No pictures were allowed, but I won't forget being at Palazzo Farnese. We've already studied the Piazza it fronts, sketching the urban condition for studio. And we've talked about it in our history courses, too, practically since I bean grad school. Finally, France let us in to see it.
Our professor incorporated the tour as an end to class that day. Normally studio runs from 2-6 (though typically "ends" an hour or two later when the professor leaves). In Rome, the schedule is a bit more fluid to accommodate field trips outside of Rome and day trips around the city. For this class, we spent the first part at school discussing garden schemes, and then visited the famous Piazza Navona before our tour appointment at 4:30.
Piazza Navona was built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian from the first century, in the shape of a circus (think of the Ben Hur chariot race scene). For a few hundred years--until about the mid-1800s--the piazza was flooded every Saturday for nautical events.
Professor Hurtt first asked us in studio to draw from memory the piazza, including the streets and curves and locations of the fountains. We arrived (quickly sketching the rooflines), and I instantly realized that I had missed several streets–thinking each end had perpendicular streets cutting through the rectangle–and also assumed the central obelisk (Fountain of the Four Rivers) was directly aligned with the center of the main church: Sant'Agnese. Actually, only when you approach the piazza from due East and look toward Sant'Agnese at an angle, several meters north of the central door, does the obelisk align with the church. Just the obelisk is directly in the center of the piazza.
We were also amazed to see a view through a permanently-empty storefront to the Palace of Justice (next door to Castel Sant'Angelo, across the Tiber via the Ponte Umberto). The view lines up at about 11 o'clock from the long and narrow piazza. You would never notice, though, if you walked outside of the piazza and another 300 meters or so to Italy's supreme court, and then looked the other way.
Sant'Agnese also recedes into its footprint, with a concave façade. Given the precious square footage in Rome, why would the architect make such a decision? Just for kicks? Professor Hurtt took us out of Piazza Navona north to a small church now owned by the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. From its steps, if you look towards Piazza Navona, you see perfectly the center door of Sant'Agnese. It's so meticulous, that a few feet forward or back would ruin the effect. Each church is contemporary to each other, so it's likely construction accommodated such placement. This is a theory shared between our professors, but I do not believe is published.
A quick gelato stop later and we were ready to enter Palazzo Farnese. I mentioned the French earlier because it has been occupied by the French Embassy for about 80 years (with two decades left in their 99-year lease). The building itself is almost 500 years old, having originally been built by the powerful Farnese family in 1517 with a protege of Bramante. Pope Paul III came from the House of Farnese, and invited Michelangelo to redesign the third story and courtyard when elected.
Academically, we have studied the façade with regular fenestration (for a varying interior plan) and courtyard with its stacking Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian order. The hierarchy of classical architecture ascends in this order, but their different proportions require varying treatments to appear successful. It's so tall, too, that standing on the ground in the center looking up a single wall of the courtyard barely reveals details at the top (third) level, and you certainly can't see the lowest base and top cornice in one glance. Since pictures weren't allowed we sketched away instead, and continued on throughout the great palazzo.
There is more to say about Palazzo Farnese (such as its frescoed galleria and attempt to privately bridge over the Tiber), but in the interest of catching up with the rest of my blog posts, I will move on.