Palazzo Doria Pamphilj: Triumph of Art in the Heart of Rome
Art lovers flock to the collections at the Vatican Museums and the Borghese Gallery but there are other collections worthy of a visit. The Palazzo Doria Pamphilj (pahm-FEEL-yee) is an often overlooked museum in the center of Rome, just north of Piazza Venezia. It is one the largest mansions in Rome and houses one of the biggest private art collections, combining the wealth of the Doria, Pamphilj, Aldobrandini and Borghese families. The most powerful family member was Giovanni Battista Pamphilj who became Pope Innocent X and to whom the vast amount of the building and the gallery is owed. There are over 400 paintings from the 15th-18th century including works by Raphael, Annibale Carracci, Titian, Tintoretto, Caravaggio, Velázquez, Breughel, Guido Reni, and Claude Lorrain. Many of the rooms in the private apartment have their original furnishings.
The family recently restored the gallery, hanging the paintings according to the original 18th century layout. Pictures cover every inch of wall space, displaying paintings almost like wallpaper. A computer program was used to pinpoint the precise location the nails should be placed to hang the artwork.
The audio guide by Prince Jonathan Doria Pamphilj is a delight. He shares history of the palace as well as childhood memories – such as getting in trouble for scratching the terracotta floor in the Velvet room while rolling skating with his sister. Those without any knowledge of art history need not be intimidated. The audio guide informs visitors of the significance of the artwork along with wildly entertaining tidbits about the family that is better than any soap opera. It’s the perfect combination of entertainment and education.
- The crown jewel of the collection: Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velázquez, considered to be the finest portrait ever created. Upon seeing the completed work Pope Innocent is said to have cried out, “It’s too real!”
- The busts by Alessandro Algardi: Pope Innocent X and his brother Benedetto Pamphilj by Alessandro Algardi in the Velvet Room (the ruffled collar featured on the bust of Benedetto is mind blowing) and the bust of Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilj – the sister-in-law of Pope Innocent X (and rumored to be his mistress). Many considered her to be the real power behind the Pope.
- The breathtaking chapel designed by esigned by Carlo Fontana. It features a beautiful crucifix made of pure ivory as well as the bodies of martyrs St Theodora and St Justin.
- Quinten Massys’s The Moneylenders. The coins in this painting reflect light and it appear so real you want to reach out and touch them.
- The two marble sculptures of Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Bernini. The first bust was marred by the appearance of a flaw in the stone, at the height of the beard, during carving so a second was created.
- Centaur (the Older Furietti Centaur) – the statue has been restored after being broken in to twenty-five pieces after the roof collapsed due to heavy snowfall.
- Two beautiful Caravaggios: Mary Magdalene, and Rest on the Flight into Egypt. Music has always been important part of the Doria Pamphilj family (the family’s list of resident composers include Scarlatti and Handel). There are frequent concerts in the Palazzo’s Throne Room featuring musicians playing on historical instruments of Caravaggio’s time, which are also present in many paintings by the artist.
Palazzo Doria Pamphilj is open daily, a treat when so many of the city’s museums are closed on Mondays. No planning is required as no reservations are necessary. Best of all, it is free of the large tour groups that frequent to many sights.
Via del Corso 305
Open daily 9a-7p.
Entry fee: €11 (audio guide included)