Tag Archives: Palazzo 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

Palazzo Barberini

In 1625, then-Cardinal Barberini acquired a property from the Sforza family in Rome that had a vineyard and ‘palazzetto’. It was on this property he decided to build the Palazzo Barberini. He would go on to become Pope Urban VIII. He hired the famous architect Carlo Maderno to design and build his palace. Along with Maderno was his nephew, Francesco Borromini, who would go on to become one of the best known Baroque architects in Rome. He is largely responsible for the design of the facade, as well as the grand salon, and perhaps most famous of his creations at the palace, the oval staircase.

Borromini Staircase, Palazzo Barberini
Borromini Staircase, Palazzo Barberini

Partway through construction, his uncle Carlo Maderno passed away. Completion of the project was then tasked to a new young upstart architect better known at the time as a sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Bernini would design a second staircase for the palace, this time a square. The two, Borromini and Bernini would remain professional rivals until Borromini’s suicide in 1667.

Bernini Staircase, Palazzo Barberini
Bernini Staircase, Palazzo Barberini

At the ground level, an arcade connects the two staircases. This shot was taken from the entrance to the Borromini staircase, looking down the arcade to the Bernini staircase entrance.

Arcade, Barberini Palace
Arcade, Barberini Palace

The Caravaggio Odyssey

One of the things I wanted to do on this trip was to see as many of the Caravaggio paintings as I could. I only missed four of the paintings in Rome – The Deposition of Christ, The Martyrdom of St. Ursula, Madonna of Loreto, and Saint Francis in Meditation. On this trip I got to see the three in Florence as well. It will take at least two more trips to Italy to catch the rest of them, as they’re scattered in Milan, Naples, Cremona, Messina and on the Island of Malta (which is technically a separate country, but it’s close enough you can fly there from Rome for under $200 r/t).

There are a few more scattered around the world, in London, Dublin, Berlin, Vienna, St. Petersburg, and one or two more European cities, plus two in the US I haven’t seen yet.

The photos here capture most of the ones I saw on this trip, but not all, as some were very poorly lit and/or too difficult to photograph because of placement. For example, the other tourists at the Palazzo Doria-Pamphilij who wouldn’t get out of the way combined with the lighting placement creating a glare spot on the canvas no matter the angle made it not worth attempting. The altarpiece and side pieces at Santa Maria Del Popolo were too high up, at a steep angle, and even with the 1€-per-5-minutes lighting, the space was dark and chapel rail put you too far back to get a good photograph.

Bacchus
Bacchus
The Sacrifice of Isaac
The Sacrifice of Isaac
Medusa
Medusa
John the Baptist
John the Baptist
St. Jerome
St. Jerome
Madonna of the Palafrenieri
Madonna of the Palafrenieri
David and Goliath
David and Goliath
Sick Bacchus
Sick Bacchus
Boy with a Basket of Fruit
Boy with a Basket of Fruit
The Calling of St. Matthew
The Calling of St. Matthew
Inspiration of St. Matthew
Inspiration of St. Matthew
Martyrdom of St. Matthew
Martyrdom of St. Matthew
Narcissus
Narcissus
Judith and Holofernes
Judith and Holofernes
The Fortune-Teller
The Fortune-Teller
St John The Baptist
St John The Baptist