I Spoke to the Ghost of Agostino the Magnifico

First things first, by the words of William Zinsser, “there’s no subject you don’t have permission to write about. Students often avoid subjects close to their heart… because they assume that their teachers will regard those topics as ‘stupid.’ No area of life is stupid to someone who takes it seriously. If you follow your affections you will write well and will engage your readers.” I would like to emphasis the importance of this Zinsser quote since I will be discussing something that, according to a Gallup poll, only 29% of American adults believe in ー astrology… but found in Italian art.

From my travels, I have learned firsthand that Italy possesses 70% of the world’s historic art. There is no need for me to justify this claim. In my opinion, one must-see work of art in Roma is Agostino Chigi’s Villa Farnesina {refer to figure 1}. Agostino was referred to as the richest man in the world by all of Europe during the late 15th century, who was also given the title Il Magnifico. To any traditional astrologer, this is the sight for you. The Sala di Galatea in the Villa painted by Raphael Sanzio and Baldassare Peruzzi showcases well-known astrological iconographies that you would be in awe of.

When I arrived at the Villa, I had no clue what to expect. As my group was standing outside the entrance, Professor Mark Cosdon naturally went on a rant about what the Villa entails. As a student, I find it hard to give my full attention, but I always try. I process the majoring of what is being said, do not get me wrong. I just find myself to be in my head at times thinking about what is being said. At this moment, I was half-listening and I heard Cosdon bring up the words ‘lover’ and ‘astrology.’ Then, I noticed everyone’s head deliberately turned my way. That killed me.

On a more personal note, I consider myself to be an expert astrologer. I am a humble polymath, a passionate philomath, and an utter autodidact especially when it comes to the study of the stars. As highly as I like to think my astrological expertise is, according to the famous astrologer Charles Jayne, learning astrology is “an epic voyage of discovery into a measureless ocean of knowledge and enlightenment.” Like most areas of study, there is always more to learn.

When I walked into the Sala di Galatea, I instinctively gravitated toward the laminated fact-sheet. I was one of the few that thoroughly enjoyed those. I myself have a Mercury in Sagittarius. Mercury being the god that rules all aspects of the mind (intelligence, communication, vernacular, perception, reason, etc.). Mercury-Sagittarians never stop learning. We have restless minds; we passionately read; and we constantly embrace new ideas.

When astrology became present in my life, I instantly grabbed the philosophy and ran with it. So then, when I walked into the Sala di Galatea, I lost myself. I completely forgot I was with a group. My neck almost snapped looking at that fresco. The painting is comprised of twenty-six frescoed compartments. I was living the life of a committed hedonist. In 19th century French literature, the term ‘flâneur’ became popular. Flâneur is an untranslatable word in English; the closest translation would be a saunterer who fully absorbs the beauty of their surrounding. At this moment, I was being that flâneur.

While I was breaking my neck, I noticed that the depictions of the zodiacs, the planetary gods, and the extra-zodiacal constellations were not that haphazard. The progression of the constellations were indeed in chronological order. It made me wonder… was I looking at Agostino’s natal chart? This thought made me gasp.

Being the curious soul I am, I began trying to decipher all of what I was looking at. I stood in the center of the room underneath what looked like a coat of arms with my back to the wall of three large windows. By doing this, I could notice the progression of the constellations most accurately. Standing in the center also gives you a celestial perspective {refer to figure 2}. The celestial sphere is an imaginary sphere with the earth at its center. The sky overhead is the half of the sphere we see from earth, appearing as a dome. The other half of the sphere is below the circle of the horizon. To myself, I thought that if I stood like I was the earth in a celestial sphere, then I would be able to see what the stars would have looked like at the time Agostino was born. In other words, I am now enable to read his stars that are painted on the ceiling.

From personal studies, I know that one’s ascendant sign is fixed at the point of east. Due to being fixed, one’s ascendant is utterly dependant on the time of birth. The ascendant sign represents your immediately revealing, outward demeanor. Not necessarily how you perceive yourself to be (like your sun or moon sign), but how others do.

Since I knew of this and since I was burning with curiosity, I whipped out my handy-dandy compass on my handy-dandy iPhone. East pointed toward the fresco showcasing Taurus and Aries with Jupiter {refer to figure 3}. Taurus was represented by the classic bull, Aries was represented by the classic ram, and Jupiter was represented by the classic lightning rod.

Jupiter in astrology represents luck, optimism, and fortune. I took this as Jupiter being one of Agostino’s ruling planets. In regard to his ascendant sign, I believe he must be on the cusp of Taurus and Aries. By cusp, I mean he must have had prominent influences of both constellations upon his ascendant sign.

By the great words of H.L. Mencken, “for every complicated problem, there is a short, simple, yet wrong solution.” That is how I scrutinize most of astrology. Aries-ascendants ー I know them to be doers rather than thinkers; honest and egocentric beings; and people who have a need for achievement and recognition. Taurus-ascendants ー I know them to be routine lovers; charming yet calming beings; and people who accumulate wealth over time and who love to put on showy displays.

In another fresco, I noticed a centaur, which represents the Sagittarius, was accompanied by a nude man holding a lyre-esque instrument {refer to figure 4}. I could have sworn we talked about this man either that day. I wracked my brain and I remembered it was in our reading for that day… funny enough. In the story of Daphne & Apollo by Ovid in his Metamorphoses, Apollo blantly says “I am the lord of the lyre and song.”

Astrologically speaking, Apollo always represents the sun. To have Apollo adjacent to the pure white Sagittarius indubitably means something more to me. I put two and two together and realized Agostino’s sun sign was in Sagittarius. A sun sign is the sign that most people nowadays only know about themselves. However, it is one of three of the most important signs in your natal chart (ascendant and moon being the other two).

Sun signs govern individuality, drive, style, and personality, and are similar to Sigmund Freud’s ego theory. Sagittarians are masculine dualities, meaning they are direct and energetic, which is represented by the stance the centaur is in. The centaur is depicted as a strong being that is in motion and focused on a target. Sagittarians are also fire signs, meaning they are confident and determined, which is represented by the smile on the centaur’s face.

In a third fresco, I noticed the Virgo depicted as a young woman holding a sheaf of wheat, for the constellation of Virgo has always been associated with the harvest. Alongside the Virgin, there is Diana who is the goddess of the moon and is often associated with wild animals and the hunt. Diana is depicted as the other young woman in the fresco wearing all white and holding a silver bow with a dog beneath her {refer to figure 5}. I know of the goddess because she was referenced in the only Shakespearean play that I would ever read leisurely, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In the play, the character Hermia is told by Theseus that she must either wed the character Demetrius “Or on Diana’s altar to protest / For aye austerity and single life.” Theseus refers to her becoming a nun, with the goddess Diana having connotations of chastity. I found it to be quite appropriate to have two virgins in one fresco. That killed me.

Besides that comic bit, astrologically speaking, Diana correlates with the moon. To have Diana adjacent to the innocent, aloof Virgo indubitably means something more to me as well. I put two and two together and realized Agostino’s moon sign was in Virgo.

Moon signs govern instincts, emotions, and the unconscious, and are similar to Sigmund Freud’s id theory. Moon signs are tricky. They are not necessarily apparent on the surface. They are, however, representative of how you see yourself. Moon signs are usually the part of you that you find disturbing. Virgo-moons are feminine dualities, meaning they are magnetic and self-contained. Agostino must have given off an androgynous vibe due to having both masculine and feminine dualities in his natal chart. I find it fitting because when I first saw this fresco, I did not think it was a depiction of a woman. Until I noticed the wheat did I draw the connection. Virgos are also earth signs, meaning they are responsible and steadfast, which is represented by the flatfoot stance the Virgo is in.

Not until I returned to the States did I learn that Agostino was born on November 29th, 1466 at 21:30 {refer to figure 6}, thus proving my theory that the Sala di Galatea did showcase his natal chart. Even without the proof, I felt confident in myself that I was picking up on the smaller details.

When I spent nearly a half an hour breaking my neck, looking at the Sala di Galatea, I was reminded of a quote from Dianne Hales’ La Bella Lingua: “All Italian cities have ghosts that to me are always speaking.” I felt like Agostino’s spirit was in that ceiling. I could read those iconographies, and as a result, it was like we were having a conversation. It was like he was telling me about his life.

I realize that I am making a stretch here, but from what I have learned throughout my travels and my personal studies, it was easy to read the Sala di Galatea with a holistic approach. In other words, each part of Agostino’s natal chart should be viewed as wholes and not just as a collection of parts.

By the words of William Zinsser in his book On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction, “every successful piece of nonfiction should leave the reader with one provocative thought that he or she didn’t have before.” This may be just me, but I do not think I am being clear enough as to what “provocative thought” I want to leave you with. So then, I will explicitly state it. It is not my intention to have the one thought you take from reading this paper be “astrology is real” or “this guy is stupid.” I do not want that. What I want is to express how important it is to observe everything in a holistic perspective. All the while, you should be constantly making meaningful connections with what you have learned throughout life, like how I tied together the significances of the zodiacs and the planetary gods with 19th century French literature, Shakespearean literature, and literature I have read for this course. Put your mind to work, be observant, and make meaningful connections.

Screen Shot 2017-07-28 at 8.30.33 PMScreen Shot 2017-07-28 at 8.30.47 PM


Fiorello, Margherita. “The Astrological Ceiling of the Villa Farnesina in Rome.” WordPress.

Hales, Dianne. La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language. Broadway Books, 2009, pp. 100-101.

Lippincott, Kristen. “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, vol. 53, 1990, pp. 185-207.

Ovid. Metamorphoses. Penguin Books, 2002, pp. 28-31.

Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Harper Perennial, 2001, pp. 21-22.

Zinsser, William. On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction. Harper Perennial, 1976, pp. 88-100.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s