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On Vacation with the Popes: Villeggiatura in Early Modern Rome

Instructor: Paolo Alei [see profile]
Disciplines: Art History,  Architecture

Between the fifteenth and the seventeenth centuries, Italy reinvented the idea of vacation and Rome transformed it into an art—the villeggiatura. The revival of antiquity was not just an artistic, philosophical or literary topos; rather, it was a modus vivendi that influenced and inspired a lifestyle. The ancient emperors Augustus, Nero, and Hadrian had built their villas on the outskirts of Rome and beyond in the countryside. During the Renaissance nobles, cardinals, and popes fashioned themselves as new emperors and built their country retreats among the ruins of their ancestors. Their common aim was otium, pleasure. The architecture, decoration and above all iconography of the fountains manifest the early modern desire to communicate through metaphor and allegory to link the life of these men and women of the early modern world to the myths of antiquity.

From the transformation of a fortified castle into a villa in Bracciano, we will follow the evolution of the country house through the famous villa of Agostino Chigi, the monumental octagonal palace of the Farnese family in Caprarola, the collection of art of Scipione Borghese, the complex iconography of Villa Aldobrandini, and finally the most splendid complex of fountains in the world at Villa d’Este in Tivoli.

Most of the lectures are on-site in Rome, on the outskirts of the city (Bracciano, Tivoli, Frascati) and, in a few cases, beyond the province (Caprarola and Bagnaia.) Those out-of-town excursions take place on Fridays. 


  • a midterm exam
  • an oral presentation
  • a paper (six pages)
  • a final exam