Saturday, July 1, 2017
200 Views of Rome: Galleria Spada
My take on the Galleria Spada, or Palazzo Spada, has no basis in any historical facts. But like any compelling fiction it holds some kind of fundamental truth within it. So let's go with it:
There were a bunch of really rich, powerful guys in Rome. They all knew each other. And they built (or modified) their fabulous Palazzi. They had loads of ready Catholic cash, and they also had really terrific taste. They decorated spectacularly. And so today we can go visit their many amazing palaces: Barberini, Borghese, Farnese, Altemps, and so on.
On the other hand there was Cardinal Spada. He wasn't quite as rich as all the other guys. And he didn't have as good taste either. But he really wanted to be one of them. So he did his best, in a desperate, pathetic sort of way. And all the big shots humored him.
There's Cardinal Spada now, buying a painting by a big name artist. It's the cheapest one he can find, and it's not that good. "Look everyone." He cries. "I got a Durer! I got a Titian!"
"Er, is that a real Titian?"
"The guy said it was, and it was on sale!" Cardinal Spada is so excited he throws a party for his rich friends to celebrate. The food's not that good and it's skimpy. The wine tastes funny. He can't afford quite enough servants. But Cardinal Spada is so proud, and eager, and awkward.
Go to the other Palazzi and see a short list at each of them of great paintings by genius painters. But because there are only so many of those around they fill their wall space out with the best paintings by slightly less famous and brilliant artists, and then they round that all out with curiosities, and paintings along themes, or of particular interest to them.
Not Cardinal Spada. He buys blind, by name, whatever is on sale. He buys in bulk.
Then he hires Borromini to do some work on the place.
Wait, Borromini! Greatest architect in the world?
Yes, he has him do a cut rate bargain basement illusion out in the garden. It's... cute. But I picture Cardinal Spada at pains to bring it up at every social gathering: "Yeah, just having Borromini do a little work around the Palazzo." Or "Great to get away to this party. My Palazzo is so dusty what with all that architectural work Borromini is doing around the place!"
So, you may wonder, is Galleria Spada worth a visit?
Yes!!! It's not too expensive, maybe 5 euros. I love its handy location in the heart of things, near Campo de Fiori. It's pretty quiet in there too, which is never a bad thing in Rome. The paintings can surprise you by how uninteresting they are, which is no small trick when you've got work by such notable artists. But you can just sort of blaze through the opulent, though by no means terribly interesting halls, and get to the little garden courtyard.
"Hey! Isn't the Borromini out here?"
"It is! That's what everyone comes here to see."
"Is that it over there?"
"Yes it is."
It's surprisingly unimpressive, isn't it?
"Well, he was probably working with a pretty tight budget."
"Disappointing, the pictures I saw on the Internet made it look more interesting somehow."
"Yeah, it's not much to speak of."
"Hey. It's really nice out here though. Look, a cat."
"I see it. She's a very friendly cat."
"Are these lime trees?"
"Maybe. It smells so good out here, doesn't it?"
"Yes, it does."