Sunday, March 1, 2015

Palazzo Spada

Today's photos:


1. The façade of Palazzo Spada.

2. The statue of Augustus and the corresponding inscription high above it.

3. The main entrance into the palazzo.

4. In the courtyard, looking back toward the entrance.

5. A portrait of Cardinal Spada in the Galleria.

6. The statue of Pompey.

7. The Borromini Perspective.

8. A guide stands next to the statue at the end of the Perspective.


Palazzo Spada was built in 1550 for Cardinal Girolamo Capodiferro whose heirs sold it to Cardinal Bernardino Spada in 1632, who then gave his name to the palazzo. Cardinal Spada hired various architects to carry out restorations to the building, the most famous of whom was Francesco Borromini (1599-1667).


The Spada family ceased to exist in 1902 at the death of Maria Spada, and the building came into the possession of the Italian State. Half of it is now open to the public as a museum, Galleria Spada. The other half, closed to the public, is home to the Consiglio di Stato, an organ of the Italian State which deals with judicial and administrative matters.


A curiosity


On Saturday, January 31 of this year Sergio Mattarella was elected President of Italy. He took the oath of office two days later on Monday, February 2. His first official visit as president was on Tuesday, February 3 . . . to Palazzo Spada for the inauguration of the judicial year at the Consiglio di Stato.


In an earlier post entitled "The Theater of Pompey", we spoke of the famous statue of the great general discovered in 1553 in the area of his theater. We mentioned that the statue was moved into Palazzo Spada where it remains today. Unfortunately it is located in the half of the building where the Consiglio di Stato is headquartered and this area is ordinarily closed to the public. Arrangements, however, can be made at Galleria Spada to take a guided tour of that area which includes the statue of Pompey. This tour is offered only on the second Sunday of the month and reservations must be made well in advance. They are very strict about not allowing photos in this half of the building. In addition to the guide, there are two attendants who accompany the group, one at the front and one at the back,  who watch you like hawks!


What we did not mention in that earlier post is the following bizarre story of how the statue of Pompey came to be in Palazzo Spada . . . in one piece!


A curiosity


The statue of Pompey was actually found beneath the dividing wall of two houses, the head beneath one house and the body beneath the other house. The owners of both houses laid claim to the statue and the matter was brought before a court of law. The judge, incredibly, decreed that the head be severed from the body and that both parts remain with the owner under whose house they were found. It was Cardinal Capodiferro who interceded with Pope Julius III (1550-1555), begging the pontiff to prohibit the mutilation of the statue. The Pope accomplished this by purchasing the statue, sending a large sum of money to the two proprietors. He then gave it to Cardinal Capodiferro who put it in his palazzo where it remains to this day.


The façade of Palazzo Spada is one of the most beautiful and interesting in Rome. Along the center, extending the entire width of the building are eight niches, each one containing the statue of a famous character from Roman history. Looking from our left to right we see: Trajan, Pompey the Great, Fabius Maximus, Romulus, Numa, Marcus Claudius Marcellus, Julius Caesar and Augustus. High above each statue is a short Latin inscription which refers to the statue below it. Just to give you a taste of these very concise inscriptions, here are the ones dedicated to Julius Caesar and Augustus.











Caesar the dictator filled the whole world with the blood of his enemies. In the end he bathed the senate with his own blood.











Augustus Caesar, having closed the doors of the temple of Janus, put an end to civil and foreign wars.


A curiosity


The doors of the temple of Janus in the Roman Forum remained open when Rome was at war and closed during time of peace. After Augustus put an end to the wars, and established what was called the Augustan Peace, he ordered that the doors of the temple be closed; it was only the third time the doors were closed in the history of Rome. Peace was a rare luxury for the Romans.


Above the huge entrance in the center of the façade is the coat of arms of the Spada family flanked by two female figures representing the Virtues. There is more than one version of this coat of arms, but most of them include either crossed swords or three swords side by side. The Italian word spada means "sword".


Having entered the building through this main door, you will find yourself in a large open courtyard which is beautifully decorated on all sides with statues of Roman gods and goddesses.


On your left is a large picture window through which you can see the amazing Borromini Perspective. It consists of two rows of columns opposite each other, creating a tunnel effect, at the end of which is a statue. There is a distinct and misleading impression of distance here, an amazing optical illusion. The tunnel appears to be four times longer than it actually is. It is really only 8 meters deep, but it gives the appearance of being 37 meters deep. So one would think that the statue at the end of the tunnel is 37 meters away and therefore life-size, but it is actually only 8 meters away. Far from being life-size, it is in reality only 60 centimeters high as can be clearly seen when a person stands next to it.


A curiosity


This amazing visual effect created by Borromini is obtained by the rising of the floor and the lowering of the ceiling while the columns are converging and diminishing in size.


Although you can admire the Perspective from the courtyard, it is worth the price of the ticket to enter the Galleria for a closer, unobstructed view of it. It is really the highlight of the Galleria.


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