Among the Roman noble families, the Farnese family is certainly one of the main.
The fortune of this family, originally from Viterbo, began by chance when in 1493 Pope Alexander VI Borgia fell in love with Giulia Farnese, daughter of a Caetani and friend and contemporary of his daughter Lucrezia.
To satisfy Giulia, the pope appointed her brother, Alessandro Farnese, who was 25 years old and was in Florence at the court of Lorenzo the Magnificent, as cardinal.
To be a cardinal, it was not necessary to be a priest, but it was a political office that procured lavish rents, you could vote for the election of the popes and you could be elected.
Cardinal Alessandro Farnese the first, not to be confused with the second, was close to various Renaissance popes and became a passionate collector of works of art.
In 1513 the construction of Palazzo Farnese had begun. In 1534, at 66, he finally managed to be elected pope and took the name of Paul III. At that point the power of the family exploded with the accommodation of grandchildren and relatives in key places. He persuaded Michelangelo to come to Rome from Florence and to work for him.
He approved the Jesuit Order, which would quickly spread all over the world. He called the Council of Trent to counter the Protestant Reformation.
He created two autonomous duchies, the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza, which he entrusted to his son Pierluigi, an autonomous state that remained with the family for several centuries, and the Duchy of Castro, in the Viterbo area, where was the origin of the family, which however had short life.
Another fourteen-year-old Alexander who was a member of the family, officially the son of Pierluigi, but probably the son of Paul III himself, who had just appointed him cardinal thinking of a kind of hereditary papacy like the other monarchies.
And so Cardinal Alessandro Farnese junior entered history, and became rich and powerful. Perhaps the richest of his time, collecting official positions and works of art by the thousands. In 1545 he was portrayed together with the pontiff by Titian, a guest in their palace.
Pierluigi however gained a bad reputation, was killed in a popular revolt and thrown from the window of his palace in 1547, to the great displeasure of his father Paolo III who died two years later.
In 1556 Cardinal Farnese had a daughter named Clelia, from a French noblewoman.
The greatest artists worked for him: Michelangelo until 1564, then Vignola and Giacomo Della Porta. In 1565 he was candidate to succeed Pope Paul IV Carafa, but Cardinal Ghisleri was preferred to him, who took the name of Pius V.
In 1568 he built the Church of Jesusfor the new Jesuit Order of which he was a sponsor, from 1566 he dedicated himself to the Farnesian Gardens on the Palatine Hill, completed the Palazzo Farnese, then the marvelous Palazzo Farnese of Caprarola.
In 1572, the death of Pope Pius V made certain his election as pope, but King Philip II of Spain intervened to ask him to renounce, and Gregory XIII was elected.
He consoled himself then with real estate purchases, in fact in 1579 he bought from the Chigi family the Villa Farnesina at Lungara, frescoed by Raphael. He thought of connecting it with a bridge to Palazzo Farnese, of the type of the Vasarian corridor, flanked by Ponte Sisto.
The arch on Via Giulia is the first part of this project. But in 1589 he died suddenly leaving his ambitious projects unfinished.
After this, the family came into conflict with the later popes, Urban VIII Barberini and especially with Innocent X Pamphili, who wanted to bring the duchies and fiefdoms that had been spun off back to the state.
Innocent X, driven by his greedy sister-in-law Donna Pamphili, sent the army in 1649 to raze the town of Ischia di Castro, which was the centre of the Duchy of the Farnese in Viterbo. The town was not rebuilt and the duchy that included Caprarola and Ronciglione was returned to the state.
The Duchy of Parma and Piacenza meanwhilec continued until Elisabetta Farnese, the last Farnese princess, in 1714, went to marry Philip V Bourbon, King of Spain. Elizabeth lived for a long time, until 1766, and it was she, very energetic and capable, who in fact managed for many years the then most important state in the world.
Her son Carlo Borbone, born in 1516, was Duke of Parma from 1531 to 1535, then King of Naples, from 1535 to 1559, and finally King of Spain from 1559 to 1588.
During the years when he was King of Naples and Sicily, Carlo began the construction of the Royal Palace of Caserta and transferred the hundreds of works of art collected by his ancestors to Parma and Rome, Roman sculptures as well as hundreds of paintings of the Italian and Flemish Renaissance, completing the immense “Farnese Collection“.
This is the collection that is currently found mainly in the Palazzo di Capodimonte and in the Archaeological Museum of Naples, as well as 130 paintings that have been returned to Parma.