Sumptuous baroque frescoes covered over by Napoleon Bonaparte during redecoration of a luxury apartment in Rome for his Empress wife are once again on show after a painstaking restoration.
Brilliantly coloured biblical scenes, towering columns and lush vegetation painted by Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669) adorn the walls and ceiling of the rooms once dedicated to Marie-Louise and now home to Italy’s President.
When Pietro da Cortona took his brushes to it, the rooms were one enormous 70-metre (229-feet) long gallery, boasting sweeping views of the eternal city.
The Baroque master’s designs represent “a perfect osmosis between interior and exterior,” Rossella Vodret from Rome’s artistic heritage administration told journalists at a press preview on Tuesday.
Restorers have kept the gallery split into the three individual salons created under Napoleon — who between 1812 and 1814 spent the colossal sum of one million golden francs on sprucing up the palace.
Despite his hefty investment, the French Emperor never set foot in Rome.
It was his architect Raffaele Stern who blocked off windows looking down onto an inner courtyard, lined the walls with fabrics and put up new walls. Today, the rooms are bathed in light — with all of its 26 windows uncovered.
Quirinal curators discovered during electrical works just ten years ago that the original baroque frescoes had not been destroyed but were hidden behind wall coverings or new paintings.
With a 500,000-euro ($680 thousand) budget, restorers unveiled the frescoes which date to between 1655-1656 — a key moment which marked the end of the Counter-Reformation and the beginning of the Baroque period.
At the heart of them are eighteen biblical scenes depicting tales from the creation of man, to Moses parting the Red Sea and the birth of Jesus.
As part of celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy, the Quirinal Palace — which has housed popes, kings and presidents — will be open to the public from the end of November until March 2012.
The Palace is also open on Sundays (www.quirinale.it)