Close to the eternal Renaissance cosmos of Via Giulia, the 16th century Palazzo Spada invites you to amaze your gaze through the illusionistic perspectival masterpiece designed by the gifted Baroque architect Francesco Borromini and one of the rarest set-up of a precious collection of artworks featuring Artemisia Gentileschi’s celebrated paintings.
You find it here
Opening time: from Monday to Sunday 8.30 am - 7.30 pm (last ticket at 7.00 pm). Closed on Tuesday, May 1, December 25 and January 1.
Tickets: ordinary tickets at 5.00 €, reduced for young people up to 25 years old at 2.00 €. Mandatory booking for groups larger than 10 people.
Organization: Polo Museale del Lazio.
Director: Adriana Capriotti.
The palace belonged to the cardinal Girolamo Capodiferro, who patronized its building to the architect Bartolomeo Baronino from Casale Monferrato, starting from the end of 1548. Palazzo Capodiferro was almost completed around the Jubilee 1550 and decorated between 1556 and 1560 with stuccos by Giulio Mazzoni on its façade and courtyard walls, and painting cycles adorning its interiors.
The cardinal Bernardino Spada acquired the palace in July 1632, hence the name “Palazzo Spada”, and promoted a long series of building works to improve its aspect and spaces.
Borromini’s perspectival gallery
In only one year between 1652 and 1653, on the occasion of a massive working phase at the palace, Francesco Borromini, who already designed part of the revolutionary architecture at San Carlino on the Quirinal Hill (ca. 1635 -1636), created the astonishing perspectival masterpiece of Palazzo Spada.
With the collaboration of the Augustinian priest Giovanni Maria da Bitonto, Borromini built a perspectival gallery on the wall of the little oranges garden, that has been deemed as one of the most ingenious artificialities of Baroque art. The effect of awe is produced by the illusory depth of 35 meters evoked, while the real one is just of 8,82 meters. The misleading effect is produced by the convergence of the perspective planes towards one vanishing point, emphasized by the Tuscan colonnade lines and the architectural space getting smaller together with the rise of the mosaic ground floor.
This architecture was commissioned by the cardinal Bernardino Spada, who was particularly interested in the perspectival tricks which evoked unlimited yet unreal spaces, probably representing for him the moral symbol of the deception caused by the sense and the illusory nature of the earthly passions, only apparently grater than in reality.
The perspectival trick was originally enhanced also by the gallery backdrop, fresco painted with faux greenery by Giovanni Battista Magni before the prince Clemente Spada placed the little Ancient Roman statue of a warrior on the backwall in 1861, which is now substituted by a cast.
Galleria Spada collection
An incredible selection of paintings is displayed in the gallery on the noble floor of the palace, representing very well the spirit and tastes of the 17th and 18th century collecting. The gathering is composed of a wide variety of painting schools and iconographic subjects, such as religious and mythological episodes, portraits, landscapes, still life and genres scenes, and includes works by Andrea del Sarto, Tintoretto, Reni, Guercino, Carracci, Domenichino, Solimena, Preti, Baciccia, Bamboccio, Valentin and Tiziano.
Most of the artworks comes from the artistic collection instituted by the cardinal Bernardino Spada. His marvelous private gallery of paintings included caravagesque, Emilian and Neapolitan masterpieces. Further acquisitions by other Spada family members and following descendants increased the collection, which is displayed in four rooms of the palace, characterized by decorated ceilings, beautifully conserved terracotta floorings and coeval sumptuous furniture.
The painting gallery opened to the public for the first time as a museum in 1927, whereas the rest of the palace became seat of the Consiglio di Stato (Italian State Council).
After the closing and dispersion of the artworks during the years of the Second World War, the Galleria Spada was mostly recovered and re-opened in 1951, with the original aspect of an ancient “quadreria”, a small private gathering of paintings hanging in multiple levels on the walls and harmonizing with the opulent furnishings and sculptures, still in their original location, as the other two rare examples of this kind in Rome: the Galleria Doria Pamphilj and the Galleria Colonna.
Artemisia Gentileschi’s paintings
In the fourth room of Galleria Spada, two relevant paintings presently on display were created by Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the most renowned and accomplished female painters of Caravaggio’s following generation in the Seventeenth century.
Both coming from the Collezione Biffi, the “Madonna and Child” and “Saint Cecilia” belong to Artemisia’s youthful artistic period and are characterized by the delicate and refined coats of colors, together with the expressive intensity of the subjects.
An invaluable experience at Palazzo Spada thus gratifies our gaze, where 17th century Rome opulence, magnitude and emotion are thrice present: as architecture inspiring wonder, as aesthetic feelings condensed in the paintings and as a museum space shielding the essence of an ancient “quadreria”.