The Newly Renovated Palazzo Barberini: The Verdict

Da Cortona's fresco of Divine Providence, Palazzo Barberini
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 โ‚ฌ5. 

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. 

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In Palazzo Barberini, Caravaggio, Raphael and More


800px-Caravaggio_Judith_Beheading_Holofernes

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).

 
Palazzo Barberini, designed by Maderno, Bernini and Borromini, Rome

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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La Notte di Caravaggio: On Saturday Night, Art for Free

Boy with basket

There may be no artist better suited to the night than Caravaggio — the tormented Baroque painter famous for his dramatic, almost theatrically-lit paintings.

And on Saturday night, Rome is offering up its Caravaggios to the public. From 7pm on Saturday, July 17 until 9am on Sunday morning (yes, all night), four different sites will be open and free: the Borghese Museum (right now, ordinarily a โ‚ฌ10.50 entrance), with its "Boy with a Basket of Fruit" (above), "Sick Bacchus," and "Madonna of the Snakes," among other pieces; the Church of San Luigi in Francese, home to Caravaggio's first major commission, the three frescoes of St. Matthew; the Basilica of Saint Augustine, with its Madonna of Loreto; and the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, with its Crucifixion of St. Peter and Conversion of St. Paul (open only until 1am).

Just be prepared for a queue at the Borghese, where Romans are most likely to flock… although the later you go (or the earlier Sunday morning), the more likely you are to to have the museum to yourself.

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Galleria Borghese: For the Art Lovers, Bernini, Caravaggio, and More

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Rome's Galleria Borghese is one of Italy's best art museums, filled with pieces by Raphael, Rubens, Titian, Caravaggio and Bernini… to name a few. But it tends not to be on most first-time tourist itineraries. Even though skipping the Borghese is like visiting Paris and dismissing the Musee d'Orsay. If that's you, stop here: maybe art just ain't your thing. And that's okay.

For those who love this kind of stuff, though, you can't miss it. First, there's the building itself. The Villa Borghese, built in the 17th century by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, is a rare gem: Never used as a home, it was built with the express purpose of showing off Scipione's art collection. With art and architecture intertwined, taking in the collection itself is a pleasant, unified experience. Look above you, and frescoes echo the themes of the pieces beneath. Look before you, and ancient and 17th-century sculptures of the same subjects intermingle.

013490_0320 But if there's any broad generalization you can make about the collection, it's that it was certainly borne out of passion: Borghese was such an avid collector that he had Domenechino jailed so he could get his hands on "Diana Hunting," sent henchmen to steal Raphael's "Entombment" from Perugia in the dead of night, and bargained so hard with Caravaggio in a game of 17th-century papal justice known as "Paintings for a Pardon" that he may have helped cause the artist's death. And it has the masterpieces to prove it.

Love Bernini's supple sculptures? Then you'll be blown away by the pieces here, some of the earliest and  Bernini2most famous from his long career: the "Apollo and Daphne," then thought impossible to render in stone (and so beautifully done that, I'll admit, it brought tears to my eyes); the "David," a self-portrait of the artist as he takes on critics and, perhaps, even Michelangelo's own world-famous "David;" "Aeneas and Anchises," done when Bernini was just 21 years old; the "Rape of Proserpina," so realistic you can see how Pluto's fingers indent Proserpina's plush skin — and feel her fear as he carries her to the underworld. Except that it happens to be marble. Right.  

But Bernini's not the only hotshot at the Borghese. Caravaggio, that 17th-century scofflaw who split his time between brawling, barfights and Baroque art, has gotten renewed attention this year with the 400th anniversary of his death. But at the Borghese, he's always been a big deal. One of his earliest patrons was Scipione Borghese, and the villa has his "Sick Bacchus," "Boy with a Basket of Fruit," and "Madonna of the Snakes," among other pieces.

That's not to mention the collection's pieces by Rubens. Raphael. Correggio. Lucas Cranach the Elder. The list keeps going.

The Borghese: There's a reason why it's my first post. It's fantastic.

Just remember that if you go, you must (must!) book in advance, as entrances are only on every odd hour (9am, 11am, 1pm, and so on). Do it a couple of days ahead of time as slots fill up quickly, especially in the high season. You can do it online here for an extra booking fee, or call 0039 06 8413979. A slight hassle? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.

The Borghese is located at Piazzale del Museo Borghese, 5.

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