Raphael in Villa Farnesina: From the colours of prosperity to the Egyptian Blue

Speaker: Professor Antonio Sgamellotti, Professor Emeritus of Inorganic Chemistry, University of Perugia

Villa Farnesina, the house of Agostino Chigi designed by Baldassarre Peruzzi, and decorated by the masters of Renaissance painting is one of the highest artistic expressions of this period. The fable of Apuleius, frescoed in the Loggia of Cupid and Psyche by Raphael and his workshop, is framed by vegetable festoons: their rich hues associated with fruits from all continents represent the colours of prosperity. The chromatic richness of these fruits, many of them still not fully known and never depicted before, is represented by the use of unusual pigments and materials, as revealed by non-invasive investigations. From the study of the materials of the Triumph of Galatea, an autographed fresco by Raphael, the use of Egyptian blue emerged after centuries of oblivion: material evidence -completely unexpected- of the great interest of the Urbinate Master for the Antique. Non-invasive diagnostics for cultural heritage is therefore not only a necessary prologue to restoration procedures, but an essential hermeneutic tool for a new history of art, where sometimes the materials themselves tell the artist’s intentions like documentary traces. The Villa Farnesina is also the protagonist of a study concerning the impact of fine dust from vehicular traffic on its frescoed loggias and on the garden. The study was conducted through monitoring measures on leaves and lichens, used as bioindicators.

Professor Antonio Sgamellotti is Professor Emeritus of Inorganic Chemistry, University of Perugia and a Fellow of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, as well as Doctor Honoris Causa at UNSAM University Buenos Aires. He is co-founder and honorary President of the Centre of the Excellence (SMAArt) “Scientific Methodologies applied to Archaeology and Art” and Co-founder of the MObile LABoratory (MOLAB) for non-invasive in situ investigations on artworks. He is also Founder and Director of CERIF – (CEntro linceo di RIcerca sui beni culturali Villa Farnesina). Professor Sgamellotti is the author of than more 350 scientific publications concerning advanced computational chemistry, electronic and structural properties of molecules and inorganic materials, spectroscopic properties, and characterization of archaeological and art-historical artifacts.

Organised by Dr Austin Nevin (Head of Department of Conservation, The Courtauld). 

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15 Sep 2022

Thursday 15th September 2022, 6pm - 7.30pm BST

Free, booking essential

Vernon Square, Lecture Theatre 1


Image showing four different technical investigations into a painting of a woman with her hair blowing behind her, painted by Raphael
Detail from Raphael's Triumph of Galatea shown (clockwise from top left) in visible light, Egyptian Blue map, XRF map and Fe distribution map.

Raphael in Villa Farnesina: From the colours of prosperity to the Egyptian Blue