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Façade of Palazzo Barberini

Palazzo Barberini is a palace in Rome, central Italy, on the piazza of the same name in Rione Trevi.

The sloping site had formerly been occupied by a garden-vineyard of the Sforza family, in which a palazzetto had been built in 1549. The sloping site had passed from one cardinal to another during the sixteenth century, with no project fully getting off the ground. When Cardinal Alessandro Sforza met financial hardships, the still semi-suburban site was purchased in 1625 by Maffeo Barberini, who had come to the papal throne as Urban VIII. Eventually, three great architects worked to create a harmonious whole.

Carlo Maderno, then at work extending the nave of St Peter's, was commissioned to enclose the Villa Sforza within a vast Renaissance block along the lines of Palazzo Farnese; however, the design quickly evolved into a precedent-setting combination of just such an urban seat of princely power combined with a garden front that had the nature of a suburban villa with semi-enclosed garden.

Palazzo Barberini in an 18th-century engraving: its entrance court is a public space.

Maderno began in 1627, assisted by his nephew Francesco Borromini. When Maderno died in 1629, Borromini was passed over in favor of Bernini, a young prodigy then known as a sculptor. The two architects worked briefly together on this project and at the Palazzo Spada: works were ended by Bernini in 1633.

After the death of Urban VIII, the palace was confiscated under the Pamphili pope Innocent X, and returned to the Barberini only in 1653.

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was signed here on 4 November 1950, creating the European Court of Human Rights, and is a milestone in the protection of human rights


The palazzo is disposed around a forecourt centered on Bernini's grand two-storey hall backed by an oval salone, with an extended wing dominating the piazza, which lies on a lower level. At the rear, a long wing protected the garden from the piazza below, above which it rose from a rusticated basement that was slightly battered like a military bastion. The main block presents three tiers of great arch-headed windows, like glazed arcades, a formula that was more Venetian than Roman. On the uppermost floor, Borromini's windows are set in a false perspective that suggests extra depth, a feature that has been copied into the 20th century. Flanking the hall, two sets of stairs lead to the piano nobile, a large squared staircase by Bernini to the left and a smaller oval staircase by Borromini to the right.

The famous helicoidal staircase by Borromini.

Aside from Borromini's false-perspective window reveals, among the other influential aspects of Palazzo Barberini, ones that would be repeated throughout Europe, were the unit of a central two-storey hall backed by an oval salone and the symmetrical wings that extended forward from the main block to create a cour d'honneur.

The Salon ceiling is graced by Pietro da Cortona's masterpiece, the Baroque fresco of the Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power. This vast panegyric allegory became highly influential in guiding decoration for palatial and church ceilings; its influence can be seen in other panoramic scenes such as the frescoed ceilings at Sant'Ignazio (by Pozzo); or those at Villa Pisani at Stra, the throne room of the Royal Palace of Madrid, and the Ca' Rezzonico in Venice (by Tiepolo). Also in the palace is a masterpiece of Andrea Sacchi, a contemporary critic of the Cortona style, Divine Wisdom.

The rooms of the piano nobile have frescoed ceilings by other seventeenth-century artists like Giuseppe Passeri and Andrea Camassei, plus, in the museum collection, precious detached frescoes by Polidoro da Caravaggio and his lover Maturino da Firenze.

The garden is known as a giardino segreto ("secret garden"), for its concealment from an outsider's view. It houses a monument to Bertel Thorwaldsen, who had a studio in the nearby Teatro Barberini in 1822-1834.

Galleries, museums and other attractions

Celebrations for Christina of Sweden at Palazzo Barberini on 28 February 1656, a painting by Filippo Lauri and Filippo Gagliardi.

Today Palazzo Barberini houses the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, one of the most important painting collections in Italy. It includes, among many others, Raphael's portrait La fornarina, Caravaggio's Judith Beheading Holofernes, and a Hans Holbein portrait of Henry VIII. The palace is also home to the Italian Institute of Numismatics.

Hidden in the cellars of the rear part of the building a Mithraeum has been found, dating probably from the second century AD.


  • Blunt, Anthony. (1958). Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 21

External links

Coordinates: 41°54′13″N 12°29′25″E / 41.90361°N 12.49028°E / 41.90361; 12.49028



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