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All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to romapip@quipo.it. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in January 2010.

Villa e Casino Panfili, detta del Bel Respiro (page one) (Book 10) (Day 6)

In this page:
 The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
 Today's view
 Casino dell'Algardi and Villa Vecchia
 Fountains in front of the Casino
 In the Gardens
in page two:
 XVIIIth Century Additions
 XIXth Century Additions
 On the Farm
 Arco dell'Acqua Paola

The Plate (No. 200)

Perhaps Giuseppe Vasi chose Villa Pamphilj or del Bel Respiro as the closing view for the last of its ten books on the Magnificenze di Roma Antica e Moderna because it was a mix of of modern and old owing to the many ancient statues and reliefs which were displayed on the main building and in the gardens.
Bel Respiro means nice breathing; today this name is no longer used and the villa is called Doria Pamphilj, but Bel Respiro was (and is) a very appropriate name; the elevation of the ground, the size of the gardens, the many stone pine trees and the exposure to ponentino, the evening western breeze which mitigates the summer heat, all contribute to making breathing in deeply very enjoyable.
The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1688 map (by Simone Felice Delino) here below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Lower level of Villa Pamphilj; 2) Steps leading to the hidden garden; 3) Steps leading to the upper level of the villa; 4) Pinetum (plantation of pine trees). The small map shows also 5) Casino dell'Algardi; 6) Teatro; 7) Villa Vecchia; 8) Giardino dei Melangoli and Fontana della Lumaca; 9) Fontana del Giglio; 10) Arco dell'Acqua Paola; 11) Farm.


The view in January 2010

Apparently Vasi took his view from an elevated position to the east of the casino; as a matter of fact in this assumed location there is a depression and one has to move to nearby Villa Corsini to catch a glimpse of the casino from the east. Vasi most simply "updated" a previous etching by Simone Felice Delino. Similar to Vasi, Delino (1655-97) was an architect who was not given many opportunities to show his talent, apart from Palazzo Paniza. He earned his living by designing ephemeral buildings for ceremonies and parties and by engraving views of fountains and villas.
Villa Corsini was acquired by the Doria Pamphilj in the 1850s.

Casino dell'Algardi and the secret garden seen from the west

The view from the west is perfect to admire the casino and its secret garden; the entrance to the casino is on the opposite side, so the garden was not immediately visible to visitors. The casino and the secret garden are aligned on a north-south axis.

Detail of the secret garden

Casino dell' Algardi

(left) Villa Vecchia; (right) detail of its entrance

The Pamphilj were a Roman family of minor importance when Giovanni Battista Pamphilj was appointed cardinal in 1629; they lived in Piazza Navona; in 1630 his brother Pamphilio bought a vigna (a farm) along Via Aurelia, outside Porta S. Pancrazio. Its main building was modified and embellished, but it retains the size and design of a rather modest countryside residence. The image used as background for this page shows a stucco relief in the ceiling of a hall of this building; it portrays a dove, the heraldic symbol of the Pamphilj.

(left) Front view: (right) detail of the western side

In 1644 Cardinal Giovanni Battista Pamphilj was elected pope with the name of Pope Innocent X and he almost immediately appointed cardinal his nephew Camillo, son of Pamphilio and gave him a large role in the government of the state.
Camillo almost immediately asked Francesco Borromini to develop a project for a new casino. Borromini suggested a combination between a small fortress and an astronomical observatory, but Camillo had different views and turned to Girolamo and Carlo Rainaldi for more conventional advice. Perhaps the orientation of the casino and its vertical development are a heritage of Borromini's project.

Details of the decoration

The Rainaldi designed a central building with two wings which would have embraced the secret garden, but Camillo Pamphilj was not yet satisfied; he was no longer cardinal and he had married the last of the Aldobrandini, the family of Pope Clement VIII. He and his wife possessed a large collection of ancient statues and reliefs and other ancient works of art which at the time were being found in a necropolis inside Villa Pamphilj; Camillo was mainly interested in displaying his collection inside and outside the new casino, similar to what the Medici and Cardinal Scipione Borghese had done in their villas.
He therefore sought the advice of Alessandro Algardi, who was not an architect, but a talented sculptor and in particular a very expert restorer (and imitator) of ancient sculptures. Algardi was assisted by Giovan Francesco Grimaldi, a landscape painter; they both came from Bologna and were part of the so-called classical school which preached a composed design; they also were influenced by the landscape paintings by Nicolas Poussin, Gaspard Dughet and Claude Lorrain who all worked in Rome during the first half of the XVIIth century. Unlike Villa d'Este, the first modern Roman villa, the Casino is not placed at the end of a long series of formal gardens, but it is best seen in the context of an almost natural landscape.

Detail of the fašade before (left) and after (right) being repainted

Villa Doria Pamphilj was acquired by the Italian Government and by the City of Rome during the 1950/60s. The park is open to the public, while the Casino is used by the Government for official meetings or for hosting guests or (as occurred in 2009) for allowing Mr. Gheddafi to place his tent in the private gardens to the north of the Casino. The building was recently repainted in the "sky" colour which was very common in the XVIIIth century.


(left) Fontana di Venere; (right) a niche

Algardi designed several fountains for the entertainment of the Pamphilj and their guests in a large terrace to the south of the secret garden; some of them had scherzi d'acqua (unexpected spouts of water) and hydraulic organs and were decorated with statues and reliefs. The fountains were often placed in grottoes, artificial caves adorned with shells. In the XVIIIth century the Pamphilj relocated the finest works of art of the villa to their enlarged palace in Via del Corso. The Venus after which the fountain shown above was named, stood on a shell which was carried by dolphins.

Ninfeo del Satiro

The fountains designed by Algardi and his assistants were modified in the following centuries for several reasons such as changes in taste, cost of maintenance and war events. The grotto shown above is only the lower level of a larger fountain; from an engraving by Giovanni Francesco Venturini we know that there was a second grotto above this one and behind it there was a semicircular wall with statues on its top.


Some of the major villas had an open air theatre (a fine example can be seen in the plate showing Villa Mattei); Algardi designed a theatre which was not entirely completed and in addition it was damaged during the 1849 Defence of Rome (see next page), so that only its final part has survived to the present day. Algardi had a deep knowledge of ancient monuments so his "theatre" is actually the decorated wall which stood behind the stage in a Roman theatre.

Details of the theatre

The decoration of the theatre was very light-hearted; Algardi chose some ancient reliefs portraying kids making jokes and he added to them some he made himself; another theme which was very much in fashion was Arcadia, the Greek region seen as an idealized rustic paradise; in the XVIIIth century a statue of Pan was placed in the grotto at the centre of the theatre. Pan was the god of shepherds and rustic music and a panpipe (or syrinx) decorated the ceiling of the grotto.

Fleurs-de-lys in the secret garden fountain (left) and on the steps leading to the upper part of the villa (right)

Usually the Pamphilj had a predilection for the dove, but in this villa they preferred to give more emphasis to the fleur-de-lys, their other heraldic symbol.

In the Gardens

(left) A small fountain making use of an ancient statue; (centre) an old vase; (right) detail of its decoration

In addition to the statues and reliefs with which Algardi decorated the casino and the fountains, other ancient works of art were placed here and there along the alleys and in the gardens. Most of them have been replaced by copies.

(left) A small fountain making use of an ancient sarcophagus; (right) fragments of an ancient statue

Nature and art was a combined category which attracted XVIIth century artists; its origin can perhaps be found in some unfinished statues by Michelangelo. Fontana di Trevi is a typical example of this mix, which can also be observed in Villa Pamphilj.

Fontana della Lumaca by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (copy)

The ancient Roman mansions had courtyards surrounded by colonnaded porticoes and having at their centre a fountain; hortus conclusus is the medieval adaptation of this design which was used for cloisters; they were divided into quadrants where orchards were grown. Giardino dei Melangoli was a Renaissance evolution of hortus conclusus and the quadrants were planted with melangoli, sour citrus trees; in the small map (8) shows the location of this garden; at its centre the Pamphilj placed a fountain designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
The citrus trees were uprooted in the late XVIIIth century in favour of a more "natural" landscape.
On December 2, 1786, at the end of his first month in Rome J. W. Goethe visited Villa Pamphilj and wrote: The sun was almost too warm as we dragged ourselves to the Villa Pamfili and stayed in its lovely gardens until evening. A large meadow, bordered with evergreen oaks and tall stone pines, was dotted with daisies which all had their little heads turned to the sun. (Italian Journey - translation by W. H. Auden and Elizabeth Mayer - Collins 1962)

Move to page two.

Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:

Villa Panfili del bel respiro
E' questa una delle pi¨ pregevoli, e magnifiche ville di Roma, non solamente per la sua grande estensione di sei miglia di circuito con lunghissimi viali coperti e scoperti, giardini segreti ornati di statue e bassirilievi antichi, boschetti e parchi per le caccie, peschiere e fontane deliziose; con il gran teatro ornato di marmi e sculture antiche molto considerabili, e giuochi di acqua tanto diversi; e per la stanza pastorale colla statua di Fauno, che colla zampogna in bocca mostra di suonare; ed affinchŔ la favola venisse avvivata dal vero, evvi dietro la medesima statua un organo, che col moto dell'acqua fa diverse suonate, replicate poi dall'eco, pure fatto artificiosamente: onde estatici corrono gli spettatori alla melodia del suono: ma se non saranno accorti nell'uscire verranno tutti bagnati. Ma ancora e riguardevole questa villa per il nobile casino ornato tanto di fuori, che di dentro di statue, busti, e bassirilievi antichi, e di sommo pregio, distribuiti con magnificenza, e decoro secondo il disegno dell'Algardi; oltre le varie altre curiositÓ, che a tutti sono fedelmente mostrate dal Custode.

Next step in Day 6 itinerary: Monastero di S. Maria dei Sette Dolori