View of Ariccia with Palazzo Chigi and the monumental bridge.
The light-coloured Chigi palace is the true nerve centre of Ariccia. When the Chigi family took it over in 1661, it was a relatively modest hunting lodge. The pope, however, required a residence more suited to his status and commissioned his favourite artist to do something about it. In little over ten years, Bernini, assisted by his young apprentice Carlo Fontana, transformed not only the villa but the entire town into a baroque architectural showcase. Opposite the palace, he built the domed church of the Assumption, often compared to the Pantheon, flanked by twin colonnaded pavilions. Bernini also built the church of S. Nicola at the bottom of the main street, and the imposing Madonna di Galloro sanctuary at the far end of town. The ample space between became the scenic Piazza di Corte, decorated with two fountains and enclosed at the Albano end. The towering, three-tiered monumental viaduct and road leading into Ariccia came two centuries later.
Wanted in Rome | 6 November 2013
The palace was purchased from the Chigi heirs by Ariccia town council in 1988, along with all its original 18th and 19th-century art works, furnishings and fitments, and was opened to the public in Jubilee Year 2000. Curator Francesco Petrucci has followed every phase of the delicate restoration work. “It’s practically been my life’s work,” he says. “My graduation thesis was about Palazzo Chigi and I’ve supervised all the conservation processes and cultural initiatives ever since.” Restoration is an on-going project. The most recent task has been the recovery and preservation of a series of rare 17th-century Cordoba leather wall hangings. “They are now back in position, so people can see the rooms as they originally were.” There are plenty of other treasures for visitors to enjoy, such as the extensive Chigi baroque art collection; a rare Bernini sanguigna (a drawing executed
in reddish-brown chalk) in the chapel and two splendid gilded consoles, also by the master; the delightful old pharmacy, designed by Fontana; and sculptures, medallions, costumes and various art objects. Don’t miss the melancholy Nuns’ Gallery with the portraits of ten Chigi sisters, who all took the veil, and the Room of Beauties containing portraits of the pin-ups of the day, including the mistress of Cardinal Flavio I, the pope’s nephew. The third floor contains the recently opened Museum of Baroque Art, enriched with recent donations, and considered to contain the most comprehensive collection of Roman Baroque painting in Italy. Not surprisingly, the palace has been used as the set for many period films, including Visconti’s masterpiece, The Leopard.
Published on Dec 5, 2013
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