(b. 1475, Caprese, d. 1564, Roma)

Palazzo Farnese: Façade

Piazza Farnese, Rome

Antonio da Sangallo the Younger died in 1546, and the bulk of his unfinished work fell to Michelangelo. How he grappled with his task is evident from the palace which Cardinal Alessandro Farnese had long ago ordered Sangallo to build. Elected to the Papacy, Alessandro announced a contest for the cornice design, which Michelangelo won; whereupon he was left to finish the building. The master changed the character of the edifice completely by adding an impressive cornice with Farnese lilies and a superstructure to the uppermost storey, and by emphasizing the centre storey with a noble window and balcony, surmounted by the family escutcheon. Two more crests on either side are a later addition. An excellent drawing of 1840 by the architect of the Louvre, Hector Martin Lefuel, shows the façade as it was before it was spoilt by additions to the central axis.

The vertical edges of the building were reinforced by rustic work. The windows of the upper storey, with Romanesque arches surmounted by detached triangular cornices, lend an air of organic growth and lightness to the otherwise massive and portentous palace. Where Sangallo had wavered between a unity composed of many harmonious elements, and a single, dominant theme, Michelangelo brought everything under a common denominator. The airy, charming arcades of the courtyard were surmounted by stern walls with angulate pilasters and exceptionally beautiful windows with detached cornices.