Palazzo Barberini in Rome: what to see (with photos)

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Why visit Palazzo Barberini (Barberini Palace) in Rome? Here’s a few reasons:

  • The facade of this palace was made with the marble taken from the Colosseum
  • The most famous Raphael and Caravaggio paintings are here
  • This is where the legendary rivalry between Borromini and Bernini started

Isn’t this already enough to visit?

What is Palazzo Barberini?

It was the Palace that Maffeo Barberini built after he became Pope in 1623 with the name of Urban VIII.  This was something like a royal palace for him and his family.

When you visit this palace you don’t know if the real attraction here is its breathtaking art collection or the palace itself.

This is because many incredible architects and artists worked in the construction of this palace. To mention a couple of them Carlo Maderno and the legendary rivals Bernini and Borromini.

Today this palace is property of the State and it houses the collection of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica.

Let’s start exploring!

First fact you should know before we enter: the facade of this building was made with the marble of the Colosseum! Yes, the marble that once was part of the Colosseum building was reused in the making of this building. And this is not even the only occasion where the ancient ruins were reutilized to build new things.

Also read>> Why is the Colosseum “broken”?

But now that we’re in, let’s go straight to some of the highlights you should not miss when in Palazzo Barberini.

Highlights of the Museum of Palazzo Barberini

Annunciazione of Filippo Lippi

palazzo barberini rome annunciazione filippo lippi

When you see this painting, your eyes are just stuck to it.

Filippo Lippi lived in the 1400s and he painted the Virgin Mary the moment she learned of her pregnancy from the angel.

On the right you can see two maids who seem like they were walking in the room and stopped with surprise at the sight of the angel.

What we love about this painting is the colors and the details. Look at the angel’s hair for example, aren’t they beautiful?

Staircase of Bernini (and the legendary rivalry between Bernini and Borromini)

palazzo barberini rome scalone bernini

Next we move upstairs, and we do that thanks to the grand staircase designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who was also the chief architect for the construction of this whole palace.

There’s two famous staircases in Palazzo Barberini, this is one, while the other (which we’ll see at the end) was made by Bernini’s rival: Francesco Borromini.

And here comes one huge fact that is related to this building. Have you ever heard of the legendary rivalry between Bernini and Borromini?

It seems like it all started right here.

Bernini was appointed chief architect of Palazzo Barberini (even though he was a sculptor). So he thought of hiring for the works a really great architect: Borromini.

Borromini worked on the palace, but apparently he was not given credit nor an appropriate payment for his works. 

Apparently Bernini promised a lot, but actually gave very little. Borromini was so disappointed, he worked so hard but was not given any credit for it.

This is where the relationship between the two deteriorated, and we remember still today as a legendary rivalry.

The Fornarina of Raphael

palazzo barberini rome fornarina raffaello

We are now upstairs and this is where another absolute masterpieces of Palazzo Barberini is. The Fornarina (the Baker’s daughter) of Raphael.

This girl is believed to have been the greatest love of Raphael’s life.

Apparently he kept this painting in his house until his death.

There is still a mistery around the identity of this girl, but it seems like her name was Margherita Luti, she lived in Trastevere and she was the daughter of a baker.

Raphael was so obsessed with her, that he even included a bracelet with his name on her arm, as if she was his possession. The bracelet says “RAPHAEL URBINAS” (Raphael from Urbino, the town he was from).

Do you think that is a signature? Or a way of declaring this girl was his? We don’t know the answer, so we can play with our imagination!

The Divine Wisdom ceiling by Andrea Sacchi

divine providence andrea sacchi palazzo barberini rome
Credits: barberinicorsini.org

Palazzo Barberini in Rome has really incredible ceilings.

Next we are in the room with this incredible ceiling painted by Andrea Sacchi.

The fresco celebrates Divine Wisdom, that pope Urban VIII wanted to attribute to himself.

The lady sitting on the throne in the center is a personification of wisdom. While the other ladies around are personifications of virtues such as eternity, divinity, nobility, justice, beauty and so on.

Each virtue corresponds to a constellation, recording the astral conjunction of the night between August 5 and 6, 1623, on the election of Pope Barberini.

The frescoed vault represented a protective talisman for the family’s destiny.

Portrait of Urban VIII by Bernini

portrait urban viii bernini palazzo barberini rome

In this same room we have the portrait of Urban VIII himself, made by none other than Bernini.

Every portrait by Bernini seems like it could start moving and talking anytime. Bernini turned marble and stone into living things.

Look at the realistic details: the beard on his cheeks is not properly shaved, his lips look like he is about to say something, the button partly unfastened. We really feel like the Pope is standing right in front of us, we feel his presence.

Judith beheading Holofernes by Caravaggio

Judith beaheads Holofernes Caravaggio Palazzo Barberini rome

And now the most dramatic masterpiece. Judith Beheading Holofernes painted by Caravaggio.

An episode from the Bible, where Judith wanted to save her people from the foreign besiege of Holoferne. She beheads him while he is asleep, while her maid is next to her, ready to receive his head in a sack.

Narcissus of Caravaggio

narcissus caravaggio palazzo barberini rome
Credits: barberinicorsini.org

This is not the only Caravaggio painting in Palazzo Barberini. In the next room we have the Narcissus of Caravaggio. Narcissus is a young hunter who fell in love with his own image mirrored in the water.

Meditation of Saint Francis by Caravaggio

Saint Francis Caravaggio Palazzo Barberini Rome
Credits: barberinicorsini.org

Next we have San Francesco painted by Caravaggio.

Here we have Saint Francis holding a skull. He is meditating on death. Death meant a way of redemption from earthly life.

Everything in this painting recalls humility: his ripped vest on his shoulder, the simple colors and the simple cross.

Saint Francis’ full meditation concentrates on the dialogue with God. He has a suffering and concentrated expression on his face.

You may have noticed Caravaggio’s paintings always have a very dark background with illuminated figures sticking out with light and colors. This unique style of Caravaggio gave inspiration to many other artists, the so-called “Caravaggisti”. And of them was a woman: Artemisia Gentileschi.

Self-portrait as an artist of Artemisia Gentileschi

artemisia gentileschi palazzo barberini rome
Credits: barberinicorsini.org

This is her self-portrait as an artist. She depicted herself as she really looked like, as an elegant woman, but also with great painting skills.

You can notice the background is as dark as Caravaggio’s.

Artemisia is one of the most famous female painters of the 1600s and the first woman to be admitted at the Florence Drawing Arts Academy.

Artemisia is also remembered for being raped by another painter and then having to accept to marry him, an event that influenced also her artistic production. But we’ll leave this horrible story for another time.

We’ve seen a lot of masterpieces today, but there’s a couple of them which make this palace a masterpiece itself.

The ceiling painted by Pietro da Cortona

pietro da cortona palazzo barberini rome

The name of this fresco is a bit long. It’s “The Triumph of Divine Providence under Pope Urban VIII”.

What’s this representing? First of all of course, the spiritual and political power of the Barberini family, the family of Pope Urban VIII.

In the very center we see that blonde lady, that is the Divine Providence, seated on her throne of clouds. Around her there are a myriad of characters representing the virtues and vices, good and evil, theology, religion and so on.

But most of all, you’ll see the bees. The bees were the symbol of the Barberini family, always present in their coat of arms. 

This ceiling is incredible, everything looks frenetic, you just don’t know where to look. It’s like a theater scene, a perfect example of Baroque painting.

Elliptical staircase of Francesco Borromini

borromini staircase palazzo barberini rome

And to finish, we’re going down this stunning elliptical staircase designed by none other than Borromini.

What is your favorite masterpiece of Palazzo Barberini? Let us know in the comments! Here we’ve shown you our favorites, but there’s so much more to see in this museum.

We hope you enjoyed this virtual tour inside Palazzo Barberini. Don’t forget to follow us and subscribe to our channel

Written by Federica

Creative director of Live Virtual Guide. Her favorite things are gelato, pizza and the hidden gems of Rome.


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