(b. 1483, Urbino, d. 1520, Roma)

The Loggia of Psyche

Villa Farnesina, Rome

In 1517 Agostino Chigi commissioned Raphael to decorate the ground floor loggia of the villa in which the artist had painted the Galatea five years before. Like the Galatea and the Stufetta, this cycle reflects the cultured atmosphere which flourished in Rome under Julius II and Leo X. The frescoes represent the Story of Psyche, a myth derived from the Golden Ass of Apuleius (2nd century A. D.).

According to his commission Raphael was to decorate the large entrance loggia, which communicates between the living-room and garden outside. Raphael approached the highly individual character of the space by treating the roofed building, which is in fact part of the main building, as an open pergola. He developed its structure out of the existing wall divisions, and covered them with magnificent, rampant garlands of fruit. Treating the room as a pergola, he designed the two large ceiling pictures that simulate tapestries stretched across the roof. These huge awnings were painted so ingeniously that we can see the straps holding them in place and the scalloped edges they create by stretching the material.

The cycle of pictures appears only on the ceiling. Raphael designed a view out onto a brilliant blue sky, in which half-naked figures - either hovering or standing on clouds - merge into an erotically charged scene. The simulated tapestries depict two scenes: the gods deciding to subject Psyche to various tests, and Psyche holding a magnificent banquet to celebrate her acceptance into the circle of the Immortals. Both scenes were no doubt meant to impress upon guests the cultural attainments of the household. Despite a strong erotic charge, the cycle was meant as an example of virtuous womanhood.

Although the preparatory drawings and the general conception of the stories are by Raphael, the bulk of the painting was carried out by his pupils, notably Giovanni da Udine (who painted the rich plant festoons of the frame) with the collaboration of Giulio Romano, Raffaellino del Colle and Gianfrancesco Penni. Pope Leo X liked Giovanni da Udine's garlands so much that he commissioned the painter to decorate the first floor of the loggia in the Vatican with similar floral motifs.