the astrological ceiling of Villa Farnesina in Rome

This is the transcript of the lecture kept in Rome by me and Anton Grigoryev (who wrote the article with me) for the Congress/Competition  of October 2006 organized by CIDA, the Italian Astrological Association .

The Italian text has been published in the Winter 2006 issue of Linguaggio Astrale, the journal of the Italian Association.

Some modifications and updates are obviously present in this English version, but basically it remains the same text so much appreciated in Rome.


There is no place in the whole world like Rome and there is no need to talk about its wonders, but the traditional  astrologer should not miss the wonderful Villa Farnesina,   on the shore of river Tiber.

The name Farnese derive from the famous Cardinal Alessandro Farnese who bought the Villa in 1577, but it was built by Agostino Chigi, well  known in  Rome and in the rest of Europe as the richest man in the world, so to be called The Magnificent.

Agostino was born in 1466 in a merchant family of a small city of Tuscany, Siena, a city now declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its medieval architecture. Very soon he understood that the old medieval merchant’ ways of his father could not grant him any success in life, so he left his town and arrived in Rome, where he started to apply  the methods of the earliest forms of capitalism, deriving from the discoveries of new countries, new resources and new low- wage workers.

Nevertheless all the money gathered in the name of God and of the profit as another famous merchant used to say,  he always considered himself a boy arrived from the province and he tried to establish his new status among the old Roman families of noble class, through patronage of Art, giving a sound representation of his ego and his extravagant personality.

Around 1505 he bought some land  near Porta Settimiana, built there his new house and asked to artists like Raphael Sanzio and Baldassare Peruzzi to decorate the Villa.

This house very soon became the focal point in life of many aristocrats, scholars and artists. With Agostino they talked there about their business, but even about arts and philosophy and astrology.

In its gardens they could see and taste the new exotic herbs and fruits coming from America – which where painted by Raphael inside in the wall of the halls.

And as Alexander the Great depicted in the wall  frescos, Agostino could be so Magnificent to let his guests throw in the near river the gold plates  used for their dinner.


At his death, in 1520, Agostino was buried in a chapel built by Raphael where planets from their domiciles guarded him in his eternal sleep.

But Agostino was not new to astrology. For one of the central halls of his villa Baldassare Peruzzi had painted for him a very peculiar astrological ceiling, where planets and constellations had been depicted as in the real sky.

The enigma of the ceiling was hidden throughout all these centuries, until 1912 when the famous art historian Aby Warburg suggested  that the ceiling could be the painted birth chart of Agostino Chigi.

In 1934, his student Fritz Saxl, in a very famous lecture in that very hall  (in the meantime the Villa had became the  head offices of prestigious Accademia dei Lincei) gave his reading of the ceiling, indicating  –   as possible birth date for Agostino from the painted representations of planets the 1st December 1466 (birth certificate was discovered  in 1984: it stated that  Agostino was born on 29  November).

This is the ceiling with the correspondent planets, constellations, and fixed stars. Planets in the zodiacal signs occupy the 10 hexagons of the vault, constellations are depicted in the 14 triangles, while in the centre of the ceiling there are 3 octagons.

This is the list of planetary position as given by the painter Peruzzi in the ten hexagons:

1. Aries, and Europa kidnapped by Jupiter as Taurus;

2. Leda and the Swan, and Gemini;

3. Hercules with the Lernean Hydra and Cancer;

4. Hercules with the Nemean Lion;

5. Virgo and Diana- Moon;

6. Mars in Libra and Mercury in Scorpio  in mutual reception;

7. Apollo-Sun with Sagittarius;

8. Venus and Capricorn;

9. Ganymede (Aquarius);

10. Saturn with Venus and Cupid (Pisces);

In the 14 vele there are depicted the constellations as described in Aratus and Manilius,  easily available in Agostino’s times because reprinted by Aldus Manutius in a compilation printed in 1499 with the title Scriptores Astronomici Veteres.


In 1984, exactly fifty years after Saxl’s lecture, a student of the Warburg Institute found in Siena Agostino Chigi’s birth certificate, with the exact date – 29 November 1466 – and time – 21 and 1/2.

But which way we shall consider this time? In Italy it was a common practice to start the day from the sunset of the previous day, while legal tradition wanted that the day started in the middle of the night, in the very moment Christ was born.

Since 1934 Fritz Saxl, who knew quite well that a birth chart without an Ascendant has little value, had looked at the ceiling and the three central octagons.

The left octagon shows the Fame and Perseus cutting Medusa’s head – a clear mention to Algol, the infamous star of Jupiter-Saturn nature- while in the right octagon there is the nymph Helice with the Greater Chariot, Ursa Maior.

With the help of an astronomical software we can easily check the position of these stars in Siena sky for  the night of 29 November 1466 at 21:22 – 21 hours and 1/2 since astronomical midnight of the previous day.

while Ursa Maior is very near to Leo, which is rising at the Ascendant:

Algol is culminating at MC:

As we know, Algol is a very difficult star to deal with, it generally signifies that the native will lose his head in some way. But in Agostino’s birth chart this star is at 18.45 Taurus with Jupiter and the Part of Fortune.

Algol culminating with Jupiter gives power of live and death on others: “The Head of Medusa culminating with Jupiter gives the power over other’s life and death.” (Johannes Stadius) And Tommaso Campanella: “Fortune  was with Medusa Head in the tenth house, so they were expecting  Lordship, Firmness and Greatness.


So Fritz Saxl can be right, and we can have some confirmation of his intuition considering  Agostino’s life under an astrological point of view.

His flamboyant temperament and his grandeur can be easily explained with a Leo Ascendant. Sun – Leo ruler – is angular in another Fire sign- and even if generally Lights are not taken into consideration in temperament delineation, in this case  it cannot be ignored.

Jupiter, ruler of the Ascendant triplicity, shows his immense wealth. It is in the tenth house  with the Part of Fortune, in its own terms, and  both are in the sign of Venus,  the other benefic.  Moon, not damaged by malefics and  in Jupiter terms, is trining both.

Jupiter is the ruler of the 8th house, i.e. income from taxes and merchant activities, and the 5th house, speculation. It is retrograde and against his hairesis – a day planet in a night chart- so this activities were not always honest.

According Ptolemy, qualities of soul are showed by Moon – the emotional mind- and Mercury- the rational one.

Mercury is matutine, visible, swift in motion.  It is in Mars domicile and triplicity  in its own terms, in trine with Saturn and sextile with Venus.

Being visible it makes Agostino  more ready to the action than a lover of books, Scorpio gives the shrewdness, Saturn discretion while Venus dilutes quickness.

Moon is in Virgo, Mercury sign by domicile and exaltation, free from malefics, in her  triplicity and Jupiter terms; she is trining Jupiter, which is in the sign of her exaltation.

There are no aspects between Moon and Mercury, but the composure of soul is assured by the fact Moon is in Mercury sign, while Mercury is in Scorpio, where the Moon has a right as participating triplicity ruler.

Both planets are in straight signs, but Mercury is in  an angular house while the Moon is in a succedent one, so it seems that rational mind is dominant  in Agostino.

He was very reserved in his private life and  we don’t have many events of his life.

In his chart love and marriage are indicated by Saturn, ruler of the 7th house and Venus and Moon, general significators of the matter according Ptolemy.

Venus is on the cusp of the 6th house, while Saturn is in the 8th house. Venus is sextiling Saturn, in mutual reception. Still Saturn is anareta in his chart, so love and death are mixed in this chart.

Moon in Virgo, in a bicorporeal sign gives more than a wife.

He married once in Siena, and then widower without sons, married again a very beautiful woman – some say she was the same woman loved by the painter Raphael, la Fornarina.

He met this woman during a Sun/Saturn firdaria (Ascendant and 7th house rulers). The Sun by direction was with Venus.

In his solar return for that year, the Descendant of the SR (28 Capricorn) was on the radix Venus (28 Capricorn) and SR Venus  (26 Capricorn) on SR Descendant.

He married Francesca in 1519, when the directed Ascendant trined radix Venus, under Venus/Saturn firdaria.

The next year the directed Ascendant left Virgo and entered into Libra, ruled by Saturn by exaltation, triplicity, and terms. In the meantime directed Saturn at MC killed him.  He died on 11th April 1520.


written by Margherita Fiorello and Anton Grigoryev – for CIDA CONGRESS Autumn 2006



Fritz Saxl, La fede negli astri : dall’antichita’ al Rinascimento (cura Salvatore Settis) (Torino: Boringhieri, 1985).

Tommaso Campanella, La città del sole, e Scelta d’alcune poesie filosofiche; a cura di Adriano Seroni. (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1962).

Kristen Lippincott, “Two Astrological Ceilings Reconsidered: The Sala di Galatea in the Villa Farnesina and the Sala del Mappamondo at Caprarola,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 53 (1990): 185-207.

Mary Quinlan-McGrath, “The Astrological Vault of the Villa Farnesina Agostino Chigi’s Rising Sign,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 47 (1984): 91-105.

Mary Quinlan-McGrath, “The Villa Farnesina, Time-Telling Conventions and Renaissance Astrological Practice,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 58 (1995): 53-71.

Johannes Stadius, Tabulae Bergenses aquabilis et apparentis motus orbium coelestium (Colonia Agrippina, 1560).

Астрология в искусстве Ренессанса: астрологические фрески виллы Фарнезина Антон Григорьев астролог



9 thoughts on “the astrological ceiling of Villa Farnesina in Rome

  1. Dear Margherita
    Thank you for providing the opportunity to view the most beautiful and inspiring images of astrology I have ever seen. The paintings on the ceiling of the chapel built by Raphael are the most uplifting and awesome I have ever seen. It must be amazing to actually be in the same room looking up at them.
    I also enjoyed reading the search for the ascendant as well and the explanation this finding then gave of the chart.
    I shall be returning to look at the art work frequently!
    kind regards Marg

  2. The chapel Raphael built for Agostino was a location for Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons.

    But the vault of Loggia di Galatea painted by Peruzzi is more than wonderful.
    Moreover the Villa now is the head office of the Accademia dei Lincei, a association who had between its members Galileo Galilei and Giovan Battista Della Porta, and where astrology and natural magic surely were welcomed.

    And many thanks for your gentle words about the text: in fact the lecture was very appreciated here in Rome.

  3. Dear Margherita

    Its a beautiful ceiling and thanks a lot for showing us this picture and ur excellent explanation for it. U amazed me with ur dedication for Astrology.

  4. Yes, the ceiling of Villa Farnesina is very beautiful and everybody liked the article since it was presented in Rome in 2006.
    Moreover I visited with someone I believed special, anyway it looks we are very far from this, even if it is not longtime I went there.
    But astrology remains.

    Happy you liked the rest too. “Gates of passage” and isaritmia are taken from the work of Giuseppe Bezza and Marco Fumagalli, who lead the Italian traditional astrology group, CieloeTerra. Their work is very precious for the recovery of traditional astrology.

    Come back when you want in my blog,

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