All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to email@example.com.
Page revised in August 2020.
All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Page revised in August 2020.
Links to this page can be found in Book 10 and Day 6.
The page covers:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
Casino dell'Algardi and Villa Vecchia
Fountains in front of the Casino
In the Gardens
in page two:
XVIIIth Century Additions
XIXth Century Additions
On the Farm
Arco dell'Acqua Paola
Perhaps in 1761 Giuseppe Vasi chose Villa Pamphilj or del Bel Respiro as the closing etching for the last of his ten books on the Magnificenze di Roma Antica e Moderna because it was a mix of of modern and old owing to the many ancient statues and reliefs which were displayed on the main building and in the gardens.
Bel Respiro means deep breath; today this name is no longer used and the villa is known as Doria Pamphilj, but Bel Respiro was (and is) a very appropriate name; the elevation of the ground, the size of the gardens, the many stone pine trees and the exposure to ponentino, the evening western breeze which mitigates the summer heat, all contribute to making breathing in deeply very enjoyable.
The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1688 map by Simone Felice Delino here below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Lower level of Villa Pamphilj; 2) Steps leading to the secret garden; 3) Steps leading to the upper level of the villa; 4) Pinetum (plantation of stone pine trees). The small map shows also: 5) Casino dell'Algardi; 6) Teatro; 7) Villa Vecchia; 8) Giardino dei Melangoli and Fontana della Lumaca; 9) Fontana del Giglio; 10) Arco dell'Acqua Paola.
The view in January 2010
Apparently Vasi took his view from an elevated position to the east of the casino; as a matter of fact in this assumed location there is a depression and one has to move to Arco dei Quattro Venti in former Villa Corsini to catch a glimpse of the casino from the east. Vasi most simply updated an etching by Felice Delino (it opens in another window). Similar to Vasi, Felice Delino (1655-1697) was an architect who was not given many opportunities to show his talent, apart from Palazzo Panizza. He earned his living by designing ephemeral buildings for ceremonies and parties and by engraving views of fountains and villas.
Casino dell'Algardi and the secret (private) garden seen from the west
The view from the west is perfect to admire the casino and its secret garden; the entrance to the casino is on the opposite side, so the garden was not immediately visible to visitors. The casino and the secret garden are aligned on a north-south axis.
(left) Villa Vecchia (Old Casino); (right) detail of its entrance
The Pamphilj were a Roman family of minor importance until Giovanni Battista Pamphilj was appointed cardinal in 1629; in 1630 his brother Pamphilio bought a vigna (a farm) along Via Aurelia, outside Porta S. Pancrazio. Its main building was modified and embellished, but it retains the size and design of a rather modest countryside residence. The image used as background for this page shows a stucco relief in the ceiling of a hall of this building; it portrays a dove, the heraldic symbol of the Pamphilj.
(left) View from the south: (right) detail of the western side
In 1644 Cardinal Pamphilj was elected Pope Innocent X and he almost immediately appointed cardinal his nephew Camillo, son of Pamphilio, and gave him a major role in state affairs.
Camillo asked Francesco Borromini to develop a project for a new casino. The architect suggested a combination between a small fortress and an astronomical observatory, but Camillo had different views and turned to Girolamo and Carlo Rainaldi for a more conventional design. Perhaps the north-south orientation of the casino and its vertical development are a heritage of Borromini's project.
The Rainaldi designed a central building with two wings which would have embraced the secret garden, but Camillo Pamphilj was not yet satisfied; he was no longer cardinal and he had married Olimpia Aldobrandini, the last of the family of Pope Clement VIII. He and his wife possessed a large collection of ancient statues and reliefs some of which were found in a necropolis inside Villa Pamphilj (see page two); Camillo was mainly interested in displaying his collection inside and outside the new casino, similar to what Cardinal Ferdinando de' Medici and Cardinal Scipione Borghese had done in their villas. He therefore sought the advice of Alessandro Algardi, who was not an architect, but a talented sculptor and in particular a very expert restorer (and imitator) of ancient sculptures. e conventional design. Perhaps the north-south orientation of the casino and its vertical development are a heritage of Borromini's project.
Reliefs of the façade which were based on those of Roman sarcophagi: (above) battle between Romans and Barbarians (see a sarcophagus of the Ludovisi Collection); (below) Myth of Selene and Endymion (see a sarcophagus of the Pamphilj collection)
Algardi was assisted by Giovan Francesco Grimaldi, a landscape painter; they both came from Bologna and were part of the so-called classical school which preached a composed design; they were influenced also by the landscape paintings by Nicolas Poussin, Gaspard Dughet and Claude Lorrain who all worked in Rome during the first half of the XVIIth century. Unlike Villa d'Este, the first modern Roman villa, the Casino is not placed on high ground at the end of a long series of formal gardens, but it is best seen in the context of an almost natural landscape.
Detail of the façade before (left) and after (right) being repainted
I went to the Villa Pamfilia, new Villa but its seated very high, and from the terress upon the top of the House you have a fine Prospect. There are divers good Pictures and Statues in the house, and fine Water-works, and a Grotta in the Garden.
Richard Lassels' The Voyage of Italy, or a Compleat Journey through Italy in ca 1668
The Villa Pamphili-Doria, beyond the Porta S. Pancrazio, is the most extensive of all the Roman villas; the grounds being nearly six miles in circumference. The principal building I never visited, and I believe it contains nothing very remarkable.
George Stillman Hillard - Six Months in Italy in 1847-1848
The building was recently repainted in the "sky" colour which was very common in the XVIIIth century (you may wish to learn more about this topic).
Press conference at Casino dell'Algardi between Mrs. Theresa May and Mr. Matteo Renzi on July 27, 2016
Villa Doria Pamphilj was acquired by the Italian Government and by the City of Rome during the 1950/1960s. The park is open to the public, while Casino dell'Algardi and the secret garden are used by Government for official meetings or for hosting guests.
A view of S. Pietro from Villa Pamphilj (ca 1890) - detail from an Alinari photograph in my living room
From an open space, at no great distance from the casino, is one of the finest views of St. Peter's and the Vatican. The unsightly facade is on the other side and out of the way; the whole height of the church from the base to the dome, is taken in at a glance; and the dome itself puts on its grandest and sublimest aspect. Hillard
From the ilex-fringed terrace in front of the casino is one of the best views of St. Peter's, which is here seen without the town, backed by the Campagna.
Augustus J. C. Hare - Walks in Rome - 1875
(left) Fontana di Venere; (right) a niche
Algardi designed several fountains for the entertainment of the landlords and their guests in a large terrace to the south of the secret garden; some of them had scherzi d'acqua (unexpected spouts of water) and hydraulic organs and were decorated with statues and reliefs. The fountains were often placed in grottoes, artificial caves adorned with shells. In the XVIIIth century the Pamphilj relocated the finest works of art of the villa to their enlarged palace in Via del Corso. The Venus after which the fountain shown above was named, stood on a shell carried by dolphins.
The grounds of this villa are laid out in gardens, alleys, terraces and plantations, interspersed with fountains and cascades in the fantastic style of the last century; and an organ worked by water is another relic of a taste now happily superseded by our improved system of landscape gardening.
Rev. Jeremiah Donovan - Rome Ancient and Modern - 1843.
The fountains designed by Algardi and his assistants were modified in the following centuries for several reasons such as changes in taste, cost of maintenance and war events. The grotto shown above is only the lower level of a larger fountain; from an engraving by Giovanni Francesco Venturini (it opens in another window) we know that there was a second grotto above this one and behind it there was a semicircular wall with statues on its top. You may wish to see a similar grotto at Palazzo Farnese di Caprarola.
Some of the major villas had an open air theatre (a fine example can be seen in the plate showing Villa Mattei); Algardi designed a theatre which was not entirely completed and in addition it was damaged during the 1849 Defence of Rome (see page two), so that only a part of it has survived to the present day. Algardi's "theatre" is actually the decorated wall which stood behind the stage in a Roman theatre.
The decoration of the theatre was very light-hearted; Algardi chose some ancient reliefs portraying children making jokes (you may wish to see similar reliefs in a sarcophagus at Porto and a statue of Collezione Albani having the same subject) and he added some he made himself. Another theme of the decoration was pastoral life in Arcadia, a region of Peloponnese which was seen as an idealized rustic paradise; in 1758 a statue of Pan and a water organ were placed in the grotto at the centre of the theatre. Pan was the god of shepherds and rustic music and a panpipe (or syrinx) decorated the ceiling of the grotto.
Fleurs-de-lis in the secret garden fountain (left) and on the steps leading to the upper part of the villa (right)
Usually the Pamphilj had a predilection for the dove, but in this villa they preferred to give more emphasis to the fleur-de-lis, their other heraldic symbol.
Detail of the secret garden with a parterre of embroidery
The grounds form a very attractive place of resort, to which strangers are freely admitted at all reasonable hours. They are laid out with terraces, clipped avenues, walks of box, and formal beds of flowers; but the artificial character gradually disappears, and, in the more distant portions, the growth of bushes and trees is careless and natural. Hillard
The garden, for which especial permission must be obtained, is full of beautiful azaleas and camellias. Hare
(left) An ancient statue; (centre) an old vase; (right) detail of its decoration
In addition to the statues and reliefs with which Algardi decorated the casino and the fountains, other ancient works of art were placed here and there along the alleys and in the gardens. Most of them have been replaced by copies.
(left) An ancient sarcophagus; (right) fragments of an ancient statue
Nature and art was a combined category which attracted XVIIth century artists; its origin can perhaps be found in some unfinished statues by Michelangelo. Fontana di Trevi is a typical example of this mix, which can be noticed also at Villa Pamphilj.
(left) Site of Giardino dei Melangoli; (right) Fontana della Lumaca by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (copy)
The ancient Roman mansions had courtyards surrounded by colonnaded porticoes and having at their centre a fountain; hortus conclusus is the medieval adaptation of this design which was used for cloisters; they were divided into quadrants where orchards were grown. Giardino dei Melangoli was a Renaissance evolution of hortus conclusus and the quadrants were planted with melangoli, sour citrus trees; in the small map (8) shows the location of this garden; at its centre the Pamphilj placed a fountain designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The citrus trees were uprooted in the late XVIIIth century in favour of a more "natural" landscape (you may wish to see those at Villa Borghese).
A view of the gardens near Casino dell'Algardi
Under a sunshine, if anything rather too warm, we proceeded to the Villa Pamphili, whose beautiful gardens are much resorted to for amusement; and there we remained till evening. A large flat meadow, enclosed by long ever green oaks and lofty pines, was sown all over with daisies,
which turned their heads to the sun.
J. W. Goethe - Italian Journey - December 2, 1786 - translation by Charles Nisbeth.
March 1822. The gardens are laid out in the artificial style of Italian gardening, a style which in England would horrify me. (..) Through what inconsistency or perversity of taste is it then, that I am enchanted with the fantastic elegance, and the picturesque gaiety of the Pamfili gardens; where sportive art revels, and runs wild amid the luxuriance of nature? Or is it, as I would rather believe, because these long arcades of verdure, these close walls of laurel, pervious to the air, but impervious to the sunshine, these broad umbrageous avenues and marble terraces, these paved grottoes and ever trickling fountains, these gods and nymphs, and urns and sarcophagi, meeting us at every turn with some classical or poetical association, harmonise with the climate and the country, and the minds of the people; and are comfortable and consistent as a well carpeted drawing-room and a warm chimney-corner would be in England?
Anna Jameson - Diary of an Ennuyée - 1826
Off on the grass at one side some Ursuline nuns were sitting with their pupils, laughing and talking, and one nun was playing ball with the smaller girls, and mingling with their shouts her own joy, innocent cries of joy as she romped among them. Nothing could have been prettier, sweeter, or better suited to the place; all was very simple, and apparently the whole place was hospitably free to the poor women who ranged over it, digging chicory for salad out of the meadows. The daisies were thick as white clover, and the harsh purple of the anemones showed everywhere.
Read more of William Dean Howells' account of his visit to this villa in 1908 and learn about the difficulties the Doria Pamphilj had in properly maintaining their property.
Move to page two.
Next step in Day 6 itinerary: Monastero di S. Maria dei Sette Dolori.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Villa Panfili del bel respiro
E' questa una delle più pregevoli, e magnifiche ville di Roma, non solamente per la sua grande estensione di sei miglia di circuito con lunghissimi viali coperti e scoperti, giardini segreti ornati di statue e bassirilievi antichi, boschetti e parchi per le caccie, peschiere e fontane deliziose; con il gran teatro ornato di marmi e sculture antiche molto considerabili, e giuochi di acqua tanto diversi; e per la stanza pastorale colla statua di Fauno, che colla zampogna in bocca mostra di suonare; ed affinchè la favola venisse avvivata dal vero, evvi dietro la medesima statua un organo, che col moto dell'acqua fa diverse suonate, replicate poi dall'eco, pure fatto artificiosamente: onde estatici corrono gli spettatori alla melodia del suono: ma se non saranno accorti nell'uscire verranno tutti bagnati. Ma ancora e riguardevole questa villa per il nobile casino ornato tanto di fuori, che di dentro di statue, busti, e bassirilievi antichi, e di sommo pregio, distribuiti con magnificenza, e decoro secondo il disegno dell'Algardi; oltre le varie altre curiosità, che a tutti sono fedelmente mostrate dal Custode.