Palazzo Barberini, home both to the powerful clan that produced Pope Urban VIII and to paintings by greats like Raphael, Caravaggio, Titian and El Greco, hasn't been a proper museum in years. Plans to create a central space for its collection were stalled for decades; until 2006, the palazzo even served as an administrative office for the Italian military. Paintings were split between various galleries across Rome, and even more of them remained in storerooms, hidden to the public.
That all changed just a couple of weeks ago.
I paid a visit to the newly-restored Palazzo Barberini today, and all I can say is: what a difference a few more rooms make.
The piece-de-resistance of the whole collection long has been Pietro da Cortona's Triumph of Divine Providence (shown above), the fresco on the ceiling of the Grand Salon, mind-boggling for its size, its spot-on execution of trompe l'oeil, and its sheer over-the-top-ness. Under restoration for months, it's now viewable in all its Baroque glory. A plus: Two comfy, long sofas let you stretch out on your back to take it in without hurting your neck.
But there are other jewels in the collection that are only now being shown off, too. Medieval pieces that had been undisplayed, including 14th-century scenes of crucifixions and sad-eyed Madonnas, now take up several rooms. A hall of landscape paintings includes several sweeping works by Paul Brill. And one room just opened to the public features a rushing fountain, a little piece of indoor theatricality in a time that loved everything unexpected and dramatic in art.
As well as the art itself, the museum experience has improved. A description in English and Italian greets you in each room, giving an overview of how the pieces link together (usually, by period and geography), and the flow of your visit is set up so that you progress from the 14th century all the way up until the 17th. And because there's more room, the pieces aren't as crammed in together.
With its new rooms, the Palazzo Barberini should take you about two hours to get through. And it still costs only €5.
Click here for more information about Palazzo Barberini, including on the pieces that have always been the main draws of the collection, like Raphael's La Fornarina and Caravaggio's Judith Beheading Holofernes.