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  • Writer's pictureAman Mehta

A Brief History of Galleria Doria Pamphilj in Rome

What is the Galleria Doria Pamphilj?

The Galleria Doria Pamphilj is an extensive collection of celebrated paintings and sculpture housed in a sumptuous aristocratic palace in Rome that dates back to the mid-15th century.

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj Courtyard

History of Palazzo Doria Pamphilj and Galleria Doria Pamphilj

Galleria Doria Pamphilj is housed in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, an enormous block-long palace dating back to the mid-15th century, which was built by Cardinal Niccolo Acciapacci, Archbishop of Capua. Passing through various hands, it was eventually acquired by Cardinal Fazio Santoro in the early 16th century. Santoro was an obedient bishop who allowed himself to be ‘convinced’ by Pope Julius ll to cede the palazzo to the Duke of Urbino, who just happened to be the pontiff’s nephew. In 1647, ownership changed by means of a marriage into the Umbrian Pamphilj family and again in 1760, when the male Pamphilj line died out and the family’s possessions passed to Prince Giovanni Andrea Doria, who was descended from a daughter of Camillo (the first Pamphilj to live here). Thus, the palace got the name by which it’s known today.

The building’s 18th-century Rococo façade on via del Corso, constructed at a time when Roman architecture tended towards neo-Classicism, demonstrates the influence of French art (the style originated in Paris only a decade earlier). It’s widely considered as one of the finest Rococo works in Rome.

The beginnings of the collection go back to the mid-17th century, to the time of the pontificate of Innocent X, a descendant of the Pamphilj clan. Donna Olimpia Maidalchini, the Pope’s sister-in-law, started bringing furnishings and paintings here when the family still lived at their palazzo in Piazza Navona. It is the largest and most important patrician collection still in private Roman hands.

The collection is spread through the first floor, the so-called piano nobile (or noble floor) where the family lived, part of which surrounds an elegant courtyard. With its large windows the Galleria degli Specchi (or Gallery of Mirrors) is a triumph of gold, crystal, and infinite reflections. The corridor houses antique sculptures and is decorated with mythological ceiling frescoes by Bolognese painter Aureliano Milani, one of the most perfect examples of Baroque splendour. Here you’ll also find the star attraction of the collection, in the Cabinet between the first two galleries, where Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X is displayed next to Bernini's bust of the same pontiff.

In the Sala Aldobrandini are the most celebrated paintings in the collection: Titian’s Salome with the Head of St John the Baptist and two of Caravaggio’s early masterpieces – The Penitent Magdalene, depicting the forsaken saint, and The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, a charming work dominated by the graceful figure of a young angel playing a soothing song on the viol.

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