Dramatic Skies in the Palazzo Barberini

It was turning into a rainy evening in Rome. The downpour was steady: persistent enough to slowly seep through my raincoat, but not aggressive enough to convince me to stop meandering through the drizzly streets, past intriguing old churches and lazily flowing fountains.

Rome Quattro Fontane Four Fountains Rainy

Eventually, I made my way to the Palazzo Barberini, a seventeenth century palace that is now home to the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica. This museum hosts one of Italy’s most important painting collections, but it can be easy to overlook as a visitor to artwork-saturated Rome.

Evening darkness was already starting its slow descent as I entered the quiet museum. There were only a handful of other visitors in the impressive palazzo, so I felt like I was alone. (Well, if one can be alone when surrounded by a parade of characters depicted by Raphael, Caravaggio, Bernini, and Lippi.) Big windows scattered throughout the galleries provided glimpses out to the rainy scenes below.

Palazzo Barberini Rainy Window

The dreary, stormy evening set the mood for my visit. I couldn’t escape the rain. To get to the museum’s upper floors, I had to climb a square staircase (designed by Bernini) that spiraled around an open-air courtyard. While I remained dry, I was practically immersed in the rainstorm; I could see it, hear it, smell it.

Palazzo Barberini Bernini Square Staircase Rainy

Evocative ambience aside, the weather’s major impact on my visit experience was at its conclusion. I had my nose in an intricate painting of a Venetian bridge by Canaletto, when all of a sudden, darkness. The museum lost its power! I stood still in the gallery, enjoying the strangeness of being in a museum lit only by the diffused light coming in through the covered windows.

A guard eventually made his way through each gallery, heading towards the museum’s exit, collecting visitors in the beam of his flashlight.

Palazzo Barberini Dark Flashlight Storm

But during my visit before this abrupt exit, as I was wandering from painting to painting, I found myself pulled to the representations of dramatic skies. Sculptural cloud formations and dazzling colors played a supporting role in these paintings’ narratives. At first, the different skyscapes were easy to miss behind the gripping stories taking place before them; but, once I had started noticing them, I couldn’t stop searching them out in each new painting. Not unlike my experience in an exhibition dedicated to frames, I felt like I was seeing something very familiar in a new way.

I decided to go on a photo safari, a trick in my museum toolbox that helps me look at objects more closely. You simply pick a theme and focus on details found in artworks around that theme, with the aim of looking at everything differently. This visit’s theme became spotting the striking skies depicted in the paintings.

And so I present Dramatic Skies, as found in the Palazzo Barberini:

Palazzo Barberini Jan Metsys Judith with the Head of Holophernes
Palazzo Barberini Pietro da Cortona View of Villa Sacchetti at Castelfusano
Palazzo Barberini Rabbit Cloud Fresco
Palazzo Barberini Bronckhorst Bathsheba at her Bath
Palazzo Barberini Simon Vouet Saint Mary Magdalene Penitent
Palazzo Barberini Sordo Three Angels Appear to Abraham fresco
Palazzo Barberini Garofalo Saint Cecilia
Palazzo Barberini Canaletto Venice the Rialto Bridge
Palazzo Barberini Dosso Dossi Saint John the Evangelist
Palazzo Barberini Rondinelli Madonna and Child
Palazzo Barberini Madonna and Child Clouds
Palazzo Barberini Poussin Landscape with Hagar and the Angel

Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica - Palazzo Barberini

Addressvia delle Quattro Fontane, 13 – 00184, Rome, Italy ∣ Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 8:30am to 7pm

Palazzo Barberini Cat Museum

A feline visitor approaching the museum’s ticket desk.

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