Hidden Rome: The Sciarra Gallery

Hidden Rome: The Sciarra Gallery

Nestled just a stone’s throw away from the renowned Trevi Fountain lies the Sciarra Gallery, a secluded courtyard within the Sciarra Colonna palace. Serving as a pedestrian thoroughfare connecting Via Marco Minghetti and Via dell’Umiltà, this gallery was established in the Trevi neighborhood during the latter half of the 1880s. It welcomes visitors from Monday to Friday during regular business hours.

The Capture of Rome in 1870 marked a pivotal moment, leading to Rome’s incorporation into the Kingdom of Italy and subsequent elevation to the nation’s capital the following year. This era witnessed extensive urban restructuring and modernization efforts to accommodate its new role. The burgeoning administrative system spurred the creation of ministries, offices, museums, and residential spaces, resulting in a significant influx of inhabitants to Rome.
This period also saw the emergence of a rich architectural style blending Neoclassical elements with the Liberty Style, symbolizing the city’s newfound strength and stability. Even the upper-middle class participated in urbanization endeavors to enhance the elegance and functionality of their residences, often hosting esteemed intellectual gatherings in their salons.
In 1886, Prince Maffeo Barberini-Colonna from Sciarra initiated the construction of the Sciarra Gallery to connect various areas of his property, including offices for “the Grandstand” newspaper and the Quirino Theater. Designed by architect Giulio de Angelis, renowned for his incorporation of cast iron, the gallery featured a cruciform layout covered with iron and glass. The entrance halls boasted painted cast iron columns, ingeniously blending aesthetic appeal with structural integrity.

The gallery’s decorations, including frescoes and wrought iron and terracotta elements, epitomize the Liberty Style, meticulously crafted by painter Giuseppe Cellini. The upper panel showcases depictions of feminine virtues embodied by elegant ladies, some resembling real portraits of aristocratic acquaintances. Each figure is accompanied by a scroll bearing the virtue it represents, such as Modesty, Strength, or Justice, with the completion date, MDCCCLXXXVIII (1888), displayed in Roman numerals on the first floor.

Conversely, the lower panel portrays scenes from the daily lives of middle-class women engaging in various activities, from gardening to charitable endeavors. Notably, amidst these virtuous depictions, a scene featuring Gabriele D’Annunzio engaging in polite conversation with a young lady stands out, reflecting an unconventional portrayal given D’Annunzio’s typical depiction of women as symbols of fatal beauty and seduction. This romantic writer is the sole male figure depicted among the women, underscoring the gallery’s unique perspective.
The concept of the “Glorification of Women,” conceived by literary critic Giulio Salvatori, aims to honor the female figure, particularly Carolina Colonna Sciarra, mother of Prince Maffeo. The decorative shields bearing the initials CCS in the family’s coat of arms pay homage to her influence. Adorned in opulent attire, the figures depicted in the frescoes provide a glimpse into Roman fashion circa 1900.

In essence, the Sciarra Gallery serves as a poignant representation of its transitional era, blending modern architectural elements with classic decorative themes. Its juxtaposition of contemporary features with nostalgic aesthetics encapsulates the dynamic spirit of Rome during its transformative period.

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