A little while back I noticed a museum on Via del Corso, here in Rome, that I had never visited. It is the historical home of the Doria-Pamphilj family, one of the great noble families of Italy. Peeking inside from the entrance, you can see a beautiful garden courtyard. While I was curious about the art collections inside, I mostly just wanted to wander inside this beautiful huge palace. It basically takes up an entire block right in the heart of the historical district.
I knew from Daniele that the palace was still owned by the Doria Pamphilj family. They used part of the palace as their residence and the other as a museum.
Today I was free with nothing better to do than pay a prince 10 euros to see his house. My ticket included a lovely audio guide, which I took in English, recorded by the prince himself. Among many other things I was about to learn about this family, they all speak English so well and have strong historical ties with England because of several English marriages. Familiarity with the noble families seems to be common knowledge among Italians. I assume this is because they are intertwined with their history. I, however, know nothing about any of them and being an American, find it all a bit romantic.
During my visit I learned about the rise of the Pomphilj family with the first member of importance, Giovanni Battista Pamphili, who reigned as Pope Innocent X from 1644–1655. During that time he was strongly influenced by his sister-in-law, Olimpia Maidalchini, who acted as adviser until she became too powerful and was eventually banished. While she was in favor with the Pope, she convinced him it was unethical for the church to tax brothels and had him sell this right to her, expanding the family fortune significantly. Her son, Innocent X’s nephew Camillo Pamphili was offered the highly regarded post of Cardinal-nephew, or “nipote”. At the time it was customary for Popes to give a Cardinal position to a relative. This is where the English word “nepotism” comes. Innocent X appointed four of his and Olimpia’s relatives.
Camillo Pamphili turned down the cardinal position to get married. Initially, this upset his uncle and he was banished, but he was soon forgiven and was made a prince. Upon returning to Rome, Camillo built and decorated the Palazzo I visited today.
The Pamphilj family would then join with the Doria line. The Pamphilj family had been in Rome since the late 1400s. Before then they were originally from Gubbio, Umbria. The Doria family is from Genova (English: Genoa), where they have another palace set up like this one. Most of the palace furnishings are in a Roman style or an obvious Roman interpretation of another style. There are also some velvet wall coverings which are traditional in Genova. Then may have come from the palace there. At the time, velvet wall coverings were considered precious enough that they did not need to be covered with art; the Pamphilj family covered them with paintings anyway.
The rooms in the palace are set up like most royal residencies, a series of rooms that led into each other where guests would be kept waiting for entrance into the next. I found it interesting that while as in the French style the rooms each get bigger and grander as you get farther in, here the first room is the grandest. Along the side were smaller rooms that were private apartments used as living space or for intimate entertaining. The last two rooms had been converted into a ballroom for a party. If I remember from the audio guide, the occasion was my prince guide’s grandmother’s Debutante Ball. There was also a throne room to the side. When this palace was made the official residency of the family, the Pope could come here. Remember at the time, the Pope was King of Rome. The purpose was to quickly bring him to this room where he would receive visitors, never the other way around. All of these rooms have their original furnishings and wall hangings. They are quite stunning.
At the end of these rooms is the Gallery, a square of hallway above the beautiful courtyard where I started. This is a beautiful space with every corner filled with paintings, that is except the decorative moldings and Hall of Mirrors where there are sculptures, or course. I haven’t been able to find out more about this, but apparently when Innocent X started the collection he bought the pieces in such a way that his descendants could not sell them off. I don’t know how one could do that, but it kept the collection intact while other similar collections of noble families have been dispersed.
There are a few other rooms beyond the gallery. One large room that has a plain ceiling that had to be quickly put up when the original collapsed. Another smaller room that holds some of the art work that was added later to the collection. Some of the oldest art in the collection was added most recently. My princely guide points out the crude, pre-renaissance techniques and how he could not imagine his earlier ancestors being attracted to this style. There is also a smaller set of rooms used for alternating exhibitions.
On my way out, I go downstairs and linger in an area between the courtyard and the staircase. I can’t guess what this area was originally meant to be but now it is used as a garage that could easily fit 10 cars. This is a 10 car private garage about a 3 minute walk from each the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, and Piazza Venezia. I think if Daniele was with me, this would be his favorite part! I go to peek through a door window to see what is around me, and see another whole giant courtyard like where I came in. I could see the palace was huge from the street, but it just doesn’t scale looking at it from outside. They must keep an entire half of the palace for their private home, so everything I just saw was only half the palace. It is clear this other side is a home. This royal looking courtyard has a child play slide and across from me upstairs is a man working on a computer. I only creepily spied on them for a second, but I did just pay a prince 10 euros, I think I can indulge my curiosity a little.
I looked up a little about the family today. My (audio-) guide, Jonathan Pamphilj, said he lived much of his life in England. That makes sense since his parents were Princess Orietta Doria-Pamphilj and Royal Navy Commander Frank George Wignall Pogson. Princess Orietta was the last direct descendant of the Doria Pamphilj line and died in 2000. She and her husband adopted Gesine Margaret Orietta Mary Pogson Doria Pamphilj, known as Gesine Doria, born 1964 and Jonathan Doria Pamphilj, born 1963. They were raised as siblings but are not blood related. Today Gesine Doria is married to Massimiliano Floridi with four children. Jonathan Doria Pamphilj has formed a civil partnership with Brazilian, Elson Edeno Braga, and has two children by surrogacy. His sister has challenged his children’s right to inherit after his death under an Italian law that prevents sperm downers from claiming parentage to a child.
I was not allowed to take pictures inside, but they have many on their website: