Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, located in the heart of Rome’s bustling Via del Corso, is a love letter to art history. While the building we see today dates to the early 16th century, the preservation of the palazzo’s ancient history began in 1731 when Prince Camillo Pamphilj ordered the renovation of the building’s oldest parts. Once home to Italy’s mightiest families, the palace glitters with 18th-century opulence. Coupled with the interior design, sculptures, and works of art, each room transports visitors to a different period of art history. From Baroque Velázquez portraits to Renaissance humanism in Filippo Lippi’s works, the palace is an art enthusiast’s paradise.
Home Sweet Home: Papal Works of Art
During 500 years of renovations, Vatican families called the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj home. At least once during their ancestral timelines, a member of almost each of these families held the throne of St. Peter. These names included the Della Rovere, the Aldobrandini, the Pamphilj, and the Doria Pamphilj. This list does not account for other behemoths of Italian family trees, including the Borghese, Colonna, Savoia, and Facchinetti clans.
Four wings overlook an interior courtyard with a neatly trimmed garden and two connecting halls, the Room of the Primitives and the Aldobrandini Hall. At the Doria Cafe, visitors can enjoy cappuccini near the courtyard. However, what really attracts people in throngs are the galleria’s masterpieces. Here, each wing is adorned with works of art that symbolize the glory of the Italian Renaissance, merging secular humanism with the glorification of God that the Eternal City embodies to this day.
1. The Green Room: Divine Works of Art
At the heart of Renaissance art is humanism. This philosophical movement propelled Europe out of the Dark Ages by embracing the basic rights of man and manifesting the return to antiquity’s glory. Artists like Donatello and Botticelli used humanism to create works that embodied ancient Greece and Rome’s ideal person (as seen in Donatello’s helm-wearing David or Botticelli’s glorious Birth of Venus).
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While humanism allowed artists of the Early (c. 1400-1490) and High Renaissance (c. 1490-1520) to idealize the human form through realism and naturalism, this art style also produced works that glorified God according to artists’ Catholic backgrounds. At the Galleria, this is symbolized in the Green Room. Here, the New Testament’s most iconic stories are told in paintings finished on wood panels. Surrounded by 18th-century lime-green wallpaper and velvet curtains, visitors in the Green Room will find Filippo Lippi’s The Annunciation, 1434/1440, Giovanni di Paolo’s The Birth of the Virgin, Francesco Pesellino’s The Miracle of Saint Silvester, 1450-53, and Hans Memling’s Lamentation, 1475-80, among many other Catholic scenes. These works of art demonstrate the Pamphilj family’s Vatican roots—as well as the Renaissance’s acknowledgment of theological values that would later result in the radical counter-movement known as the Bonfire of the Vanities.
2. The Aldobrandini Hall
Restored by 19th-century architect Andrea Busiri Vici, this sprawling room towers with marble sarcophagi, magnificent sculptures such as a replica of the ancient Hellenic Centaur in Polychrome Marbles by Aristeas, and Mannerist paintings like Titian’s haunting Salomé with the Head of John the Baptist, 1515. Divine adoration from painters like Caravaggio is seen in Rest on the Flight into Egypt, 1597. Named for the Aldobrandini family, which produced Pope Clement VIII, Aldobrandini Hall flaunts the High Renaissance’s peak glory. Guercino’s Sleeping Endymion harkens back to the Renaissance’s love of Greek mythology. The two mystery men in Raphael’s Double Portrait, 1515, keep watch over the hall’s marble structures, representing Renaissance Italians’ careful scrutiny of government rule over the people and vice versa. These works of art represent the Renaissance’s blending of secular and religious values and how power behind both of these societal sects was indulged within the palazzo’s very walls. Overall, the Aldobrandini Hall symbolizes the various periods of art history that the Palazzo’s residents saw throughout the centuries.
3. Hall of Mirrors
Palazzo Doria’s sprawling hallway of gold-framed Venetian mirrors is perhaps the gallery’s greatest symbol of the Pamphilj family’s splendor. The reflective hallway leads to the Velázquez Cabinet, where Pope Innocent X’s likeness is captured. Accenting this glittering hallway is an intricate frescoed ceiling. Painted by Aureliano Milani in 1731, the fresco was finished in 1734 and depicts the Labors of Hercules. With this Greek-themed ceiling and its proximity to Pope Innocent, Rome’s ever-present appreciation of both Hellenistic antiquities and the Catholic Church is symbolized.
4. The Velázquez Cabinet
At the end of the Versailles-like Hall of Mirrors, the Velázquez Cabinet is notable for its papal ties. In this tiny corner room, only two works of art stand. Velázquez’s painted Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1650, swallows the left wall. Born Giovanni Battista Pamphilj, it was this very pope who called the palazzo home. In this small room, art enthusiasts are offered a rare glimpse of this Pamphilj pope enjoying the comfort of his own home, a flex that few of his contemporaries could claim. Visitors can also get up close and personal with Innocent X as they gaze into the eyes of his marble bust. Sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the Pontiff’s likeness reflects Rome’s rise to its former glory following its Early Renaissance decline in the shadow of greater city-states like Florence.
5. The Velvet Room
Another monument to Italy’s Renaissance legacy is the Velvet Room. Named for the crimson-red damask fabric plastered on the walls, the room elevates this art period’s love of antiquity with Giuliano Bugiardini’s Apollo and the Muses, 1619. This trio of canvases was later accented in 1713 by Marco Benefial’s The Arts. Additionally, Alessandro Algardi’s portrait busts flank Bugiardini’s Apollo and the Muses with stoic marble faces. Antiquity also breathes in the room with furniture topped by black-and-white Aquitaine marble, fragments of which were taken by ancient archaeological findings and re-purposes during the Baroque era.
6. The Rooms on the Corso
While the palazzo honors Italian art history, it does not overlook contributions to Renaissance paintings from other European artists. In one of these two rooms, located at the end of the Hall of Mirrors and overlooking Via del Corso below, are various oil-on-copper still-lifes by Flemish painter Jan van Kessel the Elder. Caravaggio’s best chiaroscuro techniques adorn the second room with works of art such as Penitent Magdalene, 1594-95, and St. John the Baptist, 1602.
Known for the provocative nature of his controversial works (such as Judith Beheading Holofernes, 1599), Caravaggio made important contributions to the Pamphilj art collection. Intense emotion is synonymous with Caravaggio scenes like Penitent Magdalene and St. John the Baptist; that the Pamphilj flaunted these works in their gallery reflects the true turning point that Renaissance humanism marked both in society and the Catholic Church itself.
7. The Tenerani Cabinet
Perhaps less important to the Galleria’s showcase of art history and more important to the legacy of the building itself is the Tenerani Cabinet. This room allows visitors to become acquainted with the real faces of those who lived here. This includes three busts by Pietro Tenerani, which were commissioned by Prince Filippo Andrea V Doria Pamphilj in 1850. The busts depict Prince Filippo Andrea V himself, his wife Mary Alethea Beatrix Talbot, and Filippo Andrea’s sister-in-law, Catherine Gwendoline Talbot Borghese.
8. The Pussino Room
Covered almost floor-to-ceiling in paintings by Rome-born Gaspard Dughet (aka Gaspard Poussin), the Pussino Room features the best in landscapes, particularly the Roman countryside. What separates these paintings from the rest of the gallery is its lack of human figures. Furthermore, Pamphilj’s pride in its Roman heritage is demonstrated through these paintings of Rome’s natural beauty, created by a Roman native. Near the ceiling above these landscapes are sprawling canvases by Guillaume Courtois, which Prince Camillo likely commissioned for his homes in Nettuno and Valmontone before being delivered to Rome to decorate the palazzo.
9. The Ballroom
Formerly the Music Room, the orchestra area displays a bird cage from 1767, an 18th-century harp, and two ancient liveries. An open-layout connecting room features several portraits depicting various figures, all below a ceiling painted by Antonio Nessi in 1768.
10. The Private Apartments
Camillo Pamphilj took possession of the ancient palazzo in the 17th century when it was known as the Palazzo Aldobrandini. Located on what was at the time the first floor, the apartments were the private living chambers of the Pamphilj family, each with their own unique interior design. The drawing rooms lead to the vast Gallery of artistic works that today’s visitors recognize. The apartments include the Blue Room, the Red Room, the Yellow Room, the Green Room, the Throne Room, and Venus’ Drawing Room.
11. The Chapel’s Catholic Works of Art
The most storied room in Palazzo Doria is the chapel. The room itself is a product of both art history and Catholic values. Prince Filippo Andrea V’s art advisor, Tommaso Minardi, painted the Coronation of the Virgin on the Eucharist vault. This elevated altar is gated off to visitors, who can view the work of art from afar. The Pamphilj family’s love of art and Catholicism is present in the works throughout the building, but in the Chapel, honoring their faith is most transparent through the room’s bold Catholic imagery.
Both the Chapel and the Antechapel feature Catholic relics. Saint Theodora’s remains are perfectly preserved here alongside that of Saint Centurian, one of the nameless Roman soldiers present at Christ’s crucifixion. Ceramic Stations of the Cross scenes are also displayed, another glorification of the palazzo’s Catholic heritage.