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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 November 2009.


Palazzo Madama (Book 4) (Map C2) (Day 4) (View C6) (Rione Sant'Eustachio)


In this page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
Today's view (and S. Salvatore in thermis)
Palazzo Madama
Palazzo Carpegna

The Plate (No. 70)


Palazzo Madama owes its name to Margaret, illegitimate daughter of Emperor Charles V, who acquired the life tenancy of this palace at the death of her husband Alessandro de' Medici, whose family owned the building.
The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1748 map here below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Palazzo Carpegna; 2) Spire of S. Luca (S. Ivo) alla Sapienza; 3) Palazzo Giustiniani; 4) Chiesa del SS. Salvatore. 2) and 3) are shown in other pages. The small map shows also 5) Palazzo Madama.


Today

(left) The view in April 2009; (right) central part of the façade

In 1871 Palazzo Madama was chosen to house the Senate of the Kingdom of Italy (and after 1946 of the Italian Republic). In order to provide this institution with appropriate facilities, the palace was enlarged at various steps and the small church of S. Salvatore was pulled down, but the façade was not affected by these changes; in 1936-38 the building which is shown on the right side of the etching was pulled down to make room for a new road (see image towards the end of this page).
The full name of the church was S. Salvatore in thermis, but because the building was very small it was called il Salvatorello; the reference in thermis was due to Thermae Alexandrinae, the baths restored by Emperor Alexander Severus and which occupied the area between the Pantheon and Palazzo Madama. The decoration and the paintings of the church were relocated to nearby S. Luigi dei Francesi and Palazzo di S. Luigi.

Palazzo Madama

Details of the decoration of the windows

Margaret was called Madama perhaps because she had too many titles; when Charles V recognized her he named her Margaret of Austria; at the age of eleven she married Alessandro de' Medici and she became Duchess of Florence. At fifteen years of age she was already a widow, because her husband was killed by a distant cousin; she was then almost forced to marry Ottavio Farnese, grandson of Pope Paul III, who in 1547 became Duke of Parma and Piacenza (but he managed to actually acquire the duchy only some years later). In 1559 Margaret was appointed governor of the Low Countries, a post she held for eight years, and which was held by her son Alessandro Farnese from 1578 to 1592.
Margaret returned to Italy, but not to Parma; she lived in her Roman palace, in Villa Madama, in her fiefdom of Castel Madama or in Abruzzo, the region east of Latium which was a Spanish possession and where she was appointed governor of L'Aquila.

Relief above the entrance showing a lion's skin, a reference to Hercules; in the inset detail of the etching by Giuseppe Vasi showing the coats of arms of the Medici family (left-1754 edition) and of Pope Benedict XIV (right-later edition)

At the time of Margaret Palazzo Madama was a complex of buildings of different sizes and shapes, which were bought by Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici (the future Pope Leo X); he and his family had other properties (Palazzo Medici Lante) in Rione Sant'Eustachio.
At the death of Margaret Palazzo Madama returned to the Medici, who in 1637 commissioned Paolo Marucelli a restructuring of their property. The choice of this minor architect, rather than Gian Lorenzo Bernini or Francesco Borromini, led to the design of a façade which is quite different from the patterns which were prevailing in Rome at that time: its structure is that of a XVIth century palace and its decoration is regarded as more suited to a villa than to a city palace; critics were puzzled by the many references to Hercules and by the size of the cornice.

Details of the cornice

In 1755 Pope Benedict XIV bought Palazzo Madama to relocate there the office of Governatore di Roma (a sort of Chief Police Officer), previously in Palazzo Nardini and the coat of arms of the Medici was replaced by that of the pope. Vasi retouched his etching to reflect the change.

Painted cupboard in the Vatican Library showing the rear courtyard of Palazzo Madama in ca 1860 when it housed the Post Office

Palazzo Carpegna

(left) Palazzo Carpegna and behind it Archiginnasio della Sapienza and S. Andrea della Valle; (right) detail of its modern façade

Palazzo Carpegna was originally built towards the end of the XVIIth century and it is generally attributed to Giovanni Antonio De Rossi. The Carpegna had another palace near SS. Vincenzo e Anastasio.
In 1919 Palazzo Carpegna was acquired by the Italian State and initially it was used as an addition to the University which was located in Archiginnasio della Sapienza; when this institution was relocated outside the walls of Rome Palazzo Carpegna was pulled down and rebuilt (1926-29) to expand the facilities of the Senate.

Roman basin behind Palazzo Carpegna and passage linking this palace with Palazzo Madama

Excavations made in the courtyard of Palazzo Madama led to discovering a large granite basin of the ancient baths. In 1987 it was placed in a small square behind Palazzo Carpegna.

Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:


Palazzo Madama
Prese un tal nome questo magnifico palazzo, perchè edificato alla Principessa Caterina de' Medici figlia del Gran Duca di Toscana, e vi abitò prima, che fosse Regina di Francia, e poi vi nacque il grande Alessandro Farnese. Furono in questo luogo le magnifiche terme di Nerone, poi, come diremo,accresciute da Alessandro Severo, e rendute colla sua casa, che quì presso aveva, più deliziose, delle quali si videro fino ai nostri tempi nel secondo cortile di questo palazzo le maravigliose rovine con un grande arco di materia laterizia, e vi era nel mezzo un grande albero con un fonte da piede, che per verità sembrava un incantesimo. Fu il tutto demolito per dar luogo alla fabbrica della nuova abitazione per la famiglia bassa del Tribunale del Governo di Roma, ora quì stabilito, con tutti i Notari, Luogotenenti, ed altri ministri.
Nel nono anno del suo Impero edificò queste terme Nerone, e furono di tanta magnificenza, e con tanto lusso tenute, che Marziale ebbe a dire nel settimo delle sue epigramme:
. . . . . . quid Nerone pejus?
Quid Thermis melius Neronianis?
Ma Alessandro Severo per abolire il nome di quel infame Imperatore, e per dare applauso maggiore alle terme, dopo averle accresciute di fabbrica, e di delizia, volle che le medesime a pubblico comodo fossero illuminate di notte con quantità di lampadari di cristallo di monte.
Da Greci appresero i Romani l'uso di bagnarvisi, prima della venuta de' Medici, il che avvenne circa l'anno 535. dalla fondazione di Roma nel consolato di L. Emilio, e M. Licinio; e la loro introduzione fu per motivo di pulizia, poichè in quei tempi costumavansi i panni di lana invece di quelli di lino, non ancora introdotti, come oggidì, e similmente per maggior conservazione della salute; benchè di poi si ridusse in lusso, e delizia; e però vi concorrevano i Romani non solo a pulire, ma ricreare ancora a i loro corpi. Erano in esse compartite quasi infinite stanze a volta, alcune con acque tiepide, e talvolta odorifere, destinate a i lavacri, ed altre con i soli vapori calidi per rifocillarsi ne' tempi d'inverno, ungendosi ancora con olj, ed unguenti prelibati; e vi erano similmente luoghi, a parte destinati per le sole donne.
Inoltre esercitavano nelle terme la lotta, il disco, il salto, il pugliato, il corso la palla, e vi furono anche introdotte le palestre, i ginnasj, le biblioteche, e per maggior delizia vi furono formate amenissime selve atte a spasseggiarvi. P. Vittore ne descrive dodici, e le chiama Cesaree, e de' bagni privati ne conta ottocento sessanta, ma poi sotto Nerone giunsero ad un numero esorbitante.
E' tradizione, che in queste terme fosse stato un tempio della Pietà, e che poi da s. Silvestro fosse dedicato al ss. Salvatore, e dopo consacrato da s. Gregorio Magno, li conferisse molte indulgenze, il quale si disse s. Salvatore in Thermis, e poi s. Giacomo in Thermis, a cui era unito un spedale. Questo, forse sarà quella chiesa, che ora è unita al suddetto palazzo Madama, che diciamo ss. Salvatore.

Next plate in Book 4: Palazzo Sacchetti sulla Strada Giulia

Next step in Day 4 itinerary: Chiesa di S. Luigi dei Francesi
Next step in your tour of Rione Sant'Eustachio: Convento di S. Agostino