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  • Writer's pictureAman Mehta

A Brief History of Galleria Spada in the Palazzo Spada in Rome

What is the Galleria Spada?

The Galleria Spada is an art gallery in Rome featuring the personal collection of the Spada family, which includes some of the finest works of the Baroque period.

Palazzo Spada sky from courtyard

The Galleria Spada showcases the vast personal art collection of the Spada family assembled over successive generations. It houses an exquisite series of paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries collected by Cardinal Bernardino Spada, along with his brother Virgilio, and further expanded by his great-nephew Cardinal Fabrizio. Spread across four rooms, the gallery showcases paintings and sculpture by some of the finest artists of the Baroque period, including masters like Domenichino, Bernini, and Dürer.

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Galleria Spada History

The palazzo itself was completed in 1540 for Cardinal Girolamo Capodiferro by Bartolomeo Baronino, the same architect who had worked on the magnificent Palazzo Farnese nearby. Giulio Mazzoni is credited with the lavish stucco decoration on the palace’s façade, whose niches hold statues of Roman heroes and emperors. In 1632, Cardinal Bernardino Spada acquired the palace and then hired one of the leading Baroque architects of his day, Francesco Borromini, to modify the architecture as per Cardinal Spada’s specifications. In the small garden filled with orange trees, you can see Borromini’s ingenious and striking architectural optical illusion. Through a clever use of forced perspective, the architect made an eight-metre long colonnade appear nearly 40 metres long, and a small sculpture at the end look life-sized. The shrinking columns and raised floor lend themselves to this fantastic illusion. The colonnade was built to mathematical precision, and such an architectural trick is a marvel considering its period of construction.

Across the gallery’s four rooms, you’ll find: a number of portraits of the Spada family, including one magnificent full-length painting of Cardinal Bernardino by Guido Reni; fragments of a large frieze that was painted for a tapestry that was intended to be located on the wall under Michelangelo’s Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel; and a room filled with important works by the followers of Baroque painter Caravaggio.

The Galleria Spada is one of the lesser-known tourist attractions in Rome, even though it is housed inside the Palazzo Spada, one of the most prominent Renaissance palazzos in the city. In 1926, the Italian state bought the building, and although the Second World War left it in a state of disrepair, the site was carefully restored and eventually reopened.

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