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National Gallery of Ancient Art, Palazzo Barberini

Home > Rome > Tours | Galleries | Day Trips | Art
by Morgan P (subscribe)
Freelance programme maker, storyteller, wanderer...
Published August 17th 2020
Some of history's greatest artists and a Roman Palazzo
The Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica (also known as the Gallerias Barberini Corsini) houses the main national collection of older paintings in Rome. The gallery is divided across two sites, the Palazzo Barberini and the Palazzo Corsini. And the one ticket gives you access to both locations.

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Exterior of Palazzo Barberini, National Gallery of Ancient Art, Rome

Palazzo Barberini was built for Maffeo Barberini who later became Pope Urban VIII. And it's as grand as you would expect it to be. Walking from room to room you have to remember to look up at the ceilings to admire the frescoes every bit as impressive as the collection of art displayed on the walls.

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Interior Palazzo Barberini, exhibition rooms
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Frescoes in The Palazzo Barberini. Remember to look up!

The most prominent of these is the 'Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power', by Italian painter Pietro da Cortona, which fills the large ceiling of the grand salon.

Palazzo barberini
Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power, by Italian painter Pietro da Cortona

Palazzo barberini
Grand Salon of The Palazzo Barberini, with frescoed ceiling by Pietro da Cortona

Barberini is best known for its early Renaissance through late Baroque paintings. Some of the most important of these include Raphael's portrait 'La Fornarina (Portrait of a Young Woman)', currently on loan to the Scuderie Quirinale for their Raffaello exhibition.

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La Fornarina (Portrait of a Young Woman), by Raphael, 1518-1519

Caravaggio's 'Judith Beheading Holofernes' is another important piece. This painting, dated to around 1599, is Caravaggio's first historical work. But one that disappeared for nearly four hundred years only to be rediscovered by chance in 1951. The iconography had been common since the 1400s, but Caravaggio's favouring of a level of realism made his work appear more shocking. Though it was the confused look on Judith's face that drew my attention.

Palazzo barberini
Judith Beheading Holofernes, by Caravaggio, c1599

The most poignant painting on display for me was 'Woman Wearing a Turban'. The portrait was said to be that of Beatrice Cenci, who was put to death in 1599 for her role in the killing of her father. It was once attributed to Guido Reni, but the subject of the painting and the artist has been disputed for some time. It is now attributed to the artist Ginevra Cantofoli.

Palazzo Barberini
Woman Wearing a Turban (supposed portrait of Beatrice Cenci), Ginevra Cantofoli / former attributed to Guido Reni, c1650.

Beatrice Cenci's father was known for his violence towards his family, and for raping his daughter. Pleas to authorities for help fell on deaf ears. Beatrice, along with her siblings, decided their only escape would be for their father to die. Following the murder, the family were arrested and sentenced to be executed. The Roman public protested this decision, knowing the abuse they suffered, to no avail. The only one spared was Beatrice's youngest brother, 12 at the time, who was forced to watch as his family were put to death.

It was said this painting was done on the eve of Beatrice's execution. But it is now disputed whether that would have been possible. The image of this anonymous young girl though has served to keep Beatrice's story alive for over four hundred years.

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Palazzo Barberini exhibition rooms

The gallery also hosts temporary exhibitions. Their current exhibition, 'Orazio Borgianni, Un genio inquieto nella Roma di Caravaggio (A restless genius in Caravaggio's Rome), is the first dedicated to one of the major protagonists of the 17th century. And is running until 1st November 2020.

Palazzo Barberini
Self Portrait, Orazio Borgianni, 1615
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Why? Rome's masterpieces and a Palazzo
When: Thursdays Sundays 10 am 6 pm
Phone: 39 064814591
Where: via delle Quattro Fontane, 13 00184 Rome, Italy
Cost: 12 (valid for 20 days, covers both Palazzo Barberini Corsini Galleries)
Your Comment
Another great article Morgan.
by May Cross (score: 3|8197) 645 days ago
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