Tired of Rome's overwhelming art collections (think: Vatican museums), but want to see more of what Rome has to offer? Consider paying a visit to the Palazzo Barberini, an often-overlooked gem in the heart of the city.
Palazzo Barberini boasts works by some of Italy's best painters: Caravaggio, Raphael, Tintoretto, Bronzino. Its stars include the lush and moving "La Fornarina," Raphael's portrait of his lover (and possibly secret wife), the baker's daughter; Hans Holbein's famous portrait of King Henry VIII; and Caravaggio's startlingly realistic — and frightening — Judith Beheading Holofernes (above).
For fans of Baroque art, the building alone merits a visit. Started in 1627-1633 by Carlo Maderno with his nephew Francesco Borromini, construction was handed over to Borromini and his soon-to-be-rival Bernini. (Yes, that Bernini. Some of his sculptures are also inside). The palace's frescoes include Pietro da Cortona's famous "Allegory of Divine Providence"; a triumph of trompe l'oeil, it literally "tricks the eye" into thinking that the ceiling opens up to show the heavens and tumbling figures. But it's also a political piece, a tribute to the Barberini family — the powerful clan whose Maffeo Barberini became Pope Urban VIII (and started construction on the building).
Currently, the palace is under restoration. This means that most of its collection, including its pieces of antique art, are in storage. As a result, it only takes about one to two hours to go through the gallery today, and Pietro da Cortona's ceiling also is closed to viewing. But the work is almost complete: The inauguration of the refurbished gallery is set for September 19.
The Palazzo Barberini is located just steps from the Barberini metro at Via delle Quattro Fontane, 13. It's open every day but Monday from 8:30am-7:30pm — making it an ideal early-evening stop. Click for more information and a map of the Palazzo Barberini's location.
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