It was conceived as the self-celebration of the rise of a papal family. The huge complex of Palazzo Barberini was established by the Florentine Pope Urban VIII.
In 1625, two years after his nomination, Pope Urban VIII took advantage of the financial difficulties of the Sforza di Santa family and acquired their estate located between the Quattro Fontane and Pia (today XX Settembre) streets and the related magnificently ecorated buildings in order to carry out the project of a palace-villa able to compete with the luxurious dwellings of the Roman nobility. The mansion was in fact appropriate for the twofold functions of "villa of the delights" opened on the green belt surrounding the ancient inhabited area and city palace. The mansion originally overlooked Piazza Barberini. The qualities which were already intrinsic to the Palazzo Sforza, were reinforced by the new project which refused the traditional model of the city-palace with a quadrangular plan and courtyard, instead the project of the architect Maderno was based on an H-shaped open plan with two parallel wings joined by a central septum with arcade entrance and false upper open gallery. The work of Bernini is mostly concentrated in this connecting body which is the official and public part of the palace common to both residential wings. Bernini became the head of the work being done after the death of Maderno in 1629. Bernini was assisted by Borromini, who was the grandson of Maderno and had already been working on the construction site. Some of the most notable structures of the palace are tied to these two names such as, the ovoid staircase of the right wing by Borromini, which echos the similar wide staircase of the Palazzo Farnese in Caprarola; the monumental staircase with a quadrangular plan projected by Bernini beside the oval hall and the impressive double height hall where Pietro da Cortona would paint the famous fresco "The Triumph of the Divine Providence", an allegorical celebration of the glories of the Barberini dynasty, between 1633 and 1639. The palace was acquired by the Italian State in 1949 and, in spite of the difficult cohabitation with other institutions which were already tenants of the Barberini, the state decided that it would be the location of the National Gallery of Ancient Art which had already been established in 1895 but had never been set up. The museum was closely tied to the other collection located in Palazzo Corsini, therefore the Gallery was initially divided in accordance with a chronological criterion that assigned the more ancient works (until end of Seventeenth century) to Palazzo Barberini and the more recent ones to Palazzo Corsini: such a rigid division was finally discarded with the 1984 reorganisation of both museums. Justice was finally rendered to the Corsini collection on that occasion, it was re-assembled and brought back to its historical site. Instead, Palazzo Barberini would host, in accordance with chronological criteria, the various works acquired by the State either by purchase on the market or as bequests and donations which came from various collections which were otherwise dispersed. The same remarkable Barberini collection is now reduced to a minor portion of the original acquired by the State in 1934, because of a law which, gave the family back part of the collection in exchange for the right to have possession of the remaining part. The pieces returned to the family was incredibly dispersed. The current property of the museum, without taking into account the so-called "third gallery" constituted by the works in external warehouses, state agencies and ministries, boasts approximately 1500 paintings and more than 2000 items of decorative arts including furniture and objects from the former Industrial Artistic Museum. The core of the collection is however represented by paintings that include several masterpieces especially dating from the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries. The collection, in which significant works by specific artists are often represented, dates back to the Thirteenth century; it includes, the icon coming from S. Maria in Campo Marzio and some Fourteenth century crucifixes, grotesque works of the Fifteenth century and the famous Madonna di Corneto Tarquinia by Filippo Lippi.
The core of the gallery is represented by the masterpieces which date from the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries. The famous painting by Raffaello called the "Fornarina" deserves special mention besides the works by Andrea del Sarto, Beccafumi, Sodoma, Bronzino, Lotto, Tintoretto, Tiziano and El Greco. While Caravaggio's Judith cutting off the head of Oloferne opens the superb itinerary of the Seventeenth century art which includes paintings by Reni, Domenichino, Guercino, Lanfranco, Bernini, Poussin, Pietro da Cortona, Gaulli and Maratta. The Eighteenth century is also very well represented. The paintings displayed by schools, offer a rather exhaustive view of the Italian art of that period that is complemented by an interesting group of French paintings coming from the Cervinara collection.
The final touch to complete the visit is the evocative apartment set up and furnished by Cornelia Costanza Barberini in the second half of the century using rare and precious decorations. This little jewel is the expression of the taste of that age and it also exhibits some of the most interesting decorative artworks which belong to the museum.
Telefono: 0039 06 4824184 - 06 4814591
Fax: 0039 06 4880560
Sito web: www.galleriaborghese.it/barberini/it/