Palazzo Barberini

Coordinates: 41°54′13″N 12°29′25″E / 41.90361°N 12.49028°E / 41.90361; 12.49028
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Palazzo Barberini
Palazzo Barberini façade
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General information
Architectural styleBaroque
LocationRome, Italy
Coordinates41°54′13″N 12°29′25″E / 41.90361°N 12.49028°E / 41.90361; 12.49028
Construction started1625
Design and construction
Architect(s)Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Carlo Maderno
Francesco Borromini

The Palazzo Barberini (English: Barberini Palace) is a 17th-century palace in Rome, facing the Piazza Barberini in Rione Trevi. Today, it houses the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, the main national collection of older paintings in Rome.


Around 1549 Cardinal Alessandro Sforza came into possession of the garden/vineyard of Cardinal Rodolfo Pio da Carpi on the Quirinal Hill, where the Sforza family, had a palazzetto built. The sloping, semi-urban site was purchased in 1625 from Alessandro Sforza, Duca di Segni by Maffeo Barberini, of the Barberini family, who became Pope Urban VIII.[1]

Three great architects worked to create the Palazzo, each contributing his own style and character to the building.[2] Carlo Maderno, then at work extending the nave of St Peter's, was commissioned to enclose the Villa Sforza within a vast Renaissance block along the lines of Palazzo Farnese;[3] however, the design quickly evolved into a precedent-setting combination of an urban seat of princely power combined with a garden front that had the nature of a suburban villa with a semi-enclosed garden.

Maderno began in 1627, assisted by his nephew Francesco Borromini. When Maderno died in 1629, Borromini was passed over and the commission to oversee construction was awarded to Bernini,[4] a young prodigy then better known as a sculptor. Borromini stayed on regardless and the two architects worked together, albeit briefly, on this project and at the Palazzo Spada. Works were completed by Bernini in 1633.

The palace was inhabited mainly by Pope Urban VIII’s two nephews Francesco and Taddeo with Taddeo and his family living in one wing and Francesco in the other. Francesco established there the Arazzia Barberini or Barberini Tapestry works in 1627 which remained open until 1679.[5]

In February 1634, a revised version of Il Sant'Alessio, was performed at the Teatro delle Quattro Fontane, the Cardinal's private opera theater in the Palazzo.[6] The Cardinal had written the libretto and Stefano Landi the music.[7] He founded a library at the Palazzo which included ancient Greek and Roman manuscripts. Also at the Palazzo Barberini, he initiated a small natural science museum and botanical garden and his collections attested to his interests in ancient sculpture, numismatics and inscriptions. In 1902, the large Biblioteca Barberina was purchased by Pope Leo XIII and became part of the Vatican holdings.[8]

Celebrations for Christina of Sweden at Palazzo Barberini on 28 February 1656.

After the Wars of Castro and the death of Urban VIII, the palace was confiscated by Pamphili Pope Innocent X and was only returned to the Barberini in 1653.

Christina of Sweden visited Rome in December 1655. Nobles vied for her attention and treated her to a never-ending round of fireworks, jousts, mock duels, acrobatics, and operas. She was welcomed at the Palazzo Barberini on 28 February by a few hundred privileged spectators, as she watched an amazing carousel in the courtyard.[9]


The famous helicoidal staircase by Borromini.

Maderno envisioned a floor plan in the shape of an "H", with the Sforza wing facing the piazza. A second parallel wing is connected by a central hall. Flanking the hall, two sets of stairs lead to the piano nobile, a large squared staircase by Bernini to the left and a smaller oval staircase by Borromini to the right.[4] The main block presents three tiers of great arch-headed windows, like glazed arcades, a formula that was more Venetian than Roman. On the uppermost floor, Borromini's windows are set in a false perspective that suggests extra depth, a feature that has been copied into the 20th century.

As well as Borromini's false-perspective windows reveals, other influential aspects of Palazzo Barberini that were repeated throughout Europe include the unit of a central two-storey hall backed by an oval salone and the symmetrical wings that extended forward from the main block to create a cour d'honneur.

The garden is known as a giardino segreto ("secret garden"), for its concealment from an outsider's view. It houses a monument to Bertel Thorwaldsen, who had a studio in the nearby stables of the Palazzo Barberini in 1822–1834.

The famous ceiling by Pietro Cortona, Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power, 1639


The salon ceiling is graced by Pietro da Cortona's masterpiece, the Baroque fresco of the Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power. This vast panegyric allegory became highly influential in guiding decoration for palatial and church ceilings; its influence can be seen in other panoramic scenes such as the frescoed ceilings at Sant'Ignazio (by Pozzo); or those at Villa Pisani at Stra, the throne room of the Royal Palace of Madrid, and the Ca' Rezzonico in Venice (by Tiepolo). Also in the palace is a masterpiece by Andrea Sacchi, a contemporary critic of the Cortona style, Divine Wisdom.

The rooms of the piano nobile have frescoed ceilings by other seventeenth-century artists like Giuseppe Passeri and Andrea Camassei, plus, in the museum collection, precious detached frescoes by Polidoro da Caravaggio and his lover Maturino da Firenze.

Modern history and attractions[edit]

Hidden in the cellars of the rear part of the building, a Mithraeum was found during the construction work of Villa Savorgnan di Brazzà in 1936, dating probably from the second century AD.

Around the mid 18th-century a Rococo-style apartment was decorated on the top floor. Descendants of the Barberini family lived in the 1700-style apartment in the palazzo until 1955.[4]

Today, Palazzo Barberini houses the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, one of the most important painting collections in Italy. It includes Raphael's portrait La fornarina, Caravaggio's Judith Beheading Holofernes, and a Hans Holbein portrait of Henry VIII.

In addition to paintings, the palazzo houses sculptures including Corradini's work Vestal Virgin Tuccia.

The palace also houses the Italian Institute of Numismatics.

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which created the European Court of Human Rights, was signed here on 4 November 1950, a milestone in the protection of human rights.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Blunt, Anthony. "The Palazzo Barberini: The Contributions of Maderno, Bernini and Pietro Da Cortona". Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes vol. 21, no. 3/4, 1958, pp. 256–87. JSTOR
  2. ^ "Palazzo Barberini", Turismo Roma, Major Events, Sport, Tourism and Fashion Department
  3. ^ Hibbard, Howard. Carlo Maderno and Roman Architecture, 1580-1630, 1971.
  4. ^ a b c "Palazzo Barberini", Barberini Corsini Gallerie Nationali
  5. ^ ‘Barberini Tapestry Workshop’, Oxford Art Online
  6. ^ Leopold, Silke: Il Sant’Alessio. In: Pipers Enzyklopädie des Musiktheaters. Vol 3: Werke. Henze - Massine. Piper, München/Zürich 1989, ISBN 3-492-02413-0, pp. 407-409.
  7. ^ "Cardinal Francesco Barberini", The Mask, Volume 14, Number 2, April 1928
  8. ^ Magnuson, Torgil. Rome in the Age of Bernini, volume 1, Stockholm, 1982, p.239
  9. ^ Price, Curtis (9 November 1993). The Early Baroque Era: From the late 16th century to the 1660s. Springer. ISBN 9781349112944. Retrieved 10 July 2017 – via Google Books.


External links[edit]

Media related to Palazzo Barberini (Rome) at Wikimedia Commons

Preceded by
Palazzo Aragona Gonzaga
Landmarks of Rome
Palazzo Barberini
Succeeded by
Palazzo Borghese