The Villa Farnesina and its Renaissance art start with Agostino Chigi. He was born in 1466 to a banking family in Siena. He launched his precocious banking career in Rome, quickly earning a fortune thanks to his investment strategies. Known as il Magnifico, he was the richest man in Christendom during the reigns of Pope Alexander VI (Borgia), Pope Julius II (della Rovere), and Leo X (Medici). Yet he reached the pinnacle of success at a great cost to his health. Indeed, when Chigi turned forty, his private physician hinted ominously that he had to slow down “or else…”
Following his doctor’s advice, Chigi bought land in what was then open countryside, where he could build a get-away. Removed from the clamor and the tensions of the city, he still wasn’t far from the call of duty. In those days, the “countryside” meant land along the western bank of the Tiber River. There, 2000 years earlier, patrician Romans built their vacation homes. While Cicero wrote about wanting to buy a luxury villa here, Catullus’s lover, Clodia, actually did. It had to be top-notch real-estate if the Emperor Augustus’s daughter, Julia, had a summer home here.