With this massive tome Christina Strunck presents the first study of the Galleria Colonna, the most significant architectural feature of the eponymous princely palazzo in Rome. The gallery's huge dimensions and opulent decoration make its counterparts in the palaces of the Pamphilj and Farnese families seem intimate by comparison. Measuring approximately 213 feet long, 36 feet wide, and 43 feet high (65 ×× 11 ×× 13 m), the Galleria Colonna competes with the Galerie des Glaces, or Hall of Mirrors (240 ×× 34 ×× 40 ft., 73 ×× 10.5 ×× 12 m), its better-known rival at Versailles. Although Strunck muses briefly about the relationship between these more or less contemporaneous works, her claim that the gallery at Versailles is dependent on that of the Palazzo Colonna calls for more explanation than is offered (365––66).

Detailed attention is paid to the Galleria Colonna's complicated building history, which was beset by numerous changes and adjustments over the approximately forty years of its creation, from 1661 to 1701. The project involved many artists; Strunck provides a meticulous reconstruction of the facts based on extensive archival research. The chapters are organized roughly chronologically, focusing on the figures who wielded particular influence during successive phases of building and decoration. At the end of each such section Strunck summarizes the given artist's Galeriekonzept, the conception or idea of the gallery as an architectural type. Her goal is to track the development of the Galleria Colonna's successful tripartite schema, consisting of a long gallery space connected by tall colonnaded entries to square anterooms of equal height at either end. The major conclusion of her study is that none other than Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598––1680) was responsible for the decisive design changes that resulted in the gallery's final appearance.

Her introduction opens with a lengthy social history of the family and the development of the entire palace complex. She discusses the political, dynastic, and artistic interests of three successive leaders of the Colonna family: Cardinal Girolamo (1604––1666), his nephew Prince Lorenzo Onofrio (1637––1689), and the latter's son Filippo II (1663––1714). With respect to the gallery, Lorenzo Onofrio was the decisive figure. He took over the family's affairs in 1659 and charged the architect Antonio del Grande (active 1652, d. 1679) with the initial building effort in 1661.

By mid-1665, the basic structure of the gallery was complete, including the vaulted ceiling. While del Grande continued to oversee building activities and retained his position as house architect to the Colonna until his death, he was soon sidelined by Giovanni Paolo Schor (1615––1674), a brilliant designer and decorative fresco painter who devised the decorative program for the ceiling and began painting it. While serious concerns about the vault's stability temporarily halted work between 1669 and 1673, Schor continued to develop ideas for the fenestration and decoration of the walls. He had hardly resumed painting, when in March 1674 he suddenly died; Strunck suggests a tragic fall from the scaffolding (234).

There seems to have been no immediate replacement for Schor, although Mattia de' Rossi (1637––1695), the talented disciple of Bernini, is cited in payment documents as overseeing work on stucco decorations as early as June 1674. In spite of de' Rossi's continued involvement, Strunck is not willing to assign him the creative authorship of what she terms the "absolute novelty" in the gallery's design: the freestanding, monumental double-columns that frame the gallery at either end and connect it to the two flanking anterooms. This design change came about, she argues, around the time of Bernini's documented visit to the gallery on 7 May 1675, ostensibly to view the ceiling paintings together with Prince Lorenzo Onofrio. Strunck has scoured documents of all kinds, but to track this artist's involvement she must rely on the brief mention of this visit in a payment document and another remark in a statement of building activities from 18 May 1675 that refers to "other works . . . in the Gallery . . . ordered by Cavaliere Bernini" (altri lavori . . . dentro la Galeria . . . ordinati dal Sig. Caval.e Bernino). Citing Bernini's predilection for monumental columns in his architectural work at the Vatican and Sant' Andrea al Quirinale, among other examples, Strunck concludes that he must be responsible for the introduction of this motif in the Colonna Gallery. She interprets the feature as a Berninesque mise-en-scèène, in which a magnificent vista opens from the west end of the gallery leading to the slightly elevated anteroom to the east, perhaps used as a throne room. She ties these ideas to Lorenzo Onofrio's desire to reaffirm his prestige and quasi-royal status within the aristocracy in Rome.

In 1681 Carlo Fontana (1634––1714), who had previously completed smaller commissions for Lorenzo Onofrio, was appointed del Grande's successor as house architect to the Colonna. He, and later his nephew Girolamo Fontana (1668––1701), was responsible for supervising the completion of the decoration. In 1665 Schor had frescoed the elaborate illusionistic framing ornaments for the quadri riportati in the main vault. The quadri themselves——three large and two smaller pictures——were undertaken by the Lucchese painters Giovanni Coli (1636––1681) and Filippo Gherardi (1643––1704) after Schor's death in 1674. Most of this work was finished when Fontana took over in 1681, although its completion ran into 1685. Strunck provides a lengthy exegesis of the iconography of the ceiling, which involves the glorification of the Colonna dynasty through the history of its most famous member, Admiral Marcantonio, and his victory over the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. Strunck ascribes the program to Cesare Colonna, a learned relative, who published several panegyric poems among which the punning "Columns of the Temple of Eternity" ("Colonne del Tempio dell' Eternitàà") from 1653 may well have served as a basis for the ceiling's themes, not to mention the architectural configuration of the gallery.

Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna was not to see the gallery in its final form. At his death in 1689, the ornamentation of the walls and the anterooms were still incomplete. In 1694 his son Filippo, working closely with Girolamo Fontana, ordered new, richer materials for the walls. As Strunck sees it, this decision was intended to increase the magnificence of the gallery and elevate it as the focal point of the palace's parade rooms. Precious yellow marble was used for the columns and pilasters, which, in turn, were interspersed with long, pendant trophies of gilt stucco. Darker speckled stone formed the window frames, and a new marble floor of similar color was installed. After an unsuccessful attempt to engage Luca Giordano in 1685 for the anterooms, Sebastiano Ricci completed these frescoes between 1692 and 1695. By 1700 Pietro Rossini's guide to Rome described the gallery as "finita" and as "la meraviglia non solo di Roma, ma anco dell'Italia (the marvel, not only of Rome, but of [all] Italy)."1 The Galleria Colonna has remained essentially unchanged since this time and is one of the most impressive monuments of secular Baroque architecture in Rome.2

Since this architectural design finds no mention in historical accounts of Bernini's life, Strunck labels the Colonna Gallery Bernini's "unknown masterpiece," a claim she seeks to substantiate with meager documentary and somewhat more compelling circumstantial evidence. It is indeed noteworthy that the master was consulted about the design of the gallery's western end, but to what degree the seventy-seven-year-old rethought the gallery's spatial conception is subject to further debate.

The volume under review is a reduced version of the author's 2000 dissertation. It has been published by the Bibliotheca Hertziana in their monograph series, one of the few that still produce uncompromisingly scholarly works with lavish illustrations, extensive documentary appendices, and indexes. The apparatus includes a genealogical table of the Colonna family, a timeline, and a list of measurements of the gallery. The glossary of Italian building terms——helpful if one understands the mix of Italian and German explanations provided——is meant as an aid to reading the large documentary appendix. For specialists in Roman Baroque architectural history, this cache of transcriptions is perhaps the work's most valuable contribution. Readers less willing to tackle the scientific German or the frequent passages in Italian should refer to the handy English summary of Strunck's main findings and arguments in her well-illustrated contribution to Art, Site, and Spectacle: Studies in Early Modern Visual Culture (2007).3 But only the full treatment in the present edition will satisfy those seeking an in-depth investigation and analysis of the artistic genesis and meaning of the Colonna Gallery.


Pietro Rossini, Il Mercurio errante delle grandezze di Roma, tanto antiche, che moderne . . . (Rome: Per Zenobj, 1700), 57.

Privately owned, parts of Palazzo Colonna, including the gallery, are open to the public on the first Saturday morning of every month.

Christina Strunck, "'The Marvel Not Only of Rome, but of All Italy': The Galleria Colonna, Its Design History and Pictorial Programme 1661––1700," in David R. Marshall, ed., Art, Site and Spectacle: Studies in Early Modern Visual Culture,Melbourne Art Journal, 9 (2007), 78––102.