Baroque virtuosities in Rome's Spada Gallery
For those visitors who, by choice or by chance, stray from Rome's classic tourist itineraries, the Italian capital reserves any number of surprises, like the one which lies in wait just behind the bustling Campo dei Fiori.
From the Campo, a narrow street leads to Piazza Capodiferro, and the elegant Renaissance facade of Palazzo Spada. Constructed in the 16th century for the Cardinal Girolamo Capodiferro, the edifice was purchased a century later by the Cardinal Bernardino Spada, a cultured and eccentric ecclesiastic with a passion for Baroque art.
Although the palazzo is now the headquarters of the State Council, four of its halls are open to the general public and it is here, in the Spada Gallery, that the Cardinal's collection of works by as many as 140 painters, sculptors, architects and master watchmakers, is displayed.
Getting in it in perspective
One of the museum's most interesting features is the Perspective Gallery, designed by Francesco Borromini.
Borromini's gallery is a masterpiece of false perspective in which diminishing rows of columns and a rising floor create the optical illusion of a gallery some 29 meters longer than the actual 8.
The museum contains masterpieces by Guido Reni, Guercino, Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi, and Andrea del Sarto'.
It was Federico Zeri, director of the museum in the 1950's, who decided to hang religious, mythical, and landscape paintings frame-to-frame in typical 17th century style, in the same rooms as clocks, busts, and maps, thus creating a fabulous mixture which best represents the Cardinal's passion for collecting.
Just an illusion?
Tickets include the visit to the picture gallery and the Borromini's perspective.
To see more of the masterpieces conserved within the walls of the palazzo, you'll need to book a place on the guided tour organized every first Sunday of the month and which includes entrance to a number of rooms normally closed to the general public
Rooms which can be seen by reservation only include the Sala dei Mappamondi and the Corridoio delle Meridiana, where the hours are marked by the sunrays reflected in a mirror.
Spada's love of trompe l'oeil and optical illusions emerges further in the Salone di Pompei, which is embellished with frescoes with balconies over which noblemen really do seem to lean and loggias which appear to open out on to real, and not imaginary landscapes.
The Galleria degli Stucchi, which is decorated with allegorical statues and oil paintings, is no less spectacular.
Piazza Capodiferro 13, Rome
Tel. +39 06 6832409
Galleria Spada: from Tuesday to Sunday 08.30 - 19.30
State Council rooms: first Sunday of the month from 10.30 -11.30 - 12.30