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Galleria Corsini, Caravaggio in Rome 6

After leaving the Vatican Museums, we head south and, following the Tiber River, we will reach the Corsini Palace. The palace houses half of the National Galleries of Ancient Art (we will visit the second half, the Palazzo Barberini, later in our itinerary). Just like in the Vatican Pinacoteca, there is only one masterpiece by Caravaggio on display in the Corsini museum, but it is worth a visit nonetheless. Also located in the park of the Villa Corsini, we can find the Botanical Garden of Rome, a perfect place to rest after the busy morning spent in the Vatican! The garden contains more than 3000 species of plants, and it is a magical place to get lost in and forget about the chaos of the city. A baroque icon,

After leaving the Vatican Museums, we head south and, following the Tiber River, we will reach the Corsini Palace. The palace houses half of the National Galleries of Ancient Art (we will visit the second half, the Palazzo Barberini, later in our itinerary). Just like in the Vatican Pinacoteca, there is only one masterpiece by Caravaggio on display in the Corsini museum, but it is worth a visit nonetheless. Also located in the park of the Villa Corsini, we can find the Botanical Garden of Rome, a perfect place to rest after the busy morning spent in the Vatican! The garden contains more than 3000 species of plants, and it is a magical place to get lost in and forget about the chaos of the city.

A baroque icon, the Corsini palace has a fascinating history. It was a 15th-century villa built by the Riario noble family. In 1736, the palace passed to the Corsini, a wealthy family from Florence, and they supervised a restoration and enlargement of the villa under the architect Ferdinando Fuga. Fuga’s work still stands today, and we can see it in the majestic façade with a triple-arched portal, under a three-window balcony decorated with the Corsini’s coat of arms.

Over the centuries, the villa has hosted many historical figures: Cardinal Raffaele Riario, brother of Pope Sixtus IV and father of Pope Julius II, supervised the palace’s construction. Queen Christina of Sweden, a woman of great culture who created the Pontifical Academy of Arcadia intellectual circle, lived in the villa after abdicating her throne and leaving Sweden. The architect Donato Bramante, the sculptor and painter Michelangelo and the Dutch theologian Erasmus of Rotterdam all stayed at the Corsini Palace. Finally, during the Napoleonic wars, the palace hosted Joseph Bonaparte, the older brother of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Title: Ascension, Last Judgment, Pentecost.
Artist: Beato Angelico.
Date: 1447-1448.
Medium: Tempera on wood.
Location: Galleria Corsini, Rome, Italy.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In 1883, Prince Tommaso Corsini sold the palace and its art collection to the Kingdom of Italy, contributing to the creation of the first Italian National Gallery. To this day, the Galleria Corsini exhibits the original 1883 collection of artworks. The museum displays timeless masterpieces such as  Ascension, Last Judgment, Pentecost (1450-1455) by Beato Angelico (1395-1455), a set of three panels painted with tempera revealing the brilliance of its artist with its brilliant colors and rich details. Walking room after room, we can discover many artworks from different periods. Renaissance art is represented by Jacopo Bassano (1510c.-1592) with its oil on canvas Adoration of the Shepherds (1562), a stunning piece of art that represents this traditional scene while adding innovative elements for the time, such as Roman ruins symbolizing the end of paganism. Under 17th century art, we can observe the bloody Torture of Prometheus (1646-1648) by Salvator Rosa (1615-1673), the tragic Venus and Adonis (1637) by Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652), the complex The Triumph of Ovid (1624-1625) by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) and the masterful Flight to Egypt (c.1650-1699) by Carlo Maratta (1625-1713).

Title: Venus and Adonis
Artist: Jusepe de Ribera
Date: c. 1637
Medium: Oil on canvas. Location: Galleria Corsini, Rome, Italy. (Photo: artsdot.com)

The gallery also hosts an exceptional collection of Baroque artworks. Saint Sebastian Healed by Angels (1601-1602)

Title: Saint Sebastian Healed by Angels
Artist: Pieter Paul Rubens
Date: c. 1601-1602
Medium: Oil on panel
Location: Galleria Corsini, Rome, Italy
(Photo: www.barrons.com)

is a masterful example of Pieter Paul Ruben’s (1577-1640) skills. The canvas is carefully balanced in its composition and warm tones, which perfectly evocate the world of ancient Rome, the military career of Saint Sebastian, and the miraculous nature of the angels’ intervention. Antoon Van Dyck (1599-1641) painted between 1625 and 1627 the Madonna of the Straw. In this canvas showing the Virgin Mary, Jesus and the donkey, Van Dyck goes beyond a simple nativity scene. The artist captures the Virgin Mary’s sorrowful and worried expression of Jesus’ sealed fate to sacrifice himself for humanity. This painting uniquely intertwines iconographic elements from the Passion of the Christ and the Pietà. Two more paintings of the Virgin Mary with the Child are displayed in the Baroque section: the c.1675 The Nursing Madonna by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682) and the 1605-1610 Madonna and Child by Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639). Both depictions are beautifully realistic, but what connects them is their contrasting gazes. Murillo’s painting is captivating, as both Mary and the Child stare at the public with lively and intense expressions. Gentileschi’s pair instead pays no attention to the public as Mary and the Child look at each other with loving affection, giving the painting an intimate and touching feel. Another stunning yet macabre example of baroque art is also found in the canvas Salome Holding the Head of John the Baptist (c.1638-1639) by Guido Reni (1575-1642). The painting depicts the tragic biblical scene, with Salome standing against a foggy gray background, holding Saint John’s head on a golden plate. The young girl stares directly at the viewers. Her expression and gaze are cold and detached, creating an emotional distance from whoever looks into her eyes.

Salome holding the head of John the Baptist. Artist: Guido Reni
Date: c. 1638-1639
Medium: Oil on canvas
Location: Galleria Corsini, Rome, Italy
(Photo: www.nicholashall.art)


Among this vast collection of Baroque masterpieces, we find Caravaggio’s Saint John the Baptist, painted between 1604 and 1606. We know little of this artwork’s story, and its authorship has been debated for a long time. Nonetheless, the painting is still attributed to Caravaggio, as it shows the typical traits of the master of Chiaroscuro. We already saw a depiction of Sant John by Caravaggio in the Galleria Borghese, and, without a doubt, the two depict the same subject. The young Saint is once again depicted almost naked, covered by a white tunic, and resting on a red cloak. In his right hand, John holds a cross-shaped shepherd’s crook. The boy’s smooth skin is pale, and his thick hairs shadow his eyes, making it difficult to read his emotions. In typical Caravaggio style, the nude subject is depicted with a muscular and idyllic body, contrasted by a position that conveys a deep sense of fragility. Saint John is shown in a moment of rest during his time in the desert, and, like his other depictions of the Saint, Caravaggio removes the traditional iconographies associated with the Baptist. Gone is the camel skin as coat, the cross is barely visible on the crook, and the baptism bowl (painted as a wooden bowl on the left side of the canvas) is stripped of its sacral role. In this painting, Caravaggio gave Saint John a new nature separated from his traditional iconography. There is a sense of urgency and anxiety in the Saint’s pose and uncertainty in the boy’s hidden look. The masterful use of shadows further enhanced these conflicting and suggestive emotions, with the black background contrasting the young Saint’s pale body.

Title: Saint John the Baptist
Artist: Caravaggio
Date: 1604-1606
Medium: Oil on canvas. Location: Galleria Corsini, Rome, Italy. (Photo: finestresullarte.info)

A visit to the Galleria Corsini is a fascinating experience, as since the 1980s the collection is the same as the one gifted to the state by Tommaso Corsini. In fact, the Galleria Corsini is the only gallery in Rome that maintains an exact exposition from the 1700s, currently reflecting the 1771 inventory by Neri Corsini. By walking the halls of this stunning villa, we will be able to look at the same artworks the Corsini family carefully collected over the centuries. The museum has a vast collection of the masters of the 17th Century and many works of art by Italian artists from previous and more modern Italian artists. To fully enjoy this visit, a stay of two or three hours is recommended. Of course, we can’t forget Caravaggio’s presence in the exhibition: a small presence in this gallery that brings us, the viewers, closer to one of Caravaggio’s favorite subjects to paint.

The Galleria Corsini is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10.00 to 19.00. Admission to the Galleria Corsini and the Palazzo Barberini costs 13 Euro. For discounts, free admissions and booking, check the museum’s website: https://www.barberinicorsini.org/visita/info-pratiche/. Phone number: +39 06 68802323. Email: gan-aar@cultura.gov.it.


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