The world’s most beautiful Baroque, in Ariccia’s Chigi Palace
Ariccia, thirty kilometers from Rome, has a beautiful Baroque heart. A heart that started beating 350 years ago thanks to the creativity of the most important artist in 17th-century Rome.
That heart is of course Chigi Palace, and the artist behind it was Neapolitan sculptor, painter and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680). Bernini designed this majestic home for the noble Chigi family, originally from Siena, and also supervised the renovation of the old Castelli Romani (Roman Castles) after they bought the fief from the Savellis.
If you travel to Ariccia driving from Rome, you will pass a monumental 70-meter bridge over the Appia Antica and come to a white square – intentionally designed by Bernini and his collaborator Carlo Fontana as a perfect backdrop to the palace. It is Piazza di Corte, where the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta and Chigi Palace face one another.
Baroque is usually immediately associated to excess, bombast, extravagance, and preciousness – but not here. As Swiss intellectual Marcel Reymond wrote in the 19th century in describing the Collegiate of the Assunta – a white, humble church with no useless gold or decorations – “no one sharing our ideas on Bernini could ever believe that he designed this architecture.”
Inside, however, Baroque explodes with its usual colorful pomp.
The Chigi Palace is a unique architectural mix of Roman villas’ U-shaped layout and the rectangular structure of Île de France castles, with their recognizable corner towers.
Once you are inside, you are suddenly in a wonderful 1600s’ Wunderkammer with dozens of rooms, with elegantly decorated and frescoed walls and ceilings, paintings, drawings, sculptures, furniture, decor, textiles and clothes, mostly from the 17th century. Everything is intact, wonderful, and magnificent. Everything is how it was when guests could wake up here 350 years ago – including the “Cucinone”, where some 1600s’ original furniture is still in place.
Inside this spectacular aristocratic abode – surrounded by a twenty-eight-hectare park that once was the Ariccia Grove dedicated to goddess Diana – Giovan Battista Marino’s verse
the poet’s aim is the marvelous truly comes to life, embracing not only poets but all Baroque-age artists – to whom the Chigi Palace has dedicated an entire museum: the Baroque Museum, showcasing some three hundred paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries.
No wonder the beauty of this place enchanted director Luchino Visconti, who shot here some scenes from his masterpiece, “The Leopard” (1963).
The Cardinal’s Room, on the ground floor, and the rooms on the Piano Nobile – many of which have walls covered in rare 17th-century leather known as “Cordoba leather”, one of the many details that add unequalled preciousness to the building – are now home to works by some of 17th-century Rome’s masters, including Mario de’ Fiori, Giacinto Brandi, Carlo Baratta, Bernardino Mei, Baciccio, Salvator Rosa and Pierfrancesco Mola.
Sheltered in the palace’s Chapel, there is also a “Saint Joseph and Child” sanguine created by Bernini in 1663 – his only mural work and the only one he ever signed.
It is one of the wonderful Baroque pearls hidden in the heart of Ariccia, which “Italian Ways” is able to bring to you thanks to the availability of the Chigi Palace’s staff.
To find out more about Ariccia’s Chigi Palace, visit the official website www.palazzochigiariccia.it or consult these books by Francesco Petrucci: “Palazzo Chigi ad Ariccia”, Arti Grafiche Ariccia, Ariccia 1984; “Il Parco Chigi in Ariccia”, with P. Bassani, Edizioni del Parco, Rocca di Papa 1992; “Itinerario nel Parco Chigi”, with P. Bassani, Ariccia 1995; “Palazzo Chigi in Ariccia. Guida illustrata”, Ariccia 2010 (English version, translated by S. Marra, “The Chigi Palace in Ariccia. Illustrated guide”, Ariccia 2010).
Photos © Chiara Collaro