This elegant Renaissance villa was built by order of Cardinal Silvio Passerini
(1469-1529), Bishop of Cortona, who commissioned the imposing building as a means to show the prestige of his noble family and their ties to the powerful de’ Medici dynasty.
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Plans for the villa were commissioned in the early 16th century from the architect and painter pupil of Perugino, Giovanni Battista Caporali.
The villa’s unprotected position outside the city walls, near the Cumula springs and on land planted with olives and cypresses, required a degree of fortification in the form of a 42 metre high tower and a crenellated perimeter wall from which one can see Lake Trasimene. The interior structure of the residence is planned around a large central courtyard surrounded by a portico, with a well in the middle. From the courtyard one can enter the chapel opposite the entrance, which contains a Baptism of Christ by Luca Signorelli. Sadly, the work has not survived in good condition. Vasari wrote that Signorelli “was unable to complete it because he died whilst working on it”.
Still on the ground floor there is the “Sala del Papacello”, which takes its name from the Cortona painter Tommaso Bernabei, known as Papacello, who was a pupil of Giulio Romano. Despite a degree of excessively sharp colours, Papacello demonstrates a lively narrative sense in the cycle of episodes from ancient Roman history that he painted for this room. The episodes run from the Battle of Lake Trasimene to the Horatii and Curiatii and the heroic deaths of Lucretia and Virginia. The opposite side of the building contains the Sala del Cardinale, frescod in 1819, which opens onto the Renaissance garden with its central trough and Etruscan sarcophagi.
The villa and its entire estate were donated to Pisa’s Scuola Normale Superiore in 1968 by a descendant of Cardinal Silvio Passerini, Count Lorenzo Passerini di Cortona.