What to see in Rome | Palazzo Altemps

November 04, 2018

Palazzo Altemps is a beautiful and mesmerizing late 15th-century palazzo that is probably one of the most impressive examples of Renaissance architecture in Rome. It was built by Girolamo Riario in 1477 on a sight that used to be one of the biggest marble warehouses in ancient Rome. Today, the remains of the excavation points can be seen in one of the museum’s wings.

Since it’s restoration in 1997, Palazzo Altemps has been reopened as one of the four locations of the National Roman Museum. Until then it was used as an aristocratic house that has been, throughout the centuries, home to noble Roman families including the Mattei, Boncompagni Ludovisi, Drago and Altemps.

Palazzo Altemps courtyard

This museum, which is located on Piazza di S.Apollinare and is just around the corner from Piazza Navona, will be a breath-taking spot for you with an impressive collection of art nestled in the beauty of a Renaissance palazzo.    

The museum holds a vast collection of Renaissance and Baroque sculptures, many of which come from the famous Ludovisi collection, accumulated by Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi during the 17th century. On display, you can also see the rich 16th-century collection of Asdrubale and Ciriaco Mattei together with the Altemps collection.

Detail from sculpture Suicide Galata in Palazzo Altemps, Rome
Suicide Galata, detail

The Altemps collection, which in total consists of more than 100 sculptures and is spread around many different institutions in the country, includes 16 statues out of which 4 are located under the arches of the courtyard. The most celebrated attractions are some of the very famous works of art such as the “Trono Ludovisi” that dates back to 5th century BC, which is a representation of a naked Venus rising from the sea, the “Ares Ludovisi”  a beautiful marble representation of young Mars, a sculpture that dates back to the 2nd century BC. Other artworks that stand out include “Orestes and Electra” who are embracing and saying farewell to each other and the important sculptural group Galata Suicide-a representation of Gaul killing himself over a dead woman which is placed in the middle of the Salone del Camino. The Salone del Camino (The Fireplace Salon) is also home to the Grand Ludovisi Sarcophagus which depicts battle scenes delicately carved into the marble.

Other rooms in the museum hold somewhat more peaceful sculptures, such as the one of Pan and Daphnis and the one with a romantic couple Cupid and Psyche. You will also find an avid Egyptian collection at the museum, which is definitely worth the visit.

Loggia affrescata da Antonio Viviani, Palazzo Altemps, Rome
Loggia affrescata da Antonio Viviani

While at the museum make sure you pay a visit to the church of St.Aniceto. As you walk in, look up at the ceiling of this church as it is painted with beautiful dancing babies. It is interesting to know that this church has obtained an exclusive permission to retain the relics belonging to the pope Aniceto from 1604, which is the only case in which a pope has been buried in a private palace. His remains were found in the catacombs of di S. Callisto, contained in a yellow urn which has been by tradition already holding the remains of a great imperator Alessandro Severo. This urn can be seen today in Cappella di S.Aniceto.

The palace also includes the historic Goldoni theatre, which is at present used as a conference room and as a space to house temporary exhibitions.  

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