A roman palazzo was inhabited by the family of the owner but also by a “court” of secretaries, administrators, tutors and servants. Oftentimes such building had been erected by relatives of the Pope, by a cardinal or one of the bankers who played a fundamental part in the economy of the state.
A palazzo became a representative landmark, a symbol of power and the expression of the rank occupied by its owner’s family.
The pope was not always roman though, or he could very well be from a family who only lived in the capital for a few decades. Therefore his relatives had very little time to acquire an appropriate residence, with dimensions and architectural decorum to match their temporary status as kin to the current ruler. Another reason was that usually the pope lost no time in planning good marriages with members of the roman aristocracy for his nephews. Such initatives, along with huge benefits to a nephew appointed cardinal, assured an irreversible rise to power for his family.
The drawings by Nicoletti that you see exhibited here illustrate the internal structure of a typical roman palazzo. Ancient and modern sculptures were placed in a series of niches in the hallway: their presence was a real status symbol, an introduction to the glitz of the interior, decorated with tapestries and paintings of various formats, with expensive furnitures and precious ornaments.
The painting of Giovan Paolo Panini depicting the collection of cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga shows how the collecting of art pieces – mostly paintings, current or by ancient masters – had become one of activities distinguishing the aristocratic class from the rest, as a way to flaunt their riches and their refinement. Being seen as an art enthusiast was in fact the way for the owner to enter a sophisticated elite of intellectuals, to become members ad honorem of the Accademia dell’Arcadia or that of San Luca. Their residences were described in guidebooks and were often visited by selected travellers, from the scholars to the English “milords” on their Grand Tour.
Everything that is presented in this exhibition, separated in different sections to give you more clarity, could easily have been the entire furnishing of a roman palazzo, characterized by the variety and refinement of its objects, able to render inside its walls the stratified and complex image of a patrimony second to none, that of a city in all its “grande bellezza”.