There is great turmoil over the election of the President of the Italian Republic, as the country is already experiencing a crisis due to a technical and unelected government led by a prominent figure such as Mario Draghi. The elections are going to take a long time and it is hard to find any agreement, not to mention the fact that the pandemic is making it difficult for many of the big voters to cast their vote.
The President of the Italian Republic resides in the Quirinale Palace. Built on the Quirinale hill, it is one of the most imposing and historic buildings in Rome – it served as the Apostolic and Papal Palace as well as the residence of the King of Italy, and it has been the official residence of the President of the Republic since 1946.
Composed of a main building built around a majestic courtyard, the Quirinale Palace hides great artistic marvels inside its rooms, such as the Pauline Chapel, the Zodiac Room, the Ballroom, and the Staircase of Honour, which was built by the architect Flaminio Ponzio and commissioned by Pope Paul V. There, the scene is dominated by a fresco by Melozzo da Forlì of a glorious and Blessing Christ, which was originally part of the decoration of the Church of Santi Apostoli.
The ingenious and unique idea was to place the fresco right above the first landing, so that the guests would be greeted every time they entered or left the building. This idea established the pope as the head of both spiritual and temporal power.
The compressed yet majestic perspective of Christ is extraordinary. In the fresco, he is surrounded by many cherubs supporting and glorifying him, making the viewer feel completely enraptured by their attentive gazes.
On the same landing, there are some nineteenth-century frescoes by Annibale Brugnoli and Davide Natali depicting scenes with cherubs, birds, and other angels singing and playing instruments. These are part of the same pictorial cycle that also includes the decorations in the Ballroom’s antechamber. Pope Paul V also asked the extraordinary artist Guido Reni to paint the frescoes in his private Chapel of the Annunciation in the Quirinale Palace.
The frescoes were painted between 1609 and 1611. Reni was helped by many great collaborators such as Giovanni Lanfranco, Tommaso Campani, Antonio Carracci and Francesco Albani to create a cycle of frescoes dedicated to the life of the Virgin, from the announcement by the angel Gabriel, to her father Joachim, to the glory of the Virgin meeting God in Heaven.
The altarpiece depicts the Annunciation. Saint Anne is holding the newly-born Madonna on her lap and is surrounded by women busy pouring water, carrying clothes in a basket on their heads and offering gifts to the baby. The painting is extremely refined, with soft colours that symbolize the sweetness of a moment that is as intimate and private as the chapel itself - which was dedicated to the pontiff, and where a seventeenth-century door decorated with the original emblems of Pope Urban VIII, Maffeo Barberini, has recently been relocated on either side of the altar.
The Quirinale Palace is a place full of secrets and wonders, of stories and adventures, of agreements and disagreements happening during secret meetings. The palace is better known for its power than for its artistic beauty, and today safeguards the democracy of a not-too-healthy nation.
Opening image: Inner courtyard and Tower of the Winds, Quirinale Palace, Rome. Photo Wolfgang Moroder