Critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies
March 13, 2014
Stephanie C. Leone, ed. The Pamphilj and the Arts: Patronage and Consumption in Baroque Rome Boston: McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College, 2011. 200 pp.; 15 color ills.; 101 b/w ills. Paper $45.00 (9781892850171)
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Stephanie C. Leone’s The Pamphilj and the Arts brings together sixteen essays examining the biography of Cardinal Benedetto Pamphilj (1653–1730), as well as his and his family’s patronage of the visual arts and music. The papers were first assembled for a conference on the Pamphilj and the arts held at Boston College in 2010. The combined expertise of the interdisciplinary scholars assembled by Leone (art historians, musicologists, historians, philologists, linguists, and archivists) reveals a vivid portrait of Pamphilj, whose biography and patronage have been neglected since Lina Montalto’s Un mecenate in Roma barocca: il cardinale Benedetto Pamphilj (Florence: Sansoni, 1955). The picture that emerges of Pamphilj and his milieu attests to the contributors’ careful mining of the Pamphilj archives and to the flourishing of the arts in the often overlooked late Baroque era.

Cardinal Benedetto enjoyed a central position at the turn of the eighteenth century among leaders of the Church, the Roman artistic community, and the city’s litterati. Born during the reign of his great uncle, Pope Innocent X (r. 1644–55), Pamphilj was second among the five children of Camillo Pamphilj and Olimpia Aldobrandini, Princess of Rossano. In 1647, Camillo had renounced the cardinalate and position as papal nephew to marry Olimpia, widow of Paolo Borghese and heir to the considerable Aldobrandini fortune. Both Camillo and Olimpia were prominent patrons of the arts, providing strong models that their son Benedetto would later emulate. Camillo built the sprawling Villa Pamphilj and gardens on the Janiculum Hill as well as the Jesuit novitiate and church of S. Andrea al Quirinale, while Olimpia oversaw an extensive collection of old master paintings. Both parents also circulated among Rome’s cultural and intellectual elite, hosting concerts, theatrical performances, and banquets at their palazzo in the Via del Corso (12).

Benedetto matured to become a true “Renaissance man,” enjoying connections to the leading intellectuals, artists, and political figures of his own generation, including Queen Christina of Sweden and George Frideric Handel. Pamphilj was well prepared to enter this elite milieu by the education he received at the Jesuit Collegio Romano, where he was awarded a doctoral degree at the age of twenty-three (90). He was created a cardinal five years later, in 1681. As a cardinal, Pamphilj participated in six papal conclaves and served as papal legate to Bologna from 1690 to 1693 (90). In 1694, he was named archpriest of S. Maria Maggiore, and, in 1699, of S. Giovanni in Laterano. Likely in recognition of his own distinguished library, Pamphilj was named librarian of the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana and archivist of the Archivio Segreto Vaticano in 1704.

Pamphilj’s architectural patronage included his apartment, a theater, and an extensive library in the Palazzo Pamphilj al Corso; a villa outside the Porta Pia; the seat of the Knights of Malta on the Aventine; and a country estate at Albano. He and his personal architect Carlo Fontana collaborated over the course of three decades to bring these projects to fruition (13). To decorate the interiors of his properties, Pamphilj collected mainly landscape, battle, and genre scenes, amassing approximately 1,400 works over the course of his lifetime (113). He also collected decorative arts, including the famous Sunflower Carriage, and scientific instruments. Yet Pamphilj is best known for his patronage of contemporary music. His many contributions in this area include the composition of lyrics for oratorios and cantatas by many of the most acclaimed musicians in late Baroque Rome, including Arcangelo Corelli, Alessandro Scarlatti, and Handel (12). Cardinal Pamphilj commissioned works by these and other composers and provided funding for publications as well as for public and private performances.

Leone’s volume begins by setting the stage for Pamphilj’s accomplishments as a patron with essays addressing the patronage activities of his ancestors. Maria Grazia D’Amelio and Tod Marder provide new insight into the construction of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Four Rivers Fountain (1651) commissioned by Innocent X. D’Amelio and Marder examine the engineering challenges Bernini faced in designing the travertine base to support the Pamphilj obelisk. They argue that through his design process, “Bernini proceeded to break and rebreak, tilt and shift stone shapes, fracturing solid masses and eviscerating all sense of the blocks as a powerful composite architrave bearing the weight of the obelisk” (29). D’Amelio and Marder’s careful examination of the technical challenges of the commission breaks new ground in examining the fountain from an engineering rather than an iconographical perspective and furthers an understanding of Bernini’s work in the period following the disaster of the St. Peter’s bell towers. D’Amelio and Marder highlight the important triumph of Bernini’s seemingly insufficient fountain base at a time when he sought to reclaim his reputation from many detractors.

Catherine Puglisi reconstructs the iconographical program designed for the private chapel of Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini in his Palazzo Aldobrandini al Corso (now Palazzo Doria Pamphilj). The six lunettes depicting scenes from the Life of the Virgin were commissioned from the workshop of Annibale Carracci and were inherited by Olimpia Aldobrandini when she was just sixteen (38, 42). By the end of the seventeenth century, the paintings had been removed from the chapel and absorbed into the family collection now displayed in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj. Andrea De Marchi, former curator of the Galleria Doria Pamphilj, explores another painting in that celebrated collection, Guercino’s Endymion (1647). De Marchi convincingly argues that the unusual telescope depicted in the painting can be identified as the “cannocchiale di Galileo” listed in the inventory compiled on the death of Camillo Pamphilj in 1666 (48). Camillo’s interest in the scientific advances of his era likely inspired Benedetto’s collection of telescopes, microscopes, globes, and maps, which he purchased from shops near Palazzo Pamphilj al Corso and recorded in the account books preserved in the Archivio Doria Pamphilj (50–51).

The second section of the book progresses into Pamphilj’s own generation, beginning with an essay by Laura Stagno on the art and music commissioned for the marriage of his sister, Anna Pamphilj, to Giovanni Andrea III Doria Landi in 1671. Essays by Paul F. Grendler on Pamphilj’s Jesuit education and by James M. Weiss on his ecclesiastical career provide the reader with in-depth background on the academic training of many Roman clerics and on the inner workings of the College of Cardinals during the early modern era.

In the next section, essays on Pamphilj’s patronage of the visual arts render a mosaic portrait with elements drawn from a number of disciplines. Leone traces the cardinal’s extensive collection of paintings, much of which has been dispersed since his death. Her careful analysis of his account books and personal inventory seeks “to define with greater precision the chronology, character, cost, and significance of his collecting habits,” while also providing insight into the economics of patronage networks during the period (14).

Daria Borghese examines the image Pamphilj sought to project through the many festive events he hosted at his various residences. These included banquets; theatrical, musical, and literary performances; and elaborate decorative programs consisting of painting as well as ephemeral sculpture and architecture. Similarly, Stefanie Walker traces the construction of the lavish Sunflower Carriage commissioned by the young Benedetto from Giovanni Paolo Schor. Arguing that the “Girasole was meant to be noticed and to broadcast the reputation and refined taste of its owner,” Walker demonstrates how Pamphilj used the carriage to display his status as he entered public life as a young adult (151).

Essays by Alexandra Nigito and Ellen T. Harris address Pamphilj’s passion for music, the area in which he invested the majority of his patronage efforts. Nigito describes the weekly “accademie musicali” hosted by the cardinal beginning in 1688 (161). These gatherings, featuring the most accomplished musicians of the time, were organized by Carlo Francesco Cesarini from 1690 until Pamphilj’s death in 1730 (163). Harris explores Pamphilj’s relationship with Handel, who arrived in Rome in 1707, and whose inspiration seems to have breathed new life into the cardinal’s love of music. In a cantata he wrote for Handel, Pamphilj credits the composer/musician (thirty years his junior) with “having led to the rebirth of his poetic talents” (189). Harris demonstrates that the cardinal introduced Handel to Roman society and examines the texts for an oratorio and several cantatas written by Pamphilj to be set to music by Handel. These works, primarily composed in the pastoral mode, focused on themes of love, conversion, and rebirth, and may reveal the cardinal’s apparently unrequited attraction to Handel.

The volume’s final section on “the written word” begins with Laurie Shepard’s brief history of the Roman pasquinade. Next, Alessandra Mercantini, director of the Archivio Doria Pamphilj, provides a detailed reconstruction of Cardinal Pamphilj’s two libraries, a “Libreria Legale” and a “Libreria Grande o erudita,” together comprising approximately nine thousand volumes housed in eight rooms in the family palazzo on the Corso (215). The breadth of Pamphilj’s collection provides further evidence of the range of his interests, including books on philosophy and theology, ancient and contemporary literature and poetry, science, history, painting, architecture, and theater. Vernon Hyde Minor’s essay on Pamphilj as an author of pastoral poetry and his involvement with the elite and sometimes controversial Accademia degli Arcadi concludes the volume. Minor examines homosexual imagery in the Arcadian tradition, inviting further exploration of these themes and their ties to Pamphilj and his circle.

For art historians, the tantalizing omission from the volume is attention to Pamphilj’s oversight of the group of artists and patrons who completed the decorative program at S. Giovanni in Laterano. Leone mentions the cardinal’s commission for Camillo Rusconi’s Saint John the Evangelist (1715–18) and his donation for the facade construction, but no essay in the collection addresses his involvement with these or the projects for the colossal sculptures that line the nave of the basilica.1 Future research into these commissions would provide nuance for an understanding of the final decorative program for the Lateran while also building on the theme of patronage networks otherwise well illumined by this collection of essays.

Kimberly L. Dennis
Associate Professor, Department of Art and Art History, Rollins College

1 Three modern sources reference Benedetto Pamphilj’s involvement with the project: Frederick den Broeder, “The Lateran Apostles: The Major Sculpture Commission in Eighteenth-Century Rome,” Apollo 85 (1967): 360–65; Michael Conforti, “Planning the Lateran Apostles,” in Studies in Italian Art and Architecture, 15th through 18th Centuries, ed., Henry A. Millon, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1980, 243–55; and Christopher M. S. Johns, Papal Art and Cultural Politics: Rome in the Age of Clement XI, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993. None of these, however, examines Pamphilj’s involvement in depth, although he directed the Congregazione that oversaw the commissions and provided at least one-third of the initial funding for the work. Den Broeder notes that “Cardinal Pamphili was the busy and ambitious force behind the work” and acknowledges the need for further research into the sequence of events in the commissions and the patronage of the sculptures (360, 364).

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