Inner Courtyard Stair, Palazzzo Barberini

Palazzo Barberini in Color

Today the Palazzo Barberini houses another great art museum, home to two Caravaggios, a version of Hans Holbein’s portrait of Henry VIII of England, and Bernini’s bust of Cardinal Barberini among many other masterpieces of Renaissance and Baroque painting. Here is the entrance facade as designed by Bernini, seen from the entrance courtyard with its central fountain.

Facade, Villa Barberini
Facade, Villa Barberini

A detail of one of the water jets in the fountain:

Fountain Detail, Palazzo Barberini
Fountain Detail, Palazzo Barberini

A staircase leading up to the rear gardens from the coachway underneath the palace. To the left out of the frame is the famous stepped ramp to the rear of the garden also designed by Bernini. Sometimes when you’re photographing, you get into this mindset of one type of image or another – for example, I had been shooting black-and-white film, and when composing this, I was still in the black-and-white headspace. I was thinking about the tones of the scene and the gradations from bright to dark. I don’t know if I even realized at the time I was shooting in color. When I was editing through my negatives, I saw this one and thought, “gosh, that’s likely to be a throwaway shot, but I’ll scan it just in case”. I wasn’t sure it would be sharp enough, because my memory of the space was that it was exceedingly dark and I winged it with a handheld exposure, roughly 1/4 of a second.

Well, you can see what happened. Not only was it sharp, but I seem to have mastered serendipity. The colors in the scene are beyond beautiful – the subtle blue from the cold light of the palace shadow seeping down into the stairway from the garden entrance to the rich golden hue of the paving stones and the plaster on the wall.

Inner Courtyard Stair, Palazzzo Barberini
Inner Courtyard Stair, Palazzzo Barberini

Poking around the grounds of the palazzo, I saw two massive carved stone coats of arms lying on the ground in a side service yard. One was the papal coat of arms of Maffeo Barberini, Pope Urban VIII. To be expected – this was his palace. This one, on the other hand, is a bit surprising – the papal coat of arms for Paul V – Camillo Borghese. During the years of their respective papacies, the Borghese and Barberini estates were neighbors, and Scipione Borghese, the Cardinal Nepotente to Paul V, was a friend and fellow art enthusiast with Maffeo Barberini. After Urban VIII’s death, the Barberini palace was seized and not returned to the Barberini family for some years, but neither the Pope doing the seizing nor the pope who returned it to them were Borghese. Both families (Borghese and Barberini) were one-papacy families, unlike the Medici with four, and the Della Rovere with two.

Borghese Papal Coat of Arms
Borghese Papal Coat of Arms

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