The Casino Nobile , which is already a “museum” from an architectural and decorative standpoint, contains a small but excellent museum devoted to pieces of statuary from the Torlonia collection found in the Villa (much of the collection still belongs to the family and is conserved in the palace in Via della Lungara) and several chance finds that have enabled a further strand of the Villa’s history to be added to the collection.
The piano nobile is reached up an ingenious staircase, created by Carinetti in a small space, with marble steps and finely worked bronze balustrade by Filippo Ghirlanda.
The staircase leads to an antechamber that opens onto the large loggia on the pronaos . It has ceilings decorated by Decio Trabalza of Dawn, Day and Night.
The Bacchus Room
The Bacchus Room is entirely frescoed with Stories of the myth of Bacchusi, the Seasons, and the three Continents by Francesco Podesti , in a structure decorated with grotesques, masks and tiny landscapes by Caretti . In the center of the ceiling (which recently collapsed but has been rebuilt though its decoration now is limited to the geometric division of the original ornamentation) there used to be a representation of Bacchus finding Ariadne in Crete.
The polychrome mosaic floor illustrates Hercules as a boy throttling the serpents .
The Gothic Room was entirely decorated by Giovan Battista Caretti as a Gothic loggia with false windows. Two tondos in the ceiling were painted by Pietro Paoletti with episodes of “Jerusalem Liberated”: Herminia with the shepherds and Armida abducts the sleeping Rinaldo.
Note the marble floor with elements in the same Gothic style.
Venus’s Cabinet is a small room with a painted coffered ceiling , at the center of which is a panel of Venus at her toilet, attributed to Luigi Coghetti.
The bedrooms end the two sides. They are painted with drapery imitating the curtains of a canopied bed and, at the centre of the vault, panels of Venus at her toilet and Psyche carried by the winds by Pietro Paoletti.
This small room was used as a boudoir during Mussolini’s residence in the building. It is lined with wall-paper.
During restoration of the Casino, removal of the wall-paper along the ceiling revealed a frieze with small frescoed decorations that resemble elements in the Bacchus Room.
Next to Alessandro’s Room lies the Egyptian Room. This is lined entirely with decorations inspired by ancient Egypt.
Caretti’s painted decorations incorporate panels by Luigi Fioroni of Stories of Cleopatra: The meeting of Anthony and Cleopatra, the Crowning of Anthony and Cleopatra, and Cleopatra kneeling before Anthony.
The panels are inserted in a complex decorative programme of hieroglyphs, columns and false architectural elements made to imitate basalt.
The floor is made from bands of white marble and bardiglio, with two mosaic panels at the centre also showing scenes from the story of Anthony and Cleopatra.
Alessandro’s Room is a mirror image of the Bacchus Room. It was once used as a dining-room, as is demonstrated by the furniture along the walls. It is completely decorated with frescoes, stucco friezes and marble statues that recount the deeds of Alexander the Great, whose iconography is a clear encomiastic allusion to Alessandro Torlonia.
In the vault Francesco Coghetti painted Episodes from the life of the commander. Immediately below, there runs a low-relief frieze depicting the Triumph of Alexander in Babylon by Bertel Thorvaldsen, derived from the marble original in the Quirinale. Along the walls, painted Allegorical Figures allude to the attributes of the hero and inside the niches stand marble statues of Apollo and the Muses sculpted by young artists working in the circles of Thorvaldsen and Pietro Tenerani.
The floor by Carlo Seni is in the style of an “Etruscan” mosaic.
Casino Nobile or Palace
In 1796 Giovanni Torlonia purchased the Vigna Colonna, situated on the Via Nomentana, and commissioned Giuseppe Valadier to render the buildings and park more imposing.
Between 1802 and 1806 Valadier worked on the rebuilding and enlargement of the Casino Nobile, incorporating the old structure and adding to it with foreparts, porticoes and spacious terraces.
The core of Valadier’s version of the palace was the Salle à manger (Dining room), which is today known as the Ballroom. Illuminated by a single large semicircular window, the light was reflected by the mirrors that lined the other walls, artificially increasing the sources of light and creating the illusion of a large space.
The salon was decorated with elegant stucco hangings, paintings by Domenico Del Frate, and ten plaster low reliefs by Antonio Canova (some of which are today displayed in the “Bercerau” Room).
After Giovanni’s death, in 1832 his son Alessandro commissioned the painter and architect Giovan Battista Caretti to add further to the majesty and magnificence of the palace, and to decorate it with works by various talented artists and craftsmen.
To make the Palace more visible to those arriving from outside the city, the original simple facade designed and built by Valadier, which faced onto Via Nomentana, was given a grandiose pronaos. This, in turn, was endowed with a monumental loggia closed by a triangular pediment that enclosed a terracotta high relief of Bacchus returning triumphant from the Indies on a chariot drawn by tigers by Rinaldo Rinaldi.
The two small porticoed wings designed by Valadier were replaced by two porticoes with Doric columns that encircled the east and west sides of the Palace, forming semicircular projections at the four corners.
The severe and imposing monumental aspect of the building was acceded to by a wide steps leading up the Capitoline (Cordonata) that was at one time lined with colossal ancient statues.
But Caretti’s most extensive renovation was to the internal decorations which, more than the architecture, gave a completely new definition to the spatiality of the rooms.
The ground floor and piano nobile were used for official purposes, and their rooms were decorated throughout in varying styles and motifs that were perfectly in keeping with the referential taste that characterised the villa as a whole.
The service rooms and lodgings for the servants occupied the second floor and basement, and from the latter an underground gallery (still existing) led to the Casino dei Principi.
The basement also provided access to two bunkers built by Mussolini – one as a bomb shelter and the other as a gas shelter (temporarily closed to the public) and to an underground room discovered during recent restoration work.
This was built by Giovan Battista Caretti to resemble an Etruscan Tomb in both its construction and decorations, which were clearly inspired by the images found on Etruscan-Corinthian earthenware.
Museums of Villa Torlonia
The two Museums of Villa Torlonia are the Casino Nobile and the Casina delle civette and are part of the Museum System in the Municipality of Rome.
The Casino Nobile owes its appearance to the intervention, around 1802, by Giuseppe Valadier , followed, between 1835-40, by that of Giovan Battista Caretti who added the majestic pronaos of the facade.
Many painters worked on its decoration, such as Podesti and Coghetti , as well as sculptors and plasterers from the Thorvaldsen and Canova school.
Since opening to the public in 1997 as a museum space, the original Casina collection has been enriched with stained glass by the same authors and with drawings, sketches and preparatory cartoons.