Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica – Palazzo Barberini ☆☆

Narcissus (1594–96) by Caravaggio, Palazzo Barberini, Rome, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
Narcissus (1594–96) by Caravaggio

Rome's Palazzo Barberini serves as half of the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, a collection of Old Masters from Raphael to Caravaggio

When a Barberini finally made pope (Urban VIII), the fabulously wealthy family celebrated by hiring Carlo Maderno in 1624 to build them a huge palace, which both Borromini and Bernini later embellished with window frames and doorways.

Since 1949, it has housed half of Rome's National Gallery of paintings, works that span the 13th to 17th centuries (the other half's in Trastevere’s Palazzo Corsini).

The masterpieces are numerous, but while you're admiring the paintings hung on the walls, don't fail to look up at the ceilings, many of which were decorated by one of the masters of Roman baroque frescoes, Pietro da Cortona.

The Pietro da Cortona frescoes

Keep an eye out especially for the Great Hall, where Pietro frescoed his masterpiece, the allegorical Triumph of Divine Providence (1633–39).

This painting of La Divinia Provvidenza celebrates the Barberini dynasty in a sumptuously busy but masterful trompe-l'oeil space open to the heavens with the Barberini bees swarming up to greet Divine Providence herself, who's being crowned by Immortality.

(Few baroque pontiffs were known for their modesty.)

Masterpieces in the collection

As for the works on the walls, you'll pass icons of art like Filippo Lippi's Annunciation and his Madonna and Child; Andrea del Sarto's Holy Family; Peruzzi's Ceres; Bronzino's precision Portrait of Stefano Colonna; and Guido Reni's Portrait of a Lady believed to be Beatrice Cenci (who was condemned for the murder of her own father).

Other great artists represented here include Filippino Lippi, Sodoma, Beccafumi, El Greco, Tintoretto, Titian, Il Guercino, Paul Brill, Hans Holbein the Younger, and Luca Giordano.

There are also several excellent Bernini busts of various notable Barberinis.

Works by two artists really stand out:

The Caravaggios

Palazzo Barberini has three Caravaggios. 

The famed Narcissus shows the young man who gave us the word "narcissistic" staring at his own handsomeness in a pool of water—for which he was rewarded by the gods by being turned into the flower that bends his head toward creeks.

The gory, action-packed Judith beheading Holofernes—check out the creepy old lady to the right, urging Judith on—has been a (rather grim) icon of the women's rights movement across the ages.

For the record: Holofernes deserved it. He was an Assyrian general about to destroy Judith's village; she goes to his tent, seduces him into drinking himself into a stupor, and then takes him out. (If this doesn't sound familiar, it's because this Old Testament story only appears in Catholic and Orthodox versions of the Bible, not Protestant or Jewish ones.)

There's also an St. Francis in Meditation attributed to Caravaggio.

Raphael's Fornarina

The Barberini's star painting has to be Raphael's bare-breasted Fornarina, held to be a (rather racy) portrait of the artist’s girlfriend, a baker's daughter named Margherita Luti.

Some critics say it's actually a painting of a courtesan by Raphael's pupil Giulio Romano, but this would not explain why the lass wears an armband bearing Raphael's name.

The ancient temple underneath Palazzo Barberini

In 1936, workers accidentally discovered a mirthaeum underneath Palazzo Barberini. 

Now open to the public on special guided visits, this 2nd century BC temple to the god Mithras is notable for its amazingly preserved frescoes of the cult's primary ritual—the slaying of a bull (and subsequent bathing in its blood—it was a popular religion among the soldiering class), astrological symbols, and ten small comic-style panels depicting the god himself.

Amazing ancient art, yes; sadly, you can only book a visit for the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month (€5.50 ($6); tel. 06-3996-7700 or www.coopculture.it).

Evening concerts

The museum now hosts regular evening concerts; you can see the schedule and book tickets for performances here: 

 
Tickets
 
Photo gallery
  • Narcissus (1594–96) by Caravaggio, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power (1633) by Pietro da Cortona, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • La Fornarina (c. 1520) by Raphael, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Judith Beheading Holofernes (1598–99) by Caravaggio, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Annunciation (c. 1435) by Filippo Lippi, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Tuccia (La Velata) by Antonio Corradini, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • Portrait of Beatrice Cenci (1662) by Guido Reni, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Portrait of Stefano Colonna (1546) by Bronzino, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Portrait of Henry VIII of England (1539–40) by Hans Holbein the Younger, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • The square staircase designed by Bernini, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • St. Francis in Meditation (1606–07) by Caravaggio, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Baptism of Christ (1596-1600) by El Greco, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Madonna with Child (Tarquinia Madonna) (1437) by Filippo Lippi, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • The oval staircase designed by Borromini, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • Ascension of Christ (1510–20) by Benvenuto Tisi, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Portrait of Urban VIII (1625) by Gianlorenzo Bernini, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Bust of Clemente X (1640) by Gianlorenzo Bernini, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • Bust of Urban VIII (1632–33) by Gianlorenzo Bernini, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • Bust of Urban VIII (1625) by Gianlorenzo Bernini, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • David (1624-25) by Gianlorenzo Bernini, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Allegory of Painting and Sculpture (1637) by Il Guercino, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • , Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Self-portrait (Allegory of Painting) (1630s) by Artemisia Gentileschi, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Mary Magdalene (1500-10) by Piero di Cosimo, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • A fresco in the Barberini mithraeum, Palazzo Barberini, Italy (Photo by Costantinus)
 
Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
     
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
     
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).

 

Related

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 (Photo by Patrick Rasenberg)
Galleria Corsini
Rome: Trastevere

Great Renaissance and baroque paintings at the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica in the Palazzo Corsini alla Lungara