Exercise – A Roman Palace

For this exercise I have imagined myself as Cardinal Sigismondo Chigi. He was appointed Cardinal in 1667 at the time of Pope Clement IX.

Dear Sir,

For the decoration of my palazzo in Roma, I have two sets of instructions, one for the main reception room and one for my private study. The style of painting and the subject should fulfil the requirements of G.B. Armenini’s treatise On the True Precepts of Painting.

Main Reception

The main reception room should have a vaulted ceiling curved with no hard edges like an elongated dome. This ceiling should be covered in fresco giving the illusion of three-dimensional space di sotto in su. The great central area should appear to open up and reveal the heavens with a false frame around it. The frame can be supported by great Hercules-like figures giving the illusion of stone. There may be great pillars at the four false corners which thus produce quadrati in which further frescoes depicting the lives of St John the Baptist can be executed. The style should reflect back to the Greco-Roman antiquity.

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The quadrati should contain great narrative scenes from the life of John the Baptist. These scenes should include the angel Gabriel foretelling the birth of John to his father Zechariah; John in the wilderness with clothes of camel’s hair and eating only locusts and wild honey; the baptism of Christ showing the heavens opening for the Spirit to come down to him; John being imprisoned by Herod after denouncing his incestuous marriage; his execution by Herod; and Salome with the head of John the baptist. The central space can represent the heavens splitting and the emergence of the Holy Spirit as a dove. Great emphasis should be given to the drama of the scenes.

The figure should be many and they should emerge from the quadrati as if climbing upwards to the heavens. The male figures should be strong and muscular as in in classical times and their dress should be appropriate for this era. The impression should be of being sucked into the great heavens when standing below.

I would like many references to the importance of my great Sienese Chigi family in the form of the Chigi coat of arms and many representations of the six mountains and a star symbol and the oak tree seen on the coat of arms. These coats of arms could be placed at the four “corners” of the frame from which the branches of the oak tree could emerge and twine around the frame. I would also like a reference to my alliance to the new Pope Clement IX to be evident to show that I support his papacy. This may be in the form of his coat of arms next to mine or insertion of his symbolic diamond shape around it.

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Chigi heraldry

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Rospigliosi Heraldry

The greatest effect of the room will be the magnificent ceiling. Thus the walls should not contain distracting images but the areas in between the doorways and windows should be appropriately decorated with embellished pilasters in an ivory colour with gilding.

There should be several niches with space for beautiful sculptures in keeping with the theme of the ceiling above. These sculptures I would like to be in the purest white marble. The figures should be organic as if about to move from the pedestal they are placed upon. Their facial expression will command emotion to all those who view them. These sculptures and the uplifting scene above should nurture the belief that after viewing, a divine experience has occurred.

Study

The study will also have a painted ceiling but there should be paintings on canvas upon three of the four walls. The fourth will remain undecorated where I plan to place my writing desk positioned so as I can face these wonderful works of art. I would like landscape to be an important element within the images, in keeping with the emerging fashions. Although of secular theme I would like the images to contain a moralising message with an emphasis on Christian virtue.

The room should be decorated with the theme from Ovid’s Metamorphosis, in particular the scene from Book III of Narcissus falling in love with his own reflection (thus reminding the viewer of the sins of vanity), Niobe losing her children in punishment for her pride from Book VI and Daphne repelling Apollo’s advances following cupids interference from Book I.

On the square ceiling above I wish an image of one of the twelve labours of Hercules from Book IX. As in the main reception room I would like illusion of di sotto in su and it should be understandable when facing all direction in the room. The four corners of the ceiling may contain my coat of arms with the oak branches emerging out as with the main reception.

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View of the study ceiling from below

I hope I will receive your acceptance for this commission, I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours

Cardinal Chigi

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