In 1623 Cardinal Maffeo Barberini ascended the papal throne under the name of Urban VIII. His influential family of Tuscan origin, wanted to build a magnificent residence worthy of one of the most prestigious families in Rome. Construction of the Palazzo Barberini began in 1627 by the architect Carlo Maderno (1556-1629), who originally conceived the rectangular design, which included an existing villa Sforza, in accordance with the traditional scheme of the Renaissance palace; afterwards the project, based on the idea of the “open wings” was developed. According to it the building was transformed into a palace-villa, combining two functions: the papal residence of the family and suburban villa. This design was made within general solutions for the villas of the sixteenth century, which were based on fully integration of the building into the environment. In 1629 after the death of Carlo Maderno, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) took over the management of the construction. Young Francesco Borromini (1599-1667), the grandson of Maderno, also paricipated in the construction of the residence: some of the architectural details, such as the spiral staircase to the right of the arcade, belong to the young architect.
The concept of a glazed loggia supported by a portico, is the basis of the construction, which focuses on the large volume of the main Hall. The Hall itself extends over two floors with a large vault of frescoes created by Pietro da Cortona between 1632 and 1639 under the title “The Triumph of Divine Providence” as temporary and spiritual glorification of the Pope and the Barberini family.
The National Gallery of Antique Art was officially founded in 1893, after to the collection donated to the state by Prince Corsini, was added the collection of Torlonia in 1892 and in subsequent years the collections of Chigi, Hertz, Monte de Pieta and others.
The more meaningful core is represented by the masterpieces of the sixteenth century, among which are “Fornarina”, the famous portrait by Raffaello created for his beloved, the masterpieces of Andrea del Sarto, Beccafumi, Sodoma, Bronzino, Lotto, Tintoretto, Titian, El Greco and completing the sixteenth century Caravaggio with the brilliant painting “Judith Beheading Holofernes”.
The seventeenth century is represented by works of Reni, Domenichino, Guercino, Lanfranco, Bernini, Poussin, Pietro da Cortona and Gaulli.
The section with the masterpieces of the seventeenth century is in complete harmony with the decoration and architecture of the building, indicating the completeness and uniformity of one of the most productive periods of art and culture. Painting of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, is presented by the works of Mattia Preti, Canaletto, Batoni, Pannini, the collection of Lemme and the rare group of French paintings of the same period from the collection of the Duke Chervinara, and is exhibited at the new halls on the second floor of the building.