Palazzo Barberini was built by will of Maffeo Barberini, the future pope Urban the Eighth (1623-44). It was designed by Carlo Maderno and built on the preexisting Villa Sforza. At Maderno’s death, the supervision of the works was assigned to Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who designed the verandah, the greatsquare-well staircase, the central hall and the adjacent elliptic hall. Francesco Borromini also cooperated in the works, realizing the helicoidal staircase with twin columns.
The vault of the great hall by Bernini was frescoed by Pietro da Cortona representing the allegoric theme of the Triumph of the Divine Providence, to celebrate the Barberini family. In 1949 the Palace was purchased by the State to become the new location of the National Gallery of Ancient Art.
The paintings in the collection are about 1445 and come mainly from the merges of collections of Roman noble families (Torlonia, Chigi, Sciarra, and Barberini). The works are of the Tuscan, Roman, Neapolitan, Venetian, French, and Flemish schools and cover the span of time from the twelfth to the eighteenth century. Major authors include Filippo Lippi (Madonna on the throne with the Infant), Raphael (La Fornarina), El Greco (Baptism of Christ), Tintoretto (Christ and the adulteress), Titian (Venus and Adonis), Guercino (Scourging of Christ), Caravaggio (Judith beheading Holofernes, Narcisus), Mattia Preti (The Resurrection of Lazarus), and Guido Reni (Magdalene repentant). Objects coming from the former Industrial Artistic Museum, dismantled during the Second World War, are also exhibited, including remarkable collections ofglasses, majolicas, and fabrics.