Most of the erections that took place in Rome during the XVIII and XIX centuries were works on pre-existing buildings. Old buildings were enlarged by adding new constructions or a new façade. After the grandeur and artistic richness marked by the Baroque, the architecture underwent a fast decline. Again artists exasperated the Baroque forms till their extreme consequences, giving birth to the art forms of the Rococo.
In Rome, the most representing artist of Rococo was Filippo Raguzzini, who created few but delightful works. He built the little church of Santa Maria della Quercia and the Hospital S. Gallicano, but his masterpiece is surely the theatrical Piazza S. Ignazio (1728).
The buildings (recently cleaned) have curving facades which fit into a careful decorative scheme in relation to the streets between them. The central building is now used by the Cultural Ministry and the special carabinieri police force in charge of safeguarding Italy’s cultural heritage. The five little palaces that surround the square were planned to satisfy the economic and residential necessities of the emerging middle class.
On the opposite side of the Corso is the huge Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, which dates from 1435 but has suffered many vicissitudes. The façade towards the Corso, by Gabriele Valvassori (1731-34), is perhaps the finest and most balanced Rococo work in Rome.
The Rococo was followed by another artistic style, the Neoclassicism. The name makes reference to the renewal of the ancient Greek and Roman art, taken as model for the new artistic productions. One of the most representing exponents of Neoclassicism in Rome was the Florentine Ferdinando Fuga. In 1750, the Florentine artist created the new façade of S. Maria Maggiore, which hides the older Romanic one decorated with mosaics.
Fuga realized also the “Manica lunga”, that is the part of Palazzo Quirinale that stretches along Via del Quirinale.
One of his best architectural productions is Palazzo Corsini, erected in 1736 in place of the Sixteenth-century residence of Cardinal Riario. The regularity and coldness of the long and monotone façade perfectly represents the typical taste of the Neoclassicism.
The palace houses many Neo-classical sculptures and a precious art collection that gathers 17th and 18th century paintings of the Roman, Neapolitan and Bolognese schools, but also important works by Fra Angelico, Rubens, van Dyck, Murillo and Caravaggio. It is also the seat of the Accademia Nazionale dei lincei, founded by Prince Federico Cesi in 1603 for the promotion of learning, and said to be the oldest surviving institution of its kind. Galileo was a Lincean.
Discover the art and life of Caravaggio, a painter who left an indelible mark on Rome. This fascinating walking tour takes you to see Caravaggio's most characteristic masterpieces, and weaves a fascinating story with a tragic end.
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Another work of restoring was made on the Basilica of S. Giovanni in Laterano, which in 1735 received a new façade. The principal or east front, overlooking the vast square, is a theatrical composition by Alessandro Galilei.
It consists of a two-store portico surmounted by an attic with 16 colossal statues of Christ with the Apostles and Saints. Beneath the portico, erected according to a classical taste, the central portal has ancient bronze doors of the Curia in the Roman Forum, moved here in the 17th century by Alexander VII. On the left is a statue of Constantine, from his baths on the Quirinal. On the right is the entrance to the Museo Storico Vaticano in the Lateran palace.
Masterpiece of 18th century town planning is the theatrical Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti or Spanish Steps, built in 1723-26 by Francesco de Sanctis to connect the Piazza di Spagna with the church of the Trinità dei Monti and the Pincio.
The monumental flight of 137 steps rises between picturesque houses, some with garden terraces, modern little noble palaces till the obelisk. It has always been a well-loved haunt of Romans and foreigners.
The huge Fontana di Trevi is one of the most famous sights of Rome and one of the city’s most exuberant and successful 18th century monuments. The abundant water, which forms an essential part of the design, fills the little piazza with its surround. It comes from the Acqua Vergine Antica aqueduct, almost entirely underground, which Agrippa brought to Rome from a spring some 20 Kilometres east of the city to supply his public baths near the Pantheon in the 19th century BC.
It remained in use throughout the Middle Age, was restored by Pius V in 1570, and still feeds the fountains of Piazza di Spagna, Piazza Navona and Piazza Farnese. The original 15th-century fountain was a simple and beautiful basin, restored by Urban VIII. In 1732, Clement XII held a competition to chose the best architects’ project for its reconstruction. The competition was won by the little-known Roman architect and poet Nicola Salvi, who was given the commission.
His theatrical design incorporated, as a background, the entire neo-classical façade of Palazzo Poli, which has been completed in 1730. The fountain was completed in 1762, after the architect’s death, by others, who carved the tritons.
Masterpiece of the Neo-classical sculpture is the superb statue of Pauline Borghese, housed in the Room 1 of the Museum of Villa Borghese. The sculpture (1805-8) is one of the most famous of Canova, who depicted Napoleon’s sister, who lived in Rome as wife of Camillo Borghese, as Venus Victrix. As her mythological reference of the Homeric tale, Pauline keeps an apple in her hand.
Masterpiece of the Roman Neo-classical urbanity is Piazza del Popolo, created by Latino Giovenale Manetti in 1538 for Paul III in strict relationship to the three long straight roads which here penetrate the city as a trident.
The piazza was given its present symmetry by Valadier after the return of Pius VII from France in 1814. It is here that most visitors used to enter the city, and many 19th century famous travellers recorded their first arrival in Rome through the Porta del Popolo. Between four fountains with lions by Valadier (1823) after a 16th-century design by Domenico Fontana rises an obelisk (24 m), on which the hieroglyphics celebrate the glories of the pharaohs Ramses II and Merenptah.
The square is surrounded on its sides by rows of bricks that sustain allegories, sphinxes, and the personifications of the seasons, while on the north side there are stairs that lead to the Pincio. The three streets that converge on the piazza from the south are Via di Ripetta on the left, the Corso in the middle, and Via del Baduino from Piazza di Spagna on the right.
The major monument of modern Rome is the overwhelming Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, also called the Vittoriano, inaugurated in 1911 to symbolize the achievement of Italian unity. The exterior terraces were reopened to the public in 2000.
Some 80m high, the impressive building changed irrevocably the aspect of the city, throwing out of scale the Capitoline Hill itself, and causing indiscriminate demolition in the area. Familiarly know as ‘the wedding cake’ or ‘Mussolini’s typewriter’, it can only be described as a colossal monstrosity.
It was begun in 1885 by Giovanni Sacconi, winner of an international competition in which there were 98 entries. He used an incongruous dazzling white botticino marble from Brescia to further alienate the monument from its surroundings. However, the monument is an eloquent historical document that represents the typical Italian taste of the generation between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. The sculptures that crowd the Vittoriano are interesting examples of official Academic Italian art of the period. At the sides of the monument are fountains representing the Tyrrhenian Sea, by Pietro Canonica, and the Adriatic, as well as the remains of the tomb of Gaius Publicius Bibulus, dating from the early 1st century BC.
At the foot of the wide flight of steps are two colossal groups in bronze, Action by Francesco Jerace on the right, and Thought by Giulio Monteverde on the left. Midway are two winged lions and at the top sculptured bases for flag-staffs with bronze Victories. The four sculptural groups on the extreme left and right represent Law by Ettore Ximenes, Sacrifice, by Leonardo Bistolfi, Concord, by Ludovico Poliaghi, and Strength by Augusto Rivalta. The grave of Italy’s Unknown Soldier (il Milite Ignoto) from the First World War, is perpetually guarded by two sentinels.
Above is the Altare della Patria, with a figure of Rome enshrined in the pedestal and friezes on either sides: the Triumph of Patriotism on the right and the Triumph of Labour on the left. Steps to the right and left continue up flanking the equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II, in gild bronze 12 metres high. Around the base are figures representing historic towns of Italy, and on the pedestal are military emblems. The two quadrigae crowning the monument represent the Liberty and the Unity. A frieze with eagles and a cornice with lions’ heads and 16 colossal statues symbolizing the Italian provinces decorate the portico.