The Barberini Palace History
Planning for a new family palace began soon after the election of the
Barberini pope, Urban VIII, on 6 August 1623. After extended negotiations, the suburban site,
on the north slope of the Quirinal Hill, was purchased from Alessandro Sforza on 18 December
1625. It included a palace of modest size, partly of recent construction; this was eventually
incorporated as the north wing of the new palace, of which construction began in December 1628
and continued until 1638.
The Palazzo Barberini is without precedent or progeny
in Roman palace building. It is an H-shaped block with no interior courtyard. Between the north
and south legs of the H stretches the three-storey, seven-bay loggia of the west façade, glazed
on the upper storeys but open on the ground level to a broad, receding portico, of which the
central axis was originally closed by a fountain set in a hemicycle.
The palace looks across the city to the Vatican and St Peter's, then
the source of the family's new prominence. The two side wings were to house two papal nephews:
Taddeo Barberini, with his family, in the north wing, and Cardinal Francesco Barberini in the
The apartments of many rooms are arranged in the linear suites
characteristic of Roman 17th-century planning, joined by the ground-floor portico, two grand
staircases, and a central salone lying behind the loggia.
The sources of this extraordinary design lay in far-ranging
discussions involving both amateurs and professional architects, and responsibility for it
cannot be assigned to a single person.Taddeo, apparently inspired by the plan and imposing
image of the Palazzo Colonna (later Barberini) at Palestrina,
proposed the idea of a two-part palace that would house the two parts of the family,
ecclesiastical and secular
Between 1671 and 1679 the Barberini palace was
extensively remodeled, apparently under the direction of Angelo Torrone. The entire
ground-floor was given over to the display of the family's considerable collection of paintings
and sculptures, and the principal apartments on the first floor were rearranged.
The hemicycle of the ground-floor portico was pierced, and a long
axial drive was extended from the portico upwards through the gardens to the eastern extremity
of the site. New retaining walls isolated the palace from the gardens on the upper portions of
the site to the east and south, and a bridge was built to the south garden. A theatre was built
to the north of the palace in 1638, incorporating a wall and portal earlier designed by Pietro
The great gateway along the Via delle Quattro Fontane
was constructed in 1864 by Francesco Azzurri (1831–1901).
The Palazzo Barberini contains a virtual compendium
of late 16th- and 17th-century ceiling painting, with many in the north wing preserved from the
old Palazzo Sforza, including scenes from the Old Testament painted by Antonio Viviani, some of
which are framed by stucco mouldings bearing Sforza emblems. The stylistic variety of works
commissioned by the Barberini may be the result of either their wide tastes or their haste in
preparing the palace as a residence
Pietro da Cortona also directed the work (1631–1632) of Romanelli,
Baldini and Giacinto Gimignani in the small gallery of the garden apartment of Anna Colonna,
wife of Taddeo Barberini.
The long, narrow barrel vault was adorned with a symmetrical pattern
of rinceaux and animals. A broad frieze filled the upper part of the walls, only two fragments
of which survive, the Founding of Palestrina and a Sacrifice to Juno. Andrea Camassei frescoed
the ceiling of the anteroom adjoining the Allegory of Divine Wisdom with God the Father
Dividing the Angel Hierarchies (1632) and, on the ground-floor, he frescoed the ceiling of
Taddeo's audience room with Apollo and the Muses on Mt Parnassus (1631) as well as painting a
guardian angel in his private oratory.
Between 1626 and 1631 Giovanni Domenico Marziani (il Maltese) created
ceilings featuring Hercules and Bellerophon in Taddeo's apartment and a Nativity in Anna's
room. Simone Lagi decorated the vault of Taddeo's second anteroom with a painted balustrade,
monkeys, exotic birds and a coat of arms borne aloft by putti.
The best known of the Barberini's Palace ceilings is
that of the central Gran Salone on the first floor , representing the Triumph
of Divine Providence and the Accomplishment of its Ends through the Pontificate of Urban VIII
Barberini, painted by Cortona between 1632 and 1639.
The composition is firmly bound to its setting by the feigned
architectural framework that follows the lines of the coved vault. In the central field the
personification of Divine Providence commands Immortality to crown the Barberini coat of arms,
at that moment being assembled by figures representing the three Theological Virtues and
The coves of the vault are filled with allegorical figures that
elaborate on the ethical character and political actions of the ideal pope and papal family.
The vitality of both figures and composition is matched by Cortona's use of intense colour,
unprecedented in fresco painting.
Throughout the palace the walls were covered with hangings of leather
or fabric that could be changed according to the season or occasion. For the Gran Salone,
Francesco Barberini commissioned three successive sets of tapestries, all illustrating the
principal theme of the vault fresco by specific historical examples.
The cycle of the Life of Constantine included seven tapestries
designed by Rubens that CardinalFrancesco had received in 1625 as a gift from Louis XIII, King
of France; five additional cartoons were produced by Pietro da Cortona.
Address: Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica-Palazzo Barberini
Via delle Quattro Fontane, 13, 00184 Roma, Italy
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