CHRONICLES AND HISTORY FROM THE QUIRINALE PALACE
Presenting the last episode dedicated to this symbol of Italian history, with a multitude of anecdotes about the great figures who once roamed its corridors
Completed under Pope Paul V, during the 17th century the Quirinale’s architecture was fortified, almost exclusively for defensive reasons.
Among the gardens’ decorations, the Fontana Rustica (1622) in the “Boschetto” area, was enlarged by Pope Gregory XV Ludovisi (1621-1623) and became what it is today, despite the wide limestone accumulations surrounding it. The pope wanted a mosaic depiction of his coat of arms placed directly in front of the Fontana Rustica: the Mosaic floor is a repeating pattern with a cage depicted that imprisons the visitor in the center of the papal coat of arms. Poet Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli tells the story in a sonnet of how Pope Gregory XV lead a poor prelate to the fountain and then suddenly turned the water on, splashing him like “a wet chick.” It was Pope Urban VIII Barberini (1623-44) who covered the entire perimeter of the garden walls, ensuring that the Swiss guards’ lodgings were expanded (the first part of the current Manica Lunga, the building that runs along Via del Quirinale) and building a low canopy on the facade, where there is currently a military canteen. In addition, he added new fountains to the gardens, entrusting Gianlorenzo Bernini with the design of the Loggia delle Benedizioni (1638), above the main portal of the palace facade.
But in the course of the 16th century one of the most beautiful decorative enterprises was installed: Pope Alexander VII Chigi (1655-67) commissioned a fresco depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments in long gallery of the palace wing overlooking the square. The frieze was made by a
group of painters under the direction of Pietro da Cortona, including Carlo Maratta and Pier Francesco Mola, and is visible today in three rooms (Gialla, Augusto, Ambasciatori) in Alexander VII’S gallery split up in 1812 by Napoleon. The last important architectual alterations on the Quirinale’s complex and its adjacent areas were completed by the first half of the 18th century. First, Alessandro Specchi and then Ferdinando Fuga built, amongst other additions, the Papal stables (Scuderie) on the square overlooking the beginning of via Dataria.
Ferdinando Fuga was also responsible for the completion of the Manica Lunga and the adjoining building for the Segretario delle Cifre (diplomatic desks of the Holy See). Previously used as accommodation for the Italian royal family, it is now the residence of Presidents of the Republic — currently President Sergio Mattarella. Ferdinando Fuga was also commissioned to design the Quirinale garden’s Coffee House (1741), with a splendid view over Rome, on the square of the Palazzo della Consulta, to host Swiss offices and guards.
At the beginning of the 18th century the Quirinale’s history took a sharp turn. In 1809, Napoleon’s troops occupied Rome, captured Pope Pius VII (1800-1823) and deported him to France; the Quirinale was chosen by the Napoleonic government as the emperor’s residence.
In preparation for Napoleon’s sojourn in Rome - which actually never happened - the palace was adapted to neoclassical needs and tastes. And to make the necessary changes happened quickly, architect Raffaele Stern, responsible for the project, was called on to coordinate a large team of artists (including painters Felice Giani and Jacques Dominique Ingres, and Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen).
The present-day layout of the Sala della Musica, for example - one of the most beautiful, with a splendid view of Rome, with its grand piano - still presents important elements of the early
19th century, when it was designed to become Napoleon’s studio. From the room’s six windows, the emperor could enjoy a spectacular view of the gardens, and have visual dominance of the entire city. The decorations, with a massive painting by Bolognese artist Pelagio Palagi at the center, was dedicated to Julius Caesar, artistically depicting the words “De bello gallico and De belle civili” from the Roman emperor’s Commentaries on the Civil War or Bellum Civile. In May 1814, Pope Pius VII returned to Rome and to the Quirinale. He immediately ordered the traces of Napoleonic occupation to be cleared out: amongst the most important we see the austere frescoes of the Pauline Chapel.
The last pope to reside at the Quirinale was Pius IX (184678), who left his papal mark in Pope Paul V’s apartment by commissioning Tommaso Minardi to paint the Mission of the Apostles (1848) in the Sala degli Ambasciatori (Ambassador’s Room).
Returning to Vittorio Emanuele. In 1870, after the Porta Pia uprising and the annexation of Rome to the Kingdom of Italy, the Quirinale became the Savoy family residence. The ancient papal palace was transformed into a royal palace by restoring some rooms - especially the wing to the garden – completely and usually in the sumptuous Louis XV style.
Queen Margherita was the mastermind of this radical change, dousing the many halls in gold and glitter, still appreciated in today’s official ceremonies. The taste was applied, of course, to all the furnishings — tables, flowerpots, silverware, pots — still admired in the beautiful Vasella, on the palace’s ground floor. According to Professor Francesco Colalucci, Woody Allen himself was riveted during his visit to the Quirinale and thrilled by the Rococo Revival style of the Sala degli Specchi (Hall of Mirrors) and the Salone delle Feste (Ceremonial Hall).
Moreover, the young princess Margherita, though not really loved by her husband Umberto, was certainly admired by for her intelligence and ability with which she decided to express the sovereignty of the Savoy House through the embellishment of the palace, following in the steps of other European royals. This particular Rococo Revival taste adapted well to 18th century furniture brought to the Quirinale from the rulers around Italy. Some extraordinary pieces, such as Piemontese cabinet maker Pietro Piffetti’s library was transferred “in its entirety” from the Castle of Moncalieri in Piedmont to the Quirinale, and holds the queen’s books to this day. Important paintings and series of tapestries also originate from before the Italian Unification: six paintings by Corrado Giaquinto with Stories of Aeneas come from Moncalieri; Vittorio Emanuele II brought ten16th-century tapestries from Florence to the Quirinale, designed by Bronzino, Pontormo and Salviati; the two Beauvais series from ‘700, taken from Francois Boucher’s sketches were brought from Parma.
Furniture, paintings, tapestries and various furnishings from Italian estates are now preserved in the Quirinale, while a collection of large oriental pots from the late 17th and early 18th centuries, various paintings by Giulio Romano, Francesco Mancini, Pietro da Cortona and others, tapestries (four Gobelins with the Stories of New Testament that were donated to Pius VII by Napoleon in 1805) remain from the papal past. The Savoys, during their stay until the proclamation of the Republic in 1946, used the Palace to fit their habits and desires: for a good length of time, a part of the Barberini bastions became small canals navigable by the princes’ boats. In the gardens, palm trees were planted and there was a tennis court and a riding school.
The Corazzieri salon was used as a covered tennis court and during recent restorations a lost ball was found behind a Taddeo Landini marble foot basin as it was being transferred near the entrance of the Cappella Paolina at the Vatican. At one point it is believed the grand room was used as a skating rink! Probably not ...
What were the Savoy’s favorite dishes? Umberto and Margherita were light years apart. Margherita preferred brioches and pastries for breakfast, while the king preferred roast pheasant served on toasted bread! The previous King Vittorio Emanuele II preferred to have his son, Umberto, marry his cousin (brother of Ferdinand’s daughter), toeing the state line of unity, instead of marrying out to a foreign royal family. However, the only son of Umberto seemed to suffer some “genetic” factors. Vittorio Emanuele III, nicknamed “Sciaboletta” (Little Saber) was born from the union, short of stature even by 19th-century standards - only half a meter tall. Fortunately, however, “Sciaboletta” married Elena of Montenegro and from their union five healthy and beautiful children were born, and among them
Umberto, called “Prince Charmant” (the fascinating prince) - who inherited the throne.
On September 27, 1896 Emanuele Scarfoglio, founder of the newspaper Il Mattino di Napoli, wrote an article titled “Wedding with Dried Figs”. The journalist strongly criticized the choice of the future sovereign of Italy. One month before the marriage between Vittorio Emanuele III and Elena of Montenegro, the gist of the article underlined how Umberto and Margherita had not been able to conquer, among other things, the popular approval and reclaim the Savoy dynasty. The union was commercial, and Montenegro was a massive exporter of dried figs. Needless to say, the newspaper was immediately seized. In spite of Scarfoglio’s suspicions, Queen Elena was much loved - even by her husband - and remembered affectionately by all the Italians, precisely for her great humanity and generosity.
Since 1911, the sovereigns have permanently resided in Villa Savoia (now Villa Ada) and every morning the king went to Quirinale, often driving himself in his Fiat. At the buzzing intersection of the Quattro Fontane (Four Fountains) the king’s Fiat stalled and started and sputtered about half a mile, all the way to the Barberini Square, thankfully without injuring anyone in the process. During Fascism, the Palace also hosted Adolf Hitler for dinner, by invitation: ironically, that night princess Mafalda sat at the table next to Hitler. Mafalda, who later married German Prince Filippo, Langravio d’assia-kassel, was later be arrested and died (under a false name) in a German concentration camp in 1944.
After the foundation of the Italian Republic in 1946, King Umberto left the Palace: since then the architectural structures of the Quirinale complex and the interior furnishings have remained basically unaltered, protected by law. Tapestries and all furnishings, including the splendid collection of antique clocks, frescoes discovered in Alessandro VII’S gallery and those commissioned by Paolo Borghese V, are guarded by the state. The original travertine color of the ancient stucco surfaces in the Courtyard of Honor and the main façade of the Palace have been restored to its original white-blue color. But maintenance and new discoveries continue uninterrupted, both in the Palace and in the gardens. The Palace, as it is known, is now open to the public with regular guided tours during the week, curated by university students alongside volunteers from the Italian Touring Club. Since it has become the seat of the President of the Republic, not all the Presidents have stayed at the Palace. For example, Sandro Pertini continued to live in his own house at Fontana di Trevi, while for example Luigi Einaudi, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, Giorgio Napolitano and now Sergio Mattarella, chose to live and work at Palazzo, backed by their own Counselors from the staff and the numerous employees who carry out their duties in specific offices and services.
Long live the Palace that has welcomed 30 Popes, 4 Kings and 12 Republican Presidents — the Quirinale!