Tuesday, September 24, 2013

An Englishman in Rome: Doria Pamphilj

No, not this guy...his descendant.
When I decided to tour the remarkable private art collection in Rome’s Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, I thought the audio guide might be a good idea. The place was reputed to be covered floor to ceiling in art works. Indeed it is, and I was glad of the guide, which is full of excellent information about the public rooms of the palazzo and the art with which it is stuffed.

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.
The audio guide was a bit of surprise, though, since the friendly and refined narrator, who introduced himself as Jonathan Doria Pamphilj, co-owner and occupant of the palazzo, had a British accent. A public school, but not too plummy, accent; well-spoken and friendly. It was a delight to tour his home and his family’s collection with Signor Doria Pamphilj. It turns out that back in the nineteenth century, an Italian Doria Pamphilj met and married an Englishwoman, and marrying into England has become a bit of a habit.

Velasquez: Pope Innocent X

A highlight of the family story is that a Doria Pamphilj became pope, Innocent X. He was painted by Velasquez in a stunning and famous portrait (in 1650), which is on view in the Palazzo, alongside an equally stunning marble bust of Innocent X by the master sculptor Bellini. The Velasquez portrait is wonderfully lifelike; in fact, legend has it that when he first saw the portrait Innocent X exclaimed ‘troppo vero!’ (‘it’s too true!) This is the portrait that inspired the "Screaming Pope" paintings by 20th century British painter Francis Bacon.

Sala dei Velluti
Raffaello Sanzio - Doppio Ritratto
Jan Brueghel il Vecchio - Paradiso Terrestre con il Peccato Originale
Strolling through room after room of the huge palazzo with my audio-guide Jonathan was a pleasure - the ballroom was a particular thrill. The painting galleries were, as expected, stuffed - one is a mini-Versailles ‘Hall of Mirrors’ - but it became a sport to pick out the best masterpieces: Bruegels (senior and junior), several Caravaggios, some lovely Lippis (remember Lippi?), and a huge Vasari under restoration (you can watch the restorers at work, from afar).

Naturally I looked up this Englishman in Rome - and found a modern family tree that is even more convoluted than that of medieval popes and princes: you can read the story here.

Jonathan Doria Pamphilj
The secluded courtyard of the Palazzo
- just off noisy Via del Corso.

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