Rome’s Palazzo Barberini is one of the best places to go if you’re tired of Rome’s overwhelming art collections (think: Vatican museums), but want to see more of what Rome has to offer. A stunning art museum in a Renaissance palace, it’s 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).
(Note: This post was last updated with current information in April 2017).
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).
But the piece-de-resistance is Pietro da Cortona’s Triumph of Divine Providence, 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 — which benefited from a months-long restoration in 2010 and is now on full and stunning display.
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-7pm, making it an ideal early-evening stop. The entrance price is currently €10. For more on Palazzo Barberini, click here.
Also: why the Borghese Gallery should also be on your list, the best places for gelato and Rome’s most fascinating archaeological museum.
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