In Rome, there is a small bunch of precious galleries which still show the original set-up of a “quadreria”, characterized by the rich throng of paintings hung up on the walls. In a defiladed location from the historic center, however, the distinguished Galleria Corsini stands out from all of them for its peculiar history, linked to the Italian museography and the landmark foundation of Art History discipline, which make it rise as model par excellence of the national Pinacoteca.
Opening time: From Thursday to Sunday 10.00 am - 6.00 pm (last ticket at 5.30 pm). Closed on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, December 25 and January 1.
Tickets: ordinary tickets at 12.00 € and include entrance to Palazzo Barberini, reduced ticket at 2.00 €.
Organization: Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism.
Director: Flaminia Gennari Santori.
History of the Corsini collection
At Galleria Corsini, the paintings keep the original location within the palace in via della Lungara in Trastevere, facing Villa Farnesina. The palace was formerly called Palazzo Riario (between 1511-1518) and then became the Reggia of Christina of Sweden (between 1659 and 1689), who left her opulent trace by choosing the ornated Renaissance chamber now named “Camera dell’alcova” as her private room.
In 1736, it was acquired upon the arrival of the Florentine Corsini family in Rome, following the election of pope Clemente XII Corsini (1730-1740). The Renaissance palace was transformed according to a project the architect Ferdinando Fuga designed for the cardinal Neri Corsini junior and his brother Bartolomeo Corsini, inspired to the French example of the Palace of Versailles with its luxuriant gardens. The gardens, originally including labyrinths, fountains and antique sculptures, have now become the Orto Botanico, the botanical garden belonging to the University of Rome La Sapienza, while the palace now also houses the library and the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei.
The original collection nucleus reflects a rare example of the collecting activity in the 17th and 18th centuries and it is mainly composed of works bought by the cardinal Neri Corsini senior in the 17th century, together with the major property of cardinal Lorenzo (later elected as pope Clemente XII) and that ones of his grandchildren Bartolomeo and Neri Corsini junior.
The collection particularly reflects the cultural taste of Neri Corsini junior, who cultivated in Rome close relationships with art critic Giovanni Gaetano Bottari and art merchants and artists like Paolo Anesi, Agostino Masucci, Giovanni Paolo Pannini and Gaspar van Wittel, whose traces endured through the presence of their artworks in the gallery.
The painting collection remained nearly unchanged until the 18th century thanks to the Fideicommissum institution, which forbade heirs to alienate artworks belonging to the family.
In 1883, prince Tommaso Corsini granted to the Italian State the palace, its gardens and the Corsini collection, which constituted the first nucleus of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, founded on this occasion. Composed of over 300 paintings, several sculptures and magnificent furniture and decorations, such as walls lining and doors.
Origins of the modern Italian museography
The Corsini painting gallery is linked to the illustrious figure of art historian Adolfo Venturi from Modena, considered as the founder of the Art History as independent discipline in Italian academia, being the first to teach History of Medieval and Modern Art at the University of Rome La Sapienza chair held between 1901 and 1930. Venturi was also one of the prominent scholars who developed new museology methodologies between the 19th and 20th centuries and promoted a series of editorial and scientific initiatives, such as the rearrangement of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica in Palazzo Corsini.
Since the end of the 19th century, Venturi strove for improving the museum set-ups, re-founded and re-ordered scientifically on the base of an integration of the visual education with the essential historical knowledge, also curated with a new attention to the preservation of the cultural heritage. For this reason, Venturi appointed his pupil Federico Hermanin at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica in Rome as his successor to the direction of the important institution.
As explained by Perla Innocenti in her 2001 article section (La Pinacoteca d’arte antica in Italia tra la fine dell’Ottocento e il Fascismo, in “Accademia Clementina. Atti e Memorie”, 40, pp. 110-118), the high number of paintings gathered at the Galleria Corsini to represent a national gallery and its small display space compelled Venturi and Hermanin to make a meaningful selection of the artworks of greater value, to be set-up at the first floor of Palazzo Corsini, in 13 rooms which were also inadequately illuminated. Due to the lack of space, it wasn’t possible to sort the paintings according to chronological and regional criterions, and notwithstanding the presence of special diaphragms located obliquely to the windows axis in order to shield the light, many paintings were hung up obliquely likewise to avoid the grazing light.
When Hercules and Lychas by Canova was on view at the gallery
The most insightful museographic intervention happened under Hermanin’s direction, with the set-up of the imposing sculptural group by Antonio Canova, representing Hercules and Lychas, designed by one of Venturi’s university pupil, the engineer Gustavo Giovannoni.
Giovannoni draw his inspiration from the original hall of the vanished Palazzo Torlonia in Palazzo Venezia (where the sculpture came from) and from the period rooms, popular in that time, and conceived an apse preceded by a majestic arch supported by two columns of brecciated marble and covered by a red drape, to house Canova’s sculpture.
Hercules and Lychas artwork was transported in 1901 to the Galleria Corsini and stayed on view there until 1917, when it was moved to the new Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, still its present location.
The Galleria Corsini nowadays
Starting firstly on Hermanin's initiative and later with the opening of the second seat of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica at Palazzo Barberini, purchased in 1949 by the Italian State, and the connected repositioning and set-ups of artworks in larger available spaces, the Galleria Corsini could increasingly aim at characterizing itself as a complete collection of paintings specifically representative of the 17th and 18th centuries.
Therefore, the present display intends to show the aspect of the historical Corsini painting gallery in the most distinctive centuries of its existence, also thanks to the documentation, since the inventory of 1771 offers a thorough description of the artworks in five rooms (Antechamber, First Gallery, Cardinal Gallery, Fireplace Chamber and Alcova Room), while the inventory of 1784 describes the rooms of the apartment at the time of cardinal Andrea Corsini.
The main collection is still on view on the noble floor of Palazzo Corsini, in the southern wing of the first floor, coinciding with the original set-up. Differently from the Galleria Spada, the Galleria Doria Pamphilj and the Galleria Colonna, the characteristic set-up of Galleria Corsini as a “quadreria” reveals through the close glare of the painting frames and the refinement of doors and old mural decorations a significant fragment of the illustrious history of distinctive Italian museums, risen from noble residences and ripened into valuable pinacoteche.