The Villa was built in 1750 at the behest of Mantuan Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga, Secretary of State to Pope Benedict XIV. The conception and design of the building is believed to be choral in nature, the work of several architects such as Paolo Posi, Jacques-Philippe Mareschal and Giovanni Paolo Pannini, as well as the master builder Paolo Rossi, the science-savvy abbot Lewis Wood and architect Giuseppe Pannini, son of the painter Giovanni Paolo.
The Villa towers in the center of a large garden and is characterized externally by a kind of expressive composure visible in its formal and decorative linearity and simplicity, distant from the late Baroque taste then in vogue in the city, but ahead of the neo-Renaissance solutions adopted in the later era of Neo-Classicism. When Cardinal Valenti Gonzaga was in residence, the Villa was a treasure trove of art masterpieces, and frequented by all of the eminent figures in the artistic and scientific culture of the day. The interiors of the ground floor and the main floor were decorated with wall hangings and wallpaper from China, paintings, porcelain, oriental objects imported from the faraway East, as well as a collection of the latest scientific instruments, giving the Villa the appearance of a “wunderkammer,” a marvelous cabinet of curiosities. A table, which rose from the kitchens to the dining room above by means of an elaborate mechanism, amazed the Cardinal’s guests. The garden surrounding the Villa was embellished with fountains and exotic plants.
A lover of art, Cardinal Valenti Gonzaga owned a collection of more than 800 pieces. In a 1740 painting, Giovanni Paolo Pannini depicts an imaginary gallery in which 150 paintings and drawings that really belonged to the Cardinal speckle every wall, and, in the left part of the canvas, some characters studying the plan of the Villa itself, which was then in its development phase.
Upon the Cardinal’s death (1756) the Villa was purchased first by the Sciarra Colonna family and later, in 1816, by Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister and wife of Prince Camillo Borghese. It was at Paolina’s behest that a major restoration of the Villa was implemented, as well as the renovation of the interior decoration in the Empire style, named after her brother the Emperor Napoleon. Today we can admire the Villa as Pauline Bonaparte (had it?) transformed. Paolina stayed in the Villa until 1824.
When the unification troops of the newly formed Kingdom of Italy opened the “Breach of Porta Pia,” on September 20, 1870, they entered “Papal” Rome right through the garden of Villa Bonaparte.
Since 1950 the Villa has housed the Embassy of France to the Holy See.
The tour winds its way through the great hall on the main floor, adorned by the monumental muses soaring in chiaroscuro against the background decorated with architectural motifs, the Egyptian room, decorated in honor of Napoleon’s military campaigns in Egypt, the chapel with 18th-century stucco work, the dining room, enriched with paintings from 17th-century from the Louvre Museum as well as the loggia on the main floor characterized by a ceiling decorated with a magnificent pergola that recalls and refers to the lush garden surrounding the Villa.
Villa Bonaparte can only be visited by guided tour, purchased exclusively through this website