At the top of the Spanish Steps, just down the street from the famous church of the Trinità dei Monti,
John and I found the Villa Medici in time to take the English language tour.
Originally built in 1540, it was bought by the Cardinal Ferdinando dei Medici
who decorated his apartments and the villa's gardens in a distinctive Tuscan style
with ceilings rich in classical and astronomical references to his Medici lineage.
The rear courtyard of the villa is opulently decorated with ancient Roman and Renaissance art.
It was and continues to be a setting for lavish entertainments.
The geometric Renaissance garden features pruned hedges
and towering 100-120 year-old pines.
Our knowledgeable young guide led us into the gardens
where we encountered a sculpture group representing the Greek myth of Niobe.
We also visited Ferdinando's two-room private study
with its plant and animal ceiling decorations in one room
and grotesque decorations inspired by classical Roman art in the other.
Our guide talked to us about the details
that would become so ubiquitous in the coming Baroque era.
The painting above shows the Villa and gardens during Ferdinand's residence.
We were then led back through the alleys of the gardens
to the villa belvedere with its spectacular 180 degree vista of Rome.
The view to the left is dominated by "Il Vittoriano" -- the early-modern building the Italians call the Wedding Cake.
The view to the centre of the vista features the prominent dome of St Peter's at the Vatican.
Our tour ended as we headed back into the villa past restorers carefully retouching the paint. The Villa Medici houses The French Academy of the Arts with up to 19 French artists in residence at any one time.