The story of the Villa Farnesina and its Renaissance art starts with Agostino Chigi. He was born in 1466 to a banking family in Siena. And he launched his banking career in Rome at an early age. Fortune smiled on him and his investment strategies. Soon 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). But 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 the countryside just outside Rome. We’re talking about the land along the western bank of the Tiber River. (It is now just outside of Trastevere proper, but well within the modern city limits!) Here he built his get-away. Removed from the clamor and the tensions of the city, he still wasn’t far from the call of duty. But is was highly symbolic property and he had fun playing with the symbolism. After all, 1500 years earlier, wealthy Romans built their vacation homes in that general area. For example, Cicero wrote about wanting to buy a luxury villa here, while Catullus’s lover, Clodia, actually did. It had to be top-notch real-estate, if Emperor Augustus’s daughter, Julia, owned a summer home here as well.