples at the Capodimonte Museum, were laid down on canvas, framed in walnut, and hung in Palazzo Farnese. These did not travel up to Rome for the show. Smaller drawings were kept in fasci or bundles. There are a pair of beautiful Parmigianino drawings with Farnese provenance in the show. One wishes there were more drawings from their collection on view.
What is most remarkable is to see the Annibale and Agostino Carracci cartoons for the Camerino dell’ Ercole and Galleria dei Carracci so close to the frescoes. In the case of the Camerino, the drawings are in cases within the same room. With the Galleria, the drawings are in an anteroom. When I was there looking back and forth between the drawings and the frescoes, I had this feeling of being the luckiest person alive. I couldn’t help but daydream of the brothers working, and imagined them drawing at large tables and then climbing scaffolding. The drawing just below of an amorino in the Camerino came from Windsor. The cartoon shows some incision marks, and was a near final cartoon. Seeing the drawings just under the complex design of the ceiling also makes it absolutely clear how important drawings are for fresco painting. The Carracci drawings in the exhibition were not owned by the Farnese. Instead, they were kept by the artist, who left them to his pupil Domenichino, and then handed down to other artists including Maratti.
The exhibition also features drawings by Architect Antonio da Sangallo Giovane for the palace. These make one dislike AutoCAD productions all the more.