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Members' Research Report Archive

The Arts in Baroque Rome under Pope Innocent X Pamphilj and His Family (1644–1672)

Stephanie C. Leone, Boston College
Paul Mellon Visiting Senior Fellow, November 4–December 31, 2014


Diego Velázquez, Portrait of Innocent X, 1649–1650. Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome (fc 289). Arti Doria Pamphilj srl

The history of art and architecture in baroque Rome has essentially been told through singular relationships between powerful patrons and great artists, with Pope Urban VIII Barberini (1568–1644) and Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) best exemplifying this model. The patronage of Urban VIII’s successor, Innocent X Pamphilj (1574–1655), has traditionally been perceived as paling in comparison, largely, I argue, because it fails to fit the pattern. In the book I am writing, I propose a new paradigm for understanding the collective contribution of Innocent X, his sister-in-law Donna Olimpia Maidalchini (1592–1657), and his nephew Camillo Pamphilj (1622–1666) to the arts in Rome, from the start of the Pamphilj pontificate in 1644, through the consecration of the family’s church of Sant’Agnese in Agone in 1672. The Pamphilj did not privilege a single artist but rather made use of all available creative resources to realize multiple projects throughout the city, from sacred to secular, public to private, and monumental to miniature. Offering the most comprehensive study of Pamphilj patronage to date, my book approaches the topic by considering a wide-ranging selection of commissions, such as the nave decoration of St. Peter’s, the new nave of San Giovanni in Laterano, the Palazzo Nuovo on the Campidoglio, the Villa Pamphilj, the Four Rivers

Fountain, Sant’Agnese in Agone, San Nicola da Tolentino, and the chapel of San Tommaso di Villanova, as well as the restoration of antiquities and the decorative arts. In addition, I focus on the processes—the very mechanics of patronage and the enterprise of artistic production—through which these works of art and architecture were realized.

The focus on process has led me to investigate the network of individuals, from artists and artisans to advisors and administrators, employed in Pamphilj projects, many of which were complex and involved multiple forms of art and numerous specialists. For instance, the Villa Pamphilj, whose design is attributed to Alessandro Algardi (1598–1654), involved architects, sculptors, restorers, painters, stucco workers, excavators, masons, stone carvers, carpenters, iron workers, and others to realize the architecture, the decorative work of sculpture and paintings, the display of art, gardens, fountains, and more. My study of the individuals employed on Pamphilj projects shows that names reoccur among the sites. Fundamental questions include the following: How and why were individuals chosen for these commissions? What types of relationships—artist-artist, artist-artisan, patron-artist, patron-artisan, artisan-artisan, and so on—governed circulation among sites? Were artists, artisans, and others able to make a career of Pamphilj projects? From this broad perspective on the network, my research narrows to investigate the untold stories of individual artisans and the nature and practices of the various arti (crafts) in seventeenth-century Rome.

To reconstruct the mechanics of patronage and artistic production, I am studying visual and written documentation of projects and persons, including plans, drawings, payment records, construction documents, contracts, wills, papal briefs, letters, and finished works of art. Before coming to CASVA, I conducted two archival campaigns in Rome, where I studied, transcribed, and photographed documents and works of art. My residency provided a welcome and productive period in which to analyze my primary source research and synthesize and develop my ideas while utilizing the exceptional resources of the National Gallery of Art Library. Two key accomplishments were writing a chapter outline for my book and writing part of the chapter on the muratori (masons), which features an artisan named Ludovico Bossi. In seeking to determine Bossi’s contribution to the design and realization of several projects, including the Villa Pamphilj and the Four Rivers Fountain, I delved into secondary sources on the intersection of learned individuals and skilled practitioners in early modern art and science, building workshops as sites of knowledge transfer, and engineering and hydraulic projects in late sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Rome. I am developing a thesis that Bossi was instrumental in overcoming the technical difficulties of the creation of Bernini’s Four Rivers Fountain, whose obelisk rests perilously over a four-legged rocky base with a void in the center.

Besides making full use of the library, I benefited tremendously from conversations with colleagues both within and outside CASVA. This stimulating research period has undoubtedly advanced my progress both toward producing a revisionist study of the Pamphilj and the arts in mid-seventeenth-century Rome and toward providing a new model for papal patronage studies. This new approach sets aside the search for programmatic themes, symbolic meanings, and singular relationships in order to account for the full range of agency in the realization of complex projects.