Flavio Chigi (1631-1693), the cardinal-nephew of Pope Alexander VII, was one of the great patrons of Roman Baroque art. He supervised his uncle's building initiatives, such as the Colonnato di San Pietro, and he collected works of the major artists of his time. From his youth, Flavio's favorite retreat was his family's country estate at Cetinale, near his native Siena, where he usually spent the early autumn hunting. From 1676 to 1686 he renovated the villa, improving the garden and the vast hunting park nearby, and built seven chapels devoted to the Sorrows of the Virgin. He also dedicated the small garden church to Saint Eustace, patron of hunters. Several Palios, the traditional horse race held in Siena twice a year, enlivened the feast of Saint Eustace. The circular path, which follows the seven chapels of the Sorrows of the Virgin accommodated both hunting and horse racing.
Bonaventura Chigi Zondadari, Flavio's nephew, completed his uncle's initiative with the construction of a Hermitage and steep stairs leading to it. Thus, Flavio Chigi created at his country estate an uncommon landscape that lent itself to three different primary rituals: pilgrimage, horse racing, and hunting. The Cardinal's personal leisure as well as political and social implications are the background of the making of Cetinale. The latter include the cardinal's interest in gaining an alliance with the Grand Duke of Tuscany, the papal court, and the city of Siena.
villa was built between 1676 and 1678 by cardinal Flavio Chigi, to a design by the architect Carlo Fontana (a pupil of
Bernini) to celebrate the election of Fabio Chigi as Pope Alexander VII. It was never used for reception purposes, but as a private residence to which the Chigi would retreat for brief periods of repose. The complex was built in three stages: the first, involving the construction of the villa, its outbuildings and the formal garden (1676-1688); the second, involving the laying out of the Tebaide park (1698-1705); and the third, involving the building of the hermitage (1716). The quadrangular building has three floors above ground level. The main elevation is characterised mainly by the elaborate double staircase that culminates in the large central marble portal on the first floor. This is framed by two rusticated columns and surmounted by a heavily protruding triangular tympanum, topped by the Chigi crest. The rear elevation consists of two
avant-corps at the sides and a central section. At ground-floor level, this slightly receding section has three archways surmounted by a faux loggia with stone balustrade. All the windows and the archways of the portico, which are brick framed, contrast with the buildings hewn stone corners. Large noble family crests decorate each of the windows on the piano
nobile. The formal garden, which lies at the back of the building and is usually referred to as the "citrus garden", consists of geometrically designed flower-beds edged with box hedges. All the beds are adorned with sculpted peacocks and statues. The remaining outdoor space follows a long straight axis marked by a low wall topped by marble busts. This axis, which begins with an exedra, continues along a cypress-lined avenue and, after crossing a monumental gateway, reaches the villa. The portal, embellished on both sides of the inside of the entrance by two niches with statues, is topped by obelisks and decorative sculpted busts. Beyond the villa and the formal garden, the axis continues as far as an enormous statue of Hercules, created in 1687 by Giuseppe
Mazzuoli, a rustic stone colossus hidden in the wood, well away from the house. The Tebaide park was created in a wooded area to the north of the villa. The park, which takes its name from a desert region of Upper Egypt, inhabited in the Middle Ages by Christian hermits, has a winding "pathway of penitence", with three votive chapels, stone crosses and numerous sculptures of kneeling friars. Connected to the villa by a steep flight of steps hewn out of the rock, known as the "holy stairway", the hermitage was added on in 1716. This additional construction scheme accentuated the importance of the axis which was thus extended all the way up to the top of the hill. Cardinal Flavio Chigi left the Cetinale estate to his grandchildren, who retained the property for three centuries, until it was bought in 1977 by the English peer
Lord Antony Lambton, who carried out careful, conservative restoration work that restored Villa Cetinale
and especially its gardens to their former glory.
He died on 30 Dec 2006.
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