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Palazzo Colonna. Eternal beauty

by Patrizia Piergiovanni

What makes walking through the sumptuous halls of a historic residence a unique and fascinating experience?
Why, among the many wonders offered by the Città Eterna, should you treat yourself to a visit to a house-museum?

First of all, the possibility of taking a journey through the centuries, touching history with your own hands, sharing the same emotion experienced by the illustrious guests who have admired the masterpieces that make up the artistic collections, the richness of the wall decorations and every single piece of furniture, all designed specifically to be part of a whole.
That’s what Palazzo Colonna is all about.
The Colonna Princes’ desire to share the impressive artistic heritage preserved in their residence has resulted in the promotion of cultural visits and initiatives and targeted scientific publications. Besides, among their closest collaborators, a professional art historian, curator of the collection, has been appointed. I received the baton from my predecessor, the late and beloved Professor Eduard Safarik, and every day I try to live up to the prestigious task that I have been assigned

Taking care of almost 450 paintings is a remarkable yet exciting task. I still remember the thrill when, in 1996, I began my adventure in this extraordinary place and spent my lunch breaks in total solitude in the halls of the Palazzo, fascinated by the direct dialogue with the works, with no distraction. Even today, more than twenty years later, I am still not used to the emotional impact and each time I see a new and captivating detail. During the day, the halls take on a different but fascinating shade: the rays of morning light enter through the windows and are reflected in the sumptuous antique marble floors, while in the evening a special atmosphere develops. I cannot help but image the great artists of all times who have frequented the Palazzo for various reasons: Pinturicchio, Cavalier Tempesta, Gaspard Dughet, Vanvitelli, Cavalier Bernini.

The management dynamics of a small museum are the same as those of a large one, the only difference being that everything is proportionate. A sort of small court is created, led – today as yesterday – by Prince Colonna. Depending on the needs, all kinds of professionals, first of all the highly appreciated restorer Laura Ferretti, are called upon to lend their work: gilders, framers, carpenters, electricians, upholsterers and so on.
Thanks to a watchful and attentive eye it is possible to plan an appropriate preventive conservation campaign.
Each restoration work brings back the work to its original splendour, in some cases by simply removing the oxidised paint. At times, diagnostic investigations are necessary to view the underlying drawing and the state of the work so as to remove censor interventions, as in the case of the Florentine allegorical series by Michele di Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio and Bronzino (see Catalogo dei dipinti della Galleria Colonna, nn. 158-160, 48), or in Adamo ed Eva by Francesco Salviati (cat. n. 218). In recent times, the work carried out on the Ritratto familiare della Famiglia Peracchini by Bartolomeo Passerotti (Bologna) (cat. n. 182) stood out. The reflectographic investigations in fact revealed that the painting was executed at two different moments. Two of the protagonists appeared much younger and later the canvas was added to portray their son as well.

Moreover, among the most important conservation interventions, the restoration of two of the seventeenth-century tapestries of the Serie di Artemisia deserve to be mentioned. The task was entrusted to the “Manufacture Royale de Wit” in Mechelen, near Brussels and masterfully carried out by a very valid team, led by Mr. Yvan Maes de Wit, whose “succinct” curriculum-vitae referring to the last five years takes 50 pages. In his castle-workshop, the aerosol technique is used to clean the tapestries with gold thread weave (as in our case) without using water, which would cause irreversible damage to the works.
It is emblematic of what we try to do every day: to keep up with the times without ever losing sight of the century-old history of this fascinating home.
As far as the management of the Museum is concerned, in this difficult moment due to the terrifying spread of Covid-19, just like other institutions, we had to reinvent our function, living an unprecedented era. Therefore, in the three months of confinement (March-May 2020), we felt the need to keep the contact with our virtual visitors alive, through the daily publication of small “culture pills” on the Instagram page of the museum (@galleriacolonna) as part of the initiative entitled “Racconta il Tuo Museo” (Tell your museum). All the contributions we have received have been spontaneously suggested by our followers and it was exciting to receive positive comments and encouragement to continue. Talking about art soothes our soul, especially in moments of discouragement.
Since we returned to the museum and reopened it to the public, our visitors have rewarded our constant work of communication and have returned in large numbers to stroll through our halls. We will be forever grateful to them. Because a closed museum means depriving it of its lifeblood.
The Galleria Colonna and the annexed 15th century flat of Princess Isabelle offer visitors a collection of paintings, sculptures, tapestries, frescoes and furnishings of considerable artistic value. The exhibition itinerary winds through 22 halls for 3000 square metres, in addition to the gardens. Pinturicchio, Cosmè Tura, Bronzino, Pietro da Cortona, Tintoretto, Veronese, Carracci, Guercino, Guido Reni are just some of the artists displayed.
But the charm of the Palace, which is part of the Associazione Dimore Storiche Italiane (Association of Italian Historical Houses), also lies in the warm welcome reserved to visitors, the attention to detail in the constant ordinary and extraordinary maintenance, carefully planned for environments and works of art, the cosy atmosphere, our qualified staff that put visitors at ease with courtesy and competence.

For two centuries, the management approach based on continuity, the deep respect for family traditions and the constraints of the law on the protection of historical-artistic assets, strengthened by the legal provisions of the fideicommissum, have ensured the indivisibility of the Colonna collections and their inseparable link with the Palace that guards them.