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In Transit Blog: Obscured Frescoes See the Light in Rome

The restored Chigi Gallery.

When the Baroque master Pietro da Cortona was commissioned by Pope Alexander VII Chigi to fresco a 245-foot gallery at the Quirinale in Rome in 1655, he did not disappoint.

By the time the artist — famed for his use of color, illusion and perspective — and his students were through, the gallery boasted a cycle of stunning biblical scenes, set over trompe-l’oeil decorations of semi-nude figures and lush gardens. Then, 150 years later, Napoleon conquered Rome and renovated the Quirinale, bricking up the windows, dividing the space into three large rooms and largely covering the paintings with wall hangings and wallpaper.

This fall, for the first time in 200 years, Cortona’s frescoes are open to be viewed as first intended. Unearthed by electrical work in 2001, the works are on full view in the gallery, which has undergone a 500 million euro restoration. (Piazza del Quirinale, www.quirinale.it/qrnw/statico/palazzo/palazzo.htm)

The windows that were walled  are now open, finally illuminating the cycle of biblical scenes. And the trompe-l’oeil decorations, with their greenery, columns and figures, have been revealed. The gallery remains as  three separate rooms — but it’s now much easier to imagine the spectacular Baroque hall as it was. 

To celebrate the restorations and the 150th anniversary of Italy’s unification, through March the Palazzo Quirinale will be open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., as well as on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (It’s closed on Mondays.) Entrance is 5 euros.

 

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