Caravaggio, El Greco, Holbein the Young, Tintoretto and many more
Piazza Barberini & the Triton’s Fountain
PALAZZO BARBERINI & THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF ANCIENT ART
Palazzo Barberini is a spectacular home located near Piazza Barberini on the Quirinal hill.
In 1625 the Barberini, a powerful family of Tuscan origins, bought an old property from the Sforzas, a sloping garden-vineyard with a small palazzo in what was then still a semi-urban area of Rome.
Maffeo Barberini had been elected Pope in 1623, with the name of Urban VIII. He was an accomplished man of letters and published several volumes of verse. Had a long friendship with Galileo Galilei, although in the end the good relationships came to an end.
Pope Urban VIII charged Carlo Maderno to build him a new home. Maderno began in 1627, assisted by Francesco Borromini. Maderno died in 1629 and the Pope asked Gian Lorenzo Bernini to continue, bypassing Borromini, that collaborated for a while and then left. Bernini completed the works in 1633.
The resulting architecture is something unique in Roman palace building. It is H-shaped, with wings on the north and south, connected by a central vaulted ‘salone’, the great central hall. It has no inner courtyard but a semi-included ‘secret’garden. Besides the three great architects mentioned even Pietro da Cortona gave its contribution. The shares of the four architects have never been completely defined.
The vaulted ceiling of the ‘salone’ was marvelously frescoed by Pietro da Cortona and represents the ‘Divine Providence’. At that moment it was surpassed in size only by the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel! The Barberini were a ‘new’ family in the world of Roman aristocracy and used their literary skills to invent fresh allegories to support their social and political prominence.
Palazzo Barberini’s architectural gems include two ‘rival’ stairs, both leading to the first noble floor: Bernini designed the larger one, while Borromini was entrusted with the smaller, and created a spectacular elliptic staircase. Another Baroque jewel is Bernini’s ‘Ponte Ruinante’, as to say, a bridge with an arch that seems at the poin t of falling, to connect the palace to the upper part of the gardens.
The huge Italian Garden in the rear part of Palazzo Barberini had almost completely been sold in the XIX century. Recently, with the help of an old etching the garden was brought back to its original design.
Today, together with Palazzo Corsini in Trastevere, Palazzo Barberini is the seat of the National Gallery of Ancient Art. The period best represented are the 16th and 17th centuries, with, as brightest stars, Raphael’s ‘Fornarina’,
Caravaggio’s ‘Narcissus’, ‘Judith and Holofernes’, Hans Holbein the Young’s ‘Portrait of Henry VIII’. The collection also includes two intense works by El Greco, a sublime ‘Christ and the Adulteress ‘by Tintoretto, an introspective portrait of Beatrice Cenci by Guido Reni. And many others, such as Lorenzo Lotto, Jacopo Bassano, Bronzino, Giambattista Piazzetta, Luca Giordano.
In May 2018 eleven new rooms on the first noble floor were finally opened to the public, after a two-year restoration. The rooms, known as the ‘Winter Apartment’, or ‘New Apartment’ are watching the gardens, were formerly occupied by the Officers’ Circle and will now be used for temporary exhibitions.
The Gallery continues with the second floor, mostly dedicated to the 18th century, and enshrining another surprising ‘marvel’: a perfectly preserved rococo apartment, created for Princess Cornelia Costanza Barberini between 1750 and 1770. It will be interesting to compare the exuberant Baroque with the more intimate Rococo interiors.
Our Palazzo Barberini tour will also include a view of the façade of the great palazzo overlooking Piazza Barberini and a visit to Bernini’s ‘Triton’s and ‘Bees’ Fountains, always conceived for the glory of the Barberini family. Our guide will stress the accent on the new vogue of having monumental fountains decorating urban spaces that was initiated here by Bernini and Maffeo Barberini.
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