All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in August 2010
Collegio di Propaganda Fide (Book 9) (Map B2) (Day 3) (View C6) (Rione Colonna)
In this page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
Palazzo di Propaganda Fide
Cappella dei Re Magi
The Plate (No. 164 - ii)
Giovanni Battista Falda (1643-78) was a printmaker who illustrated many monuments of modern Rome at the time of Pope Alexander VII; in Il nuovo teatro delle fabriche, et edificii, in prospettiva di Roma moderna he showed churches and palaces in their urban context, but in a later work (Palazzi di Roma de pi¨ celebri architetti), the buildings were shown in isolation in order to highlight their design.
Giuseppe Vasi followed the same approach to show the western (left) and southern (right) sides of Collegio di Propaganda Fide in this etching; the building is shown in isolation without S. Andrea delle Fratte which is located opposite its southern side and without Palazzo Bernini which is located opposite its western side; in addition Vasi did not show Piazza di Spagna at the left end of the view.
The plate clearly displays the various sections of the palace:
a) (left wing of the western side) late Renaissance building where the institution was initially housed; it was reshaped by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1642-44 ;
b) (central section of the western side) elaborate fašade designed by Francesco Borromini when the palace was enlarged in 1647-62;
c) (right wing of the western side and the whole southern side) large block where the monotony of the design is interrupted by series of more elaborate windows.
It is interesting to note that the building had many shops to provide the institution with substantial revenue.
The view is taken from the green dot in the 1748 map below. The map shows also 1) western side of Palazzo di Propaganda Fide; 2) southern side of the building; 3) Cappella dei Re Magi; 4) Palazzo Bernini. The dotted line delineates the border between Rione Campo Marzio (to the left) and Rione Colonna (to the right).
Apart from the loss of a large coat of arms of Pope Alexander VII at the corner between the two sides of the building, no other changes have occurred and the palace is still utilized for its original purpose.
Palazzo di Propaganda Fide
The palace is also known as Collegio Urbano because it was founded by Pope Urban VIII to house a congregation having the purpose to promote and coordinate missionary activities; Cardinal Antonio Barberini, brother of the pope, promoted the enlargement of the building after his brother's death in 1644; the bees decorating the shops (one of which can be seen in the image used as background for this page) were one of the Barberini heraldic symbols. The palace still belongs to the congregation, although most of its activities are now housed in Nuovo Collegio Urbano De Propaganda Fide.
Francesco Borromini completed the fašade in 1662; it is the last large building designed by this architect and it is characteristic of his style which was based on the use of concave and convex lines; Borromini however did not take into account the narrowness of the street which does not allow for a proper view of the fašade, or perhaps he hoped that it would have been enlarged by pulling down Palazzo Bernini.
Cappella dei Re Magi
Bernini built a small chapel for Pope Urban VIII which had a direct entrance from the street; after the pope's death Bernini fell into disgrace and Borromini was asked to replace it with a larger chapel which was completed in 1664.
Similar to what he had done for Oratorio dei Filippini, Borromini included the chapel in the overall design of the palace, so that its existence is not evident from the outside; the chapel has an unusual rectangular shape with a fine stucco ceiling (you may wish to see that of S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, also by Borromini); it was decorated with coats of arms of Pope Alexander VII, one of which Filippo Juvarra included in his selection of the finest papal coats of arms.
The dedication to the Magi was wanted by Cardinal Antonio Barberini on the assumption that the three kings could be regarded as the first pagans who embraced the Christian faith; their conversion could therefore be considered as a symbol of those promoted by the congregation.
Pietro Bernini, the father of Gian Lorenzo, moved to Rome in 1606 and settled in a house opposite S. Maria Maggiore where his son continued to live for many years, although at that time S. Maria Maggiore was a rather remote location. The favour of Pope Urban VIII who commissioned him palaces, churches, funerary monuments and the decoration of the octagon of S. Pietro made Gian Lorenzo Bernini a very wealthy man and led him to move to a more central location (and also to an area which was developed by the Barberini).
In 1642 he bought two buildings in Via della Mercede: in one (the white lower building) he established his residence and his workshop, while the other one was rented. Bernini lived in this site until his death in 1680, but he wanted to be buried inside S. Maria Maggiore. The two buildings were modified in the XIXth century.
Bernini left a fortune and later on his heirs moved to a palace opposite Palazzo Ruspoli in Via del Corso which is known as Palazzo Bernini too.
The 1898 inscription states that popes and kings knelt before him, but maybe these words go too far. Bernini had a very likeable personality and to use today's words he had great marketing skills; he was prepared to please the important people he worked for by letting them believe he followed their suggestions; nevertheless he was conscious of the autonomous value of art and of his own value as an artist. When Queen Christina of Sweden visited him he met her in his workshop, still dressed in his work clothes, by this indicating that his activity as an artist took precedence over etiquette rules.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Next plate in Book 9: Seminario Romano
Next step in Day 3 itinerary: Convento di S. Giuseppe
Next step in your tour of Rione Colonna: Convento di S. Giuseppe