Academic journal article Explorations in Renaissance Culture

Giorgio Vasari's Sala Dei Cento Giorni: A Farnese Celebration

Academic journal article Explorations in Renaissance Culture

Giorgio Vasari's Sala Dei Cento Giorni: A Farnese Celebration

Article excerpt

THE PALAZZO DELLA CANCELLERIA, or Chancery Palace, was built by Bregno da Montecavallo in 1483 on the ravine of the theater of Pompey for Sixtus IV's nephew, Cardinal Riario. Later, in 1535, the palace became the new residence of the Farnese family. At the suggestion of Paolo Giovio (1) and Bindo Altovito, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589) in March of 1546 commissioned Giorgio Vasari (Fig. 1) and his assistants to paint the great hall alfresco. (2) The purpose of the commission was to celebrate the life of Pope Paul III (Alessandro Farnese, 1468-1549), the cardinal's uncle, whom he greatly admired and after whom he was named. Two years earlier, Perino del Vaga had executed a commission honoring Pope Paul III as the new Alexander the Great in the Sala Paolina. (3) Later on, other commissions memorializing the Pontiffs accomplishments were executed by Francesco Salviati in the Sala dei Fasti Farnesiani (1552-58) (I. Cheney 791-820), and in numerous decorative cycles by Taddeo Zuccaro and his assistants-the Anticamera del Concilio and the Sala dei Fasti Farnesi (1560-66). (4) None of these commissions, however, so eloquently immortalizes the Farnese Pontiffs ecclesiastical and secular triumphs as do Vasaris decorative cycles in the Sala dei Cento Giorni (Figs. 2 and 3). The Sala dei Cento Giorni is a monumental commission honoring the temporal and spiritual powers of Pope Paul III Farnese.

In his notebook (Lo Zibaldone) and in the autobiographical section of his Le Vite, Vasari discussed the circumstances for this patronage, identified the personifications depicted, and explained the subject matter. In Lo Zibaldone, under the heading "Cose della Cancelleria 1545," Vasari first sketchily commented on some ideas concerning the program and the contract for this commission:

I remember how on March 29, 1546, the Illustrious, most Reverend Monsignor, Cardinal Farnese, hired me to paint al fresco the second hall of the chancery in the Palazzo di San Giorgio. Four walls of this hall should represent historical events and tabernacles, friezes, and ornaments with various figures, according to my design shown to his most holy Reverend, in which we agreed that on the wall facing us, which is dark, will be depicted a story danturiura gentibus [of the laws being given to the people]. All representatives from the Nations of the World come to the Pontiff in Rome for the peregrination and bring numerous tributes. In various areas of this wall and among the dignitaries stand Justice, Eloquence, Liberality, Industry, Merit, and Fecundity.

The wall that faces the church shows the Pope commissioning the building of Saint Peter's. In its foreground Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting present to the Pontiff a groundfloor plan to be executed, where the representation of the Vatican, with seven putti representing the seven hills, holds all the honors. In this scene are Merit and Geometry and, above them, Providence and Wisdom. Another story depicts the Pope rewarding Virtue, who gives dignity to many poor people. On the steps Envy is bound, and within the tabernacles are Magnificence and Piety and, above them, Fame and Eternity. Below in the tabernacles are three virtues: Merit, Religion, and Abundance.

On the third wall Concord, Peace, Victory, and Justice carry the Pope, illustrating the story of Peace created by the Pope and Christian princes. Fury is bound and the Temple of Janus is closed. Virtuous Love and Fortitude are depicted, as are Hilarity and Peace burning the arms of war. One of the tabernacles contains Charity and the other Concord.

On the last wall are tabernacles with the three theological virtues. All of this work I promised to do in one hundred days. He will pay me eight hundred and eight scudi on the tenth of July and will cover my expenses for two servants and a horse, as noted by the hand of Monsignor Giovio. The Bank of Montaguti has been ordered to pay me said amount. (5) (del Vita 22-25)

In his autobiography, Vasari elaborates on the description of the commission, focusing on the depictions of ancient and contemporary portraits:

In that same year [1546] Cardinal Farnese proposed to paint the hall of the chancery in the palace of San Giorgio, and Monsignor Giovio, who wanted me to do this, got me to prepare designs, though they were never carried out. …

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