The page covers:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
Fontana del Tritone
- Rival Stairs
- Ponte Ruinante
- In the Gardens
- Mitreo Barberini
Fontana delle Api (Bees)
S. Andrea degli Scozzesi
The heading of this 1752 etching by Giuseppe Vasi says Piazza Palestrini o Barberini, because the Barberini had the title of Princes of Palestrina, a historical town in the Roman countryside.
In the right lower corner of the plate Vasi shows an obelisk which was not in the square, but near the entrance to Palazzo Barberini. The obelisk was found in 1570 outside Porta Maggiore in a suburban villa built by Emperor Heliogabalus; in 1633 it was relocated to Palazzo Barberini by order of Pope Urban VIII. Notwithstanding several projects, the Barberini never re-erected the obelisk and eventually in 1773 they donated it to Pope Clement XIV. In 1822 it was placed in the Pincio Gardens.
Perhaps Dan Brown glanced at this etching because in his novel Angels and Demons he wrote that "a multiton obelisk stood in the centre of Piazza Barberini" (for more about Dan Brown's accuracy click here).
The view is taken from the green dot in the map below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Palazzo Barberini; 2) The Obelisk; 3) Fontana del Tritone; 4) The pedestal of the cross in front of Convento dei Padri Cappuccini. The small 1748 map shows also 5) S. Andrea degli Scozzesi; 6) the site where Fontana delle Api was located; 7) Cortile della Cavallerizza; 8) site of the new entrance to Palazzo Barberini from Via delle Quattro Fontane.
The view in August 2009
In the XVIIIth century Piazza Barberini was at the limit of the populated part of the city; the area between the piazza and the walls of Rome was mainly occupied by villas, the largest one being Villa Lodovisi. In the late XIXth century these villas were replaced by modern housing developments. In 1883-889 Via del Tritone, the narrow street which linked the piazza with Piazza Colonna was enlarged. In 1926-932 a new street was opened to link Piazza Barberini with S. Susanna and Stazione Termini, the central railway station of Rome. Cortile della Cavallerizza, a long courtyard used as horse training ground on the western side of Palazzo Barberini, was pulled down to make room for the new street.
Museo di Roma a Palazzo Braschi: Filippo Gagliardi (architectures) and Filippo Lauri (event):
Celebrations in honour of Queen Christina of Sweden at Cortile della Cavallerizza for her first Roman Carnival (you may wish to see the box built at Piazza Venezia for the Queen to watch the races)
(left) Fontana del Tritone and behind it Via Barberini, the street leading to Stazione Termini. Hotel Bernini stands on ground which was part of the Barberini property. It was built in 1875 and it was entirely redesigned in 1943; (right) Triton blowing into a conch shell (see the same subject at Fontana di Trevi)
Fontana del Tritone is one of Gian Lorenzo Bernini's masterpieces for the novelty of its design, rather than for the finesse of its execution, because the sculptor chose to use travertine, a limestone with tiny holes, rather than marble. It was commissioned in 1642 by Pope Urban VIII. Bernini was paid with the right to a supply of water from Acqua Felice, which the architect used for two houses he bought nearby; the supply which exceeded his needs was resold to other landlords. The spout was much higher than it is today and many foreigners who lived near Piazza Barberini were impressed by it (e.g. Hans Christian Andersen).
Fontana del Tritone: details of its lower part. For other details see a page on Triton as a sea god announcing the end of the Great Flood
The design of Fontana del Tritone influenced that of Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in Piazza Navona; the four dolphins which support the upper part of the fountain leave an empty space which also characterizes the later fountain and the same applies to the location of the papal coats of arms. The excess water is "drunk" by the dolphins; at Piazza Navona this is done by a big fish.
(left/centre) An old portal which has been moved to an ancillary building in the gardens; (right) entrance from Via delle Quattro Fontane; (inset) Obelisco Sallustiano opposite TrinitÓ dei Monti at the end of the street
The etching by Vasi shows a great portal in Piazza Barberini which was the main entrance to the palace and its gardens (it is better seen in a 1684 etching by Giovan Battista Falda - it opens in another window). Guests reached Cortile della Cavallerizza where a number of portals led to ancillary facilities, including a theatre. They then arrived at the main/southern fašade by going up around the south-western wing of the palace.
In 1867 a new grand entrance was opened in Via delle Quattro Fontane. It was designed by Francesco Azzurri and eventually it became the only access to the palace and its gardens.
Busts by Bernini: (left/centre) Pope Urban VIII; (right) Cardinal Francesco Barberini, nephew of the Pope and son of Carlo Barberini
Cardinal Matteo Barberini lived in a palace in Via dei Giubbonari, which, after he became Pope Urban VIII in 1623, he assigned to his brother Carlo. This palace was not suited for the new status of the Barberini; Taddeo, a son of Carlo Barberini, at the insistence of his uncle, in 1624 married Anna Colonna, who belonged to one of the most ancient Roman families and who brought a substantial dowry to her husband and in 1629 the fiefdom of Palestrina. Francesco, another son of Carlo, was created cardinal at the age of 23. He was immediately made Governor of Fermo and then commendatory abbot of Farfa and Grottaferrata. These positions and others provided him with a substantial income.
Baldassarre Croce: "Joseph Sold by his Brothers", painting commissioned by Paolo Sforza di Santa Fiora, Marquis of Proceno
In 1625 Cardinal Francesco Barberini bought a villa on the western side of the Quirinal Hill which adjoined Strada Pia from Piazza delle Quattro Fontane to the nunnery of S. Susanna. It belonged to the Sforza who had embellished its main building with an elaborated decoration, typical of the late XVIth century (see other examples of this type of decoration at Villa d'Este and in the Vatican Library).
(left) Ceiling decorated with a gilded frame (having lions and quinces at its corners) and a 1612 fresco by Antonio Viviani depicting Genesis 17:3-9 "Abram fell facedown, and God said to him: As for me, this is my covenant with you. You will be the father of many nations" (NIV); (right) ceiling decorated with the Barberini bees and the sun, another heraldic symbol of the family
Main/southern fašade (the fountain is a late XIXth century addition)
In 1626 Cardinal Francesco Barberini donated the Sforza property to his brother Taddeo who in the following year commissioned Carlo Maderno the construction of a new residence which was to include the Sforza building; the architect was assisted in his activity by Francesco Borromini, a young relative. Initially Maderno designed an imposing building with a long fašade; because of the sloping ground he then modified the initial project by reducing the length of the fašade and by adding two wings. Maderno died in 1629 and the Barberini asked Bernini, a member of their inner circle, to complete their palace.
Fašade: view from the left wing
Bernini worked with the assistance of Borromini and thus it is not always clear what was designed by Maderno,
by Bernini or by Borromini; the >small windows on the second floor and the
coat of arms
are generally attributed to Borromini.
At the time of the death of Maderno most likely the portico of the ground floor was already built or its construction was in an advanced phase; its design followed a classic pattern which can be traced back to Colosseo. The hand of Bernini and his attention to optical effects, can be seen in the loggias of the first and second floor; the latter in particular shows the use of a fake perspective in the design of the windows, a feature which characterized many future works by Bernini (e.g. Cappella Paluzzi Albertoni) and Borromini (e.g. Palazzo Spada).
The final result is a totally new fašade which seems to have been designed for a villa, rather than for a city palace; because of its location and its gardens Palazzo Barberini could very well be called Villa Barberini.
(left/centre) Ancient works of art in the main stairs (designed by Bernini); (right) ancient bust in a hall
Bernini utilized the same design of the windows for the niches where he placed some of the ancient works of art owned by the Barberini. In order to "fill" the niches he designed pedestals which had the right height to properly position statues and reliefs at the centre of the niches. It could seem a minor detail, but a bust placed in a too large niche by today's curators of the palace shows the value of Bernini's attention to how a visitor would first see a work of art.
Similar to other families of the time (e.g. the Borghese and the Ludovisi) the Barberini gathered in their palace/villa a collection of ancient statues and reliefs, some of which are still named after them.
Togato Barberini (Man wearing a toga, a ceremonial garment) portrays a man holding the portraits of his ancestors and it is dated Ist century BC. The head belongs to another statue.
The statue of a running girl in a short garment was traditionally identified as a portrait of Atalanta, a virgin huntress who lost a footrace to Hippomenes (in the early XVIIth century this account was made popular by a celebrated painting by Guido Reni - it opens in another window). In another mythical account Meleager fell in love with Atalanta. The statue more likely portrays a runner in the games of Hera at Olympia. It departs from traditional Greek patterns and it is dated Ist century BC.
It was Cardinal Francesco Barberini who personally stated that a large statue of a goddess found near S. Lorenzo in Panisperna portrayed Juno. This led him to ask the restorer to replace the missing right arm with one holding a sceptre, a symbol of the higher rank of Juno among the goddesses.
Details of the fašade (you may wish to see some masks which decorate it): (left) Apollo; (right) Medusa
In addition to statues and reliefs the palace was decorated with other references to the ancient world. Apollo was made easily identifiable by his hairstyle which was based on that of Apollo del Belvedere (it opens in another window). In the XVIIth century Medusa, a monster with snakes for hair, became a quite popular decorative subject. It was portrayed in funerary monuments (e.g. in that to Odoardo Santarelli at S. Maria Maggiore) and at the entrance of palaces (e.g. Palazzo Alli Maccarani) because in antiquity it was regarded as the guardian of sites.
(left) Entrance to Sala del Trionfo with a generic coat of arms of the Barberini; (right-above) coat of arms of Cardinal Antonio Barberini iuniore, patron of the Order of Malta; (right-below) coat of arms of Prince Taddeo Barberini and his wife Isabella Colonna
The decorative theme devised by Bernini for the fašade characterizes some halls of the interior. The coats of arms above the doors are all very similar, but there are some minor differences among the couples of winged women who support them. The coats of arms themselves vary according to which Barberini lived in the palace at the time they were made.
The art of Bernini especially when it was applied to the decoration of interiors was very often based on the use of coloured marbles, gilded frames, flying angels, etc. In this Oval Hall which he designed in 1633-639 he refrained from additions which could impair the neat design of the hall, that is elliptical notwithstanding its name. It is thought that he was influenced by the views of Cardinal Francesco Barberini, who supported an austere, classical design for the palace.
Sala del Trionfo
In the design of the main hall Bernini most likely had to take into account the opinion of Pope Urban VIII, who did not live in the palace, but wanted it to represent the standing of his family. Bernini arranged for the hall to receive light from the windows in the fašade and from three windows above Sala Ovale. In this way he ensured the frescoes of the ceiling would have been clearly visible.
Ceiling of Sala del Trionfo by Pietro da Cortona: (left) overall view; (right) Faith, Hope and Charity place a laurel wreath around the Barberini bees, Glory holds the keys of St. Peter and Rome (!) the pontiff's crown
The title of the gigantic fresco is: The Triumph of Divine Providence during the Pontificate of Pope Urban VIII. The subject of the fresco and the painter to whom it was commissioned were chosen by Pope Urban VIII. The work began in late 1632 and ended in November 1639. It is considered one of the finest illusionistic ceilings of Rome and the way Cortona devised the Pope's coat of arms a real masterpiece.
Ceiling of Sala del Trionfo: detail showing the triumph of Religion and Wisdom over Vice (a drunken Silenus surrounded by nymphs)
Pope Urban VIII, when he was a cardinal, wrote a Latin distich, a poem of two verses (it opens in another window) to justify the presence of Bernini's Apollo e Daphne in the villa of Cardinal Scipione Borghese. He was therefore very smart at explaining why apparently profane subjects could be found in the house of a very pious man. In this way Pietro da Cortona could paint as many almost naked blonde women as he wanted. Notwithstanding the official title the viewer hardly realizes that the ceiling depicts the effects of Divine Providence.
Andrea Sacchi - The Triumph of Divine Wisdom
Before Cortona began working in the main hall Andrea Sacchi had finished painting the ceiling of a smaller room. The subject of his fresco was similar to that by Cortona, but the two works of art could not be more different. Sacchi had an approach to the construction of the painting which was consistent with the tradition and the works of some great masters (e.g. Raphael and Domenichino). There are no flying bodies in the sky, nor illusionistic depictions of the subjects who sit calmly on very solid clouds. Sacchi's fresco however, similar to that by Cortona, lacks the religious thrust that its title would suggest: the Divine Wisdom seated in a circle of Virtues, brings to mind Apollo surrounded by the Muses by Raphael in the Vatican (it opens in another window).
Chapel: (left) Crucifixion by Pietro da Cortona; (right) ceiling by Pietro Paolo Ubaldini and Giovan Francesco Romanelli who worked with Pietro da Cortona. Gilded stucco by Simone Lagi
Bernini designed a small chapel which was inaugurated in 1632 for the baptism ceremony of a daughter of Taddeo Barberini. In the small dome Bernini opened a window to improve the lighting of the room. The subsequent decoration of the ceiling cleverly hid that opening by painting similar windows on the other three sides of the dome.
Giuseppe Chiari - The Chariot of Sun
Family events were celebrated with new frescoes. In 1693 Prince Urbano Barberini married Felice Ventimiglia Pignatelli, a relative of Innocent XII, the reigning pope. The fresco by Chiari conveyed good wishes for continuing the family line, but it did not achieve its purpose. The much awaited male heir died in his infancy and the couple were soon estranged. Felice chose to retire to a nunnery. Apparently the Chariot of Sun was regarded as an appropriate subject for weddings because in that period it was painted for the same reason on the ceiling of a hall at Palazzo Boncompagni Corcos.
Sala della Balconata: ceiling attributed to Marco Tullio Montagna ca 1634
During the late XIXth century the heirs of the Barberini began to sell parts of their properties and collections which included many ancient books in addition to paintings and statues. In 1949 the palace was bought by the Italian State and a section of the building, including Sala della Balconata, was assigned to the Army Officers' Club. In 2015 their premises were partly moved to a separate building and the halls they occupied on the first floor will allow for a better display of the exhibits of Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica di Palazzo Barberini.
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica di Palazzo Barberini: (left) King Henry VIII of England (aged 49) by Hans Holbein the Younger; (right) Portrait of a Young Woman by Raphael (aka La Fornarina, the baker's daughter, Raphael's model and mistress)
The paintings come from a series of private collections (Corsini, Torlonia, Chigi, etc) which were bought by the Italian State. La Fornarina is one of the works of art which were part of the Barberini collection. It was bought in 1934, when the palace still belonged to the Barberini.
Stairs by Borromini in the right wing
Two stairs lead to the main apartment. The larger one was designed by Bernini, whereas Borromini was entrusted with
the smaller one: this has an elliptic shape. The use of ellipses rather than circles is one of the elements which characterizes Baroque versus Renaissance architecture (you may wish to see the spiral staircase designed by il Vignola at Palazzo Farnese di Caprarola in the 1560s).
Borromini showed here that passion for curved lines which would be a constant feature of his work and for which he would be reproached by Neoclassic art historian Francesco Milizia (Memorie degli architetti antichi e moderni - 1781): Questo artista non poteva soffrire il retto (this artist could not stand straight lines).
Main stairs by Bernini
(left) Ponte Ruinante; (centre/right) ancient Roman inscriptions
Pope Urban VIII moved the obelisk found near Porta Maggiore to his family palace with the idea of placing it next to Ponte Ruinante (falling bridge), an unusual bridge designed for him by Bernini. The bridge had two objectives: one was very practical, i.e. to provide the palace with a direct access to the upper part of the gardens, similar to what can be seen at Palazzo Colonna; the other one was to add yet another memento of ancient Rome to the many already existing in the palace. To this purpose Bernini designed a bridge with one arch which is in part collapsed and the other one with the stones of the vault on the verge of falling.
Italian garden and rear part of Palazzo Barberini
In the late XIXth century the Barberini sold a large part of their gardens along Strada Pia and that which remained was not properly maintained. Recently, based on an etching by Alessandro Specchi (it opens in another window and it shows the obelisk where it should have been erected), the garden has regained its original design.
(left) Rear fašade by Maderno and Bernini; (right) detail of an ancient relief portraying Dionysus
The rear fašade designed by Maderno has points in common with that he designed for S. Pietro; Bernini lightened it by adding some ancient reliefs.
(left) Egyptian stela; (centre) Apollo Citharoedus (playing the cithara, a kind of lyre); (right) coat of arms of a Barberini cardinal
A large Roman statue
of Apollo Citharoedus was found in ca 1670 and it was restored/completed by Giuseppe Giorgetti.
It was placed behind
the low wall along the street going to S. Susanna. In 1936 it was relocated in a niche at the end of the garden.
An Egyptian stela is another ancient work of art which embellished the garden. It was added in the late XVIIIth century.
A gigantic coat of arms of a Barberini cardinal is now placed against a wall outside the palace; it is difficult to ascertain to whom it belonged because there were five Barberini cardinals in the XVIIth century, in addition to Pope Urban VIII.
Fresco depicting Mithras in the act of sacrificing a bull
In 1936 during work to relocate the statue of Apollo an underground mithraeum was uncovered. The fresco which stands at one end of a long and narrow room is dated late IInd or early IIIrd century AD. It depicts a scene which is almost identical to those found in other mithraea (see an example in a relief). The main interest of the discovery lies in the ten small scenes at the sides of the main one. They depict ceremonies such as a ritual banquet and the initiation of a new follower. The meaning of others is still unclear as there are no ancient written sources about this belief, apart from some references to it by Tertullian, an early Christian writer. You may wish to see Mitreo di Capua, which, similar to Mitreo Barberini, was decorated with frescoes rather than reliefs.
Details: (above - left to right) tail of the bull ending with an ear of wheat; Mithras turning his head towards the Sun and the signs of the Zodiac; an unknown god or important person standing on a globe; initiation rite; (below) a scorpion, a snake and a dog attacking the bull or drinking from its wounds; the Moon
(left) Fontana delle Api, which is also shown in the image used as background for this page, in its current location at the beginning of Via Veneto; (centre) detail of a late XIXth century watercolour showing where it actually stood; (right) today's view of the original location; (inset) a bee on the balcony of the building
The last work which Bernini designed for Pope Urban VIII in 1644 was a small fountain which was situated at the corner between Piazza Barberini and Strada Felice (this section of the street is now called via Sistina). The small palace under which the fountain was located belonged to the Barberini and its balcony still retains their bees.
This fountain was built because Fontana del Tritone was not suited for the needs of those who had to collect water from it; its high spout was very nice to see, but a sudden change of the wind could mean a shower for the women who were filling their jars. The different purpose of the two fountains is explained in the inscription; Fontana del Tritone was built ad publicum Urbis ornatum (for the embellishment of the city), Fontana delle Api singulorum utilitati (for the benefit of its users). The fountain was removed in 1880 and reconstructed in 1917 in another location; parts of it had disappeared during the period the fountain was kept in storage and the inscription was incorrectly restored.
Museo Nazionale Romano - Palazzo Massimo - Rome: relief portraying nymphs which was found in 1937 near the site of the fountain (Ist century BC)
(left) S. Andrea degli Scozzesi; (right-above) Scottish coat of arms and motto "Nemo me impune lacessit" (the Latin motto of the Order of the Thistle meaning "No one attacks me with impunity"); (right-below) detail of the fašade
The national church of Scotland is dedicated to St. Andrew, whose cross and two fishes (a reference to his job) decorate the fašade. The church was built in the XVIIth century, but it became important in 1717, when James Francis Edward Stuart "The Old Pretender" (to the thrones of England and Scotland) set his residence in Rome. The nearby XIXth century building which once housed the Scottish Seminary is still decorated with the coat of arms and motto of Scotland. Regretfully in 2004 the church was deconsecrated: its paintings were moved to the new Scots College (external link) on the Via Cassia (click here for a list of national churches in Rome).
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Dal Pontefice Urbano VIII. fu fatto questo magnifico palazzo con disegno del Cav. Bernini , il quale fece prova dell'alto suo sapere nella distribuzione delle scale diverse, degli appartamenti , ornati di superbe statue antiche e moderne , e di pitture insigni, fra le quali Ú ammirabile lo sfondo della gran sala dipinta da Pietro da Cortona , che va in stampa . Dinanzi a quello si vede disteso per terra un piccolo obelisco egizio , che dovevasi alzare nel giardino per fare ornamento al prospetto posteriore del palazzo.
Sulla strada felice, ed incontro al divisato palazzo sta questa chiesa, nella quale un Po1acco dipinse il quadro a destra , e quello a sinistra Niccol˛ Lorenese , ed il martirio del Santo nell'altare maggiore Ŕ della scuola del Borgognone , e tanto la chiesa , che il collegio sta in cura de' Padri Gesuiti. Pochi passi avanti siegue la nobilissima
La deliziosa fontana, che adorna questa piazza fu pensiero del Cav. Bernino , ma da altri messo in opera.