Last week Lois and I were in Rome, celebrating her birthday with friends. While there we took the opportunity to visit again the Palazzo Doria Panphili and its knockout collection of paintings amassed by the rich and powerful family over hundreds of years . Open to the public, it is probably the most visitor-friendly art gallery in Italy.
We usually shun the audio guide in museums and galleries, but this one is beautifully presented by the present-day head of the family, Jonathan Pamphili, and has family stories as well as artistic information. The gallery is seldom crowded, so you can look closely at the pictures and enjoy the entertaining and erudite commentary at your ease.
The collection includes the Pieter Bruegel the Elder masterpiece Earthly Paradise with the Original Sin (above) and some astonishing early Caravaggios, notably Repose on the Flight to Egypt, (below), an extraordinary painting which places an angel with his back to us in the foreground, with the Holy Family behind. A nervous Joseph is holding up the music for the angel to play on his violin. Controversially, in another picture on display here, of Mary Magdalene, Caravaggio used the same model in the same pose as for the Virgin Mary in this one.
There is also the stunning Velasquez Portrait of Innocent X, a Panphili pope, who complained: “È troppo vero! È troppo vero!” (“It’s too true! It’s too true!”), hardly surprising since the portrait captures the Pope’s less-than-perfect character.
What sort of man do you see when you look at that face? Scheming? Devious? World-weary? All of those, I think. But even the Pope acknowledged it was an artistic masterpiece, and Sir Joshua Reynolds said it was “the finest picture in Rome,” much to the annoyance of the Italians, I’ve no doubt.
The next time you are in Rome visit Palazzo Doria Panphili. You won’t be disappointed. You can read more in an excellent Lonely Planet guide, by clicking here. The video below captures some of the atmosphere.