In 1754 Giuseppe Vasi dedicated two of his etchings showing the monuments of ancient and modern Rome to Piazza SS. Apostoli: the first one shows Palazzo Colonna and Basilica dei SS. Apostoli and the view is taken from the southern end of the square; in the plate covered in this page the view is taken from the northern end of the square and it shows Palazzo Odescalchi and Palazzo Bonelli Spinelli.
Charles de Brosses, a French traveller who visited Rome in 1739, wrote in his preliminary remarks on the city: The French devote all their efforts to laying down lavish banquets, while the Italians prefer to please their eyes by building fine houses and monuments (Lettres familiŔres Úcrites d'Italie en 1739 et 1740); as a matter of fact in those years the Odescalchi and the Colonna engaged in a competition for the finest palace of the square; in 1731-1733 the Colonna entirely rebuilt the front of their palace and in 1745 the Odescalchi responded by almost doubling the size of theirs.
The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1748 (b/w) map here below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Palazzo Colonna; 2) Palazzo Bonelli Spinelli (now Valentini); 3) Colonna Traiana; 4) S. Maria di Loreto; 5) Palazzo Ruffi. 1), 3) and 4) are shown in other pages. The b/w map shows also 6) Palazzo Odescalchi; 7) S. Romualdo. The coloured map shows the same area in 1925.
The view in August 2010
The southern end of Piazza SS. Apostoli was modified in 1878 when Via di S. Romualdo, the narrow street which linked it to Piazza di Venezia was enlarged by pulling down the buildings on its southern side;
after WWI the new street was called Via Cesare Battisti.
The demolitions led to the loss of S. Romualdo, a small church built in 1631; the famous painting by Andrea Sacchi on its main altar (it opens in another window) is now at Pinacoteca Vaticana; it portrays the saint talking to other members of his order about a vision he had.
In 1888 Palazzo Ruffi was enlarged and given a new design by Gaetano Koch, the architect who is best known for his design of Palazzi dell' Esedra.
Etching by Giovan Battista Falda showing the palace when it belonged to the Chigi
Palazzo Odescalchi was originally a possession of the Colonna family; in 1622 it was sold to Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi,
nephew of Pope Gregory XV who commissioned Carlo Maderno a renovation of the building; because the Cardinal sold back the palace to the Colonna in the following year, only the courtyard and a few rooms were completed.
In 1664 the Colonna sold the palace to Cardinal Flavio Chigi, nephew of Pope Alexander VII (during that period the Chigi bought also a palace in Piazza Colonna). Gian Lorenzo Bernini, with the assistance of Carlo Fontana, unified the fronts of the
existing buildings by designing an entirely new fašade.
Bernini decorated the fašade with pilasters which span two storeys (the so called gigantic or colossal order), similar to what Michelangelo had done in Palazzi del Campidoglio. Bernini's design influenced that of many palaces in Italy (e.g. Palazzo Madama in Turin) and abroad, in particular in Vienna (see some XVIIth and XVIIIth century palaces in that city).
In 1693, after the death of Cardinal Flavio Chigi, the palace was leased to Cardinal Livio Odescalchi, nephew of Pope Innocent XI, who gathered an impressive collection of paintings and other works of art in his new residence; the heirs of Cardinal Livio sold most of the collection, but in 1745 they had enough money to buy the palace from the Chigi; they then enlarged it on its northern side with the assistance of Nicola Salvi and Luigi Vanvitelli; these architects respected Bernini's design, but they obviously could not avoid modifying the proportions of the building, which now appears excessively wide.
(left) Detail of the fašade; (right) coat of arms of the Odescalchi
The coat of arms of the Odescalchi is among the most complex ones. It is made up of an eagle, a lion and six incense burners: because eagles and lions were portrayed in many other coats of arms, the incense burner ended up by being the Odescalchi's distinctive mark (the image used as background for this page shows a detail of the wrought iron gate of the palace). You may wish to see the monument to Maria Flaminia Odescalchi Chigi which is based on the Odescalchi and Chigi heraldic symbols.
(left) 1889 fašade along Via del Corso; further on along the street Palazzo Mancini Salviati; (right) "medieval" 1889 coat of arms of the Odescalchi, but the ribbon is copied from an ancient Roman relief
The Chigi and after them the Odescalchi tried to enlarge their palace by acquiring the buildings behind it; they succeeded only in part, because they were unable to buy Palazzo Mancini Salviati. In 1887 a fire greatly damaged the rear part of their palace which overlooked Via del Corso. Prince Baldassarre Ladislao Odescalchi, whose wife was of Florentine origin, decided to build a fašade which resembled that of Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence (it opens in another window); a choice totally incongruous with the character of the street, especially considering that it stands opposite XVIIIth century Palazzo Doria Pamphilj; he gave a similar appearance also to a modern building in Prati.
Views of the courtyard
The palace still belongs to the Odescalchi who have split some parts of it into apartments. Usually one can only see a small section of the courtyard through the northern door as the Odescalchi do not open their palace to the public on a regular basis, unlike what they do at the castle they bought from the Orsini at Bracciano.
Statues in the courtyard. The statues which Cardinal Livio Odescalchi placed in the courtyard were sold in 1724 and 1728. Among them a (much restored) statue of Apollo (it opens in another window) which had belonged to Queen Christina of Sweden and is now at Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid
Associazione delle Dimore Storiche Italiane (it opens in another window) is an association which groups the owners of historical palaces which are subject to laws concerning the conservation of works of art and of the urban landscape. Once a year some of their members open the courtyards of their palaces for a weekend. In May 2015 the Odescalchi adhered to this initiative.
Palazzo Valentini and behind it S. Maria di Loreto
Cardinal Michele Bonelli, nephew of Pope Pius V, bought several properties in the area between Colonna Traiana and Foro di Augusto which at that time was almost a swamp during rainy periods; he promoted its draining and opened Via Alessandrina, a street named after Alessandria, his hometown in northern Italy. In 1585 he started the construction of a palace at the southern end of Piazza SS. Apostoli; it was designed by Domenico Paganelli, a Dominican monk, who gave it the appearance of a small Palazzo Farnese.
(above-left) detail of the cornice; (above-right) statue of St. Peter on top of Colonna Traiana seen from the courtyard; (below-left) heraldic symbol of Cardinal Renato Imperiali; (below-right) plaque stating that George Frideric Handel lived in the palace when he was a guest of the Ruspoli
In the early XVIIIth century the palace was rented to Marquis Francesco Maria Ruspoli, a great
patron of musicians, who in 1707-1708 had George F. Handel as his guest; the first performance of Handel's oratorio La Resurrezione took place in a large hall on the first floor. In 1713 Marquis Ruspoli bought a palace from the Caetani which is known as Palazzo Ruspoli since.
In 1752 Palazzo Bonelli was sold to Cardinal Giuseppe Spinelli who split the hall on the first floor into smaller rooms; he was the nephew of Cardinal Giuseppe Renato Imperiali and he decorated the building with eagles, the heraldic symbol of his uncle (you may wish to see Imperiali's funerary monument). In his 1781 map Giuseppe Vasi designated the palace as Palazzo Rezzonico because it was leased to relatives of Pope Clement XIII (Carlo Rezzonico). The palace was then bought by Vincenzo Valentini, a banker; in 1873 it was sold to the Italian State to which it still belongs.
In 1586 during the construction of Palazzo Bonelli four colossal heads of animals were found which most likely had embellished the Forum of Trajan. Cardinal Bonelli had them restored (the missing parts were replaced) and he used them in the decoration of the building. In the late XIXth century they were moved to the centre of the courtyard of Certosa di S. Maria degli Angeli which is part of Museo Nazionale Romano.
In 1980-1981 excavations in the eastern part of the palace have unearthed some rooms of ancient Roman private baths. You may wish to learn more about this recent addition to the monuments of Rome (it opens in another window).
Next plate in Book 4: Palazzo S. Marco della Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia.
Next step in Day 3 itinerary: Chiesa di S. Marco.
Next step in your tour of Rione Trevi: Palazzo dell'Accademia di Francia.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Incontro alla sopraddetta chiesa de' XII. santi Apostoli evvi questo magnifico palazzo giÓ del Card. Chigi, eretto col disegno del Cav. Bernino; ma ora passato ne' Duchi di Bracciano, Ŕ stato disteso pi¨ oltre del doppio colla medesima architettura del Bernini, ed Ŕ ornato di statue, busti antchi, ed altre raritÓ degne di un Principe Romano.
Il prospetto di questo magnifico palazzo corrisponde sulla piazza de' XII. ss. Apostoli , e fu eretto col disegno del P. Paganelli frate Domenicano; ma elssendo rimasto imperfetto fin d'allora , non vi Ŕ stato chi compisse il magnifico cortile . In oggi spetta all'ereditÓ Imperiali , e vi sta collocata una scelta libreria in benefizio delli studenti, e letterati.