“A Whole New Genus of Illustionistic Ceiling Painting” – Scott
Rome, J.J. de Rubeis, 1690.

Barberinæ Aulæ fornix Romæ Eq. Petri Berettini Cortonensis picturis admirandus cuius spirantes imagines et monocromata in hisce delineamentis ad similitudinem adumbrata Urbani VIII. Pontificis Maximi virtutes exprimunt.

Folio [46 x 33 cm], 10 numbered plates including title, (of which 8 are double-page) ‘pinxit in Aula Barberina’.

Two rare suites of engravings depicting Pietro da Cortona’s celebrated frescoes in the salone of Palazzo Barberini and the Pitti Palace, then the residence of the Duke of Etro. Cortona was commissioned by Cardinal Francesco to create the artistic centerpiece of the Barberini palace, a fresco which is now recognized as his most celebrated work, the Allegory of Divine Providence. The work was intended to “assert the divine election of the Barberini family to rule the Church and the Papal States” and the final result succeeded in creating “a whole new genus of illustionistic ceiling painting” (Scott, p. 159).


Executed between 1633 and 1639, the Barberini fresco depicts scenes from classical mythology interpreted to illustrate the principal achievements of Pope Urban VIII’s reign. “The fresco is one of the first and yet one of the most complete manifestations of Baroque decorative painting in Rome, with its combination of illusionism and glowing colouring” (Anthony Blunt, Guide to Baroque Rome, p. 165). The artistic process was far from smooth however; halfway through his work on the huge vault, Cortona paid a visit to Venice and, upon learning of several new illusionistic techniques, returned to the Palazzo Barberini and ordered the plasterers to cover over more than half of the ceiling so that he might redo much of his work. During another period when Cortona was away from Florence, two of his assistants began conspiring to complete the job according to their own designs, threatening to enlist the help of visitors passing through the palace and other ‘vile rabble’. Despite such setbacks, the fresco was ultimately completed to the satisfaction of his patrons.

The elaborate iconography in the salone was explained to a curious public in a pamphlet ascribed to a (fictitious?) Mattia Rosichino, who claimed to be a sweeper (scopatore) employed by the Barberini. He published his account of the frescos because he had grown tired of explaining their meaning to countless visitors. The Barberini bees flit among the imposing figures of Divine Wisdom, Time, Justice, Mercy, Immortality, Hercules and others—all of whom are painted within the illusionistic framework in such a way that they appear to be both inside and outside the actual hall. The only other residence in Rome to have such a grand, vaulted sala was the Vatican, which further reinforced the connection between the Barberini and the papacy.

Bound in with the volume are (16 of 25) engravings after another set of frescoes by Pietro commissioned by the Duke of Etro for his Florentine palace (Palazzo Pitti). Cortona’s work (executed between 1641-47) decorates three of the rooms in the ‘Sale dei Pianeti’, those of Giove (Jupiter) and Veneris (Venus) are depicted here. These Allegories of Virtues and Planets, designed to honor the Medici protégé Galileo Galilei, have elaborate stucco accompaniments uniting the painted ceilings with the framework of the rooms, and this form of decoration was widely influential, not only in Italy, but also in France. The project was completed by Cortona’s pupil Ciro Ferri. The engravers include Cornelius Bloemaert (6 plates) C. de la Haije (1), Jac. Blondeau (2), P. Simon (1), L. Visscher (1), Spierre (2), Clouvet (1), Lauvers Coenradt (1) and Gerardin (1).


Pupil of the Bolognese painter Cantarini, the engraver of the present work Girolamo Rossi the Elder made his name engraving the works of Carracci, Guido Reni and the other Bolognese painters.



* 1) Berlin 4093; 2) 4094 (requires dedication, 25 pl. on 17 ff.); Brunet I.811 (s.v. Berretinus) “en 24 pièces”; John Beldon Scott, Images of Nepotism: the Painted Ceilings of Palazzo Barberini (Princeton, 1991); A. Vitzthum, “A comment on the iconography of Pietro da Cortona's Barberini ceiling,” Burlington Magazine CIII (l961) 427; Benezit IX.l06.

Price: $3,500.00

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