A few weeks ago in Rome, I went to the National Museum of Rome, Museo Nazionale Romano, in the Palazzo Altemps. If you would like to visit, you must know that the National Museum of Rome is situated in four separate locations: Baths of Diocletian, Octagonal Hall, Palazzo Massimo and Palazzo Altemps. However, your ticket is valid for all the museums for three days.
When I arrived to the Palazzo Altemps, what struck me first was its architectural elegance. It is a typically Renaissance building, complete with a rectangular courtyard, three levels, grey and white staircases, a loggia boasting colourful frescoes, impressive marble fireplaces and a beautiful private chapel. Despite its complexity and massive size, the building feels airy, light and you just know that it was made for people who wanted to live comfortably and enjoy their daily pleasures.
Its simplicity is a true testament to the concept: less is more. Instead of accumulated knickknacks and overpowering swirly architectural details, the visual power and elegance of the building lies in superbly solid and organic details, exquisite finishes, big and strong structural elements such as windows with large marble frames, worn out and shiny marble stairs and wooden doors, and the organic monochrome shades of white occasionally blending into light grey to give the illusion of depth and relief.
Built in the early 15th century by the Riario family, who had one idea in mind, the palace was later acquired by Cardinal Marco Sittico Altemps (hence the name), who naturally, renovated it according to his own tastes. Throughout centuries, with each new owner and era, the palace conformed to its new tenant's taste as well as evolved with its surroundings, and the inevitable historical flow produced charming assymetries and curious details visible especially on the facade. As the northern part of ancient Rome's Campus Martius was developing quickly, the palace needed to insert itself into the flow of changing eras. Smaller buildings were attached to it, and then were removed; towers leaned against it, then later collapsed. Recent restorations removed the architectural weights and brought the palace back to its Renaissance glory. The Italian State bought the palace only as recently as 1982 and dedicated it to become the home of ancient sculptures, most importantly the Boncompagni Ludovisi collection.
No other building could house these historic collections with more grace and elegance as being the home of a large collection of antique sculptures had been its vocation for centuries. In fact, the palace's large frescoed rooms were filled with antique sculptures, creating diaetae statuariae, or dwellings embellished with statues and marbles all its life. Regardless of the countless of changes the building had experienced throughout centuries, its mission to house and protect a large collection of antique statues was always carefully remembered, and changes were executed around that objective. It is the perfect and most elegant home to this precious collection.
The palace is quintessentially Renaissance both in how it looks and feels. Before you go and admire the collection, take a few minutes in the courtyard and imagine what life must have been like here so long ago. Enjoy the silence in the middle of this chaotic city, admire the beautiful clean lines, the harmony and the symmetry of the various details and elements that make this palace so inviting. Look at the organic components and how the four elements are represented: stone, wood and plants for earth, fountain for water, glass for air and fireplaces and candelabras for fire. The four elements also give the place an energetic harmony that only enhances the peace we feel emanating from the rounded edges and the solid clean shapes.
Soak up the atmosphere. Admire the context. Get inspired and see what ideas you can use for your own home. This palace is a better source of inspiration than any home decor magazine.
Understand and feel the philosophy of the Renaissance: less is more.