New from 1889: Parting glimpses of the Palazzo Piombino on Rome’s Piazza Colonna

One of the most conspicuous monumental buildings in Rome today is the Galleria Alberto Sordi on the Via del Corso, directly facing the Piazza Colonna on the east. It was the architect Dario Carbone (1857-1934) who designed this as the “Galleria Colonna”. Construction covered the years 1914 to 1922, with final completion coming only after Carbone’s death in 1940.

GalleriaSordiThe Galleria Alberto Sordi on Rome’s Via del Corso, as seen from Piazza Colonna

 What is less noticed is that the two arcades of this 20th century Galleria occupy the spot where the late 16th century Palazzo Piombino stood until its demolition in 1889.

PiazzaColonna1889The Piazza Colonna shortly before the destruction of the Palazzo Piombino (at left) in 1889. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

In this post are gathered some previously unseen Boncompagni Ludovisi family photos of the interior of the Palazzo Piombino just before the Comune di Roma expropriated it and knocked it down. This was part of the city’s long-standing project (envisaged certainly by 1874) to widen the Via del Corso. The photos offer a remarkable glimpse into the private life of this noble family in the late 1880s, at the pinnacle of its fortunes.

IBL_1889_ColonnaA view of the Column of Marcus Aurelius from within the former Palazzo Piombino, looking west toward Palazzo Wedekind. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

The architect Giacomo della Porta erected this Palazzo facing the “Colonna Antonina” (i.e., the column depicting the Danubian campaigns of Marcus Aurelius) in 1594 for Cosimo Giustini. To create the space for this residence, Giustini had bought up and combined previous homes belonging to the de’ Normanni (in 1579) and Alberini (1591) families. Collaborating on Della Porta’s project was a stellar collection of architects and artists, including Matteo Bartolini da Castello, Annibale Lippi, and Carlo Lambardi. Pomarancio painted the interior gallery which housed Cosimo Giustini’s large collection of sculptures.

PalazzoGSP_Piranesi_1758Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Colonna Antonina (1758) [detail]. The building behind the column is the Palazzo Giustini-Spada-Piombino

PalazzoGSP_1762Engraving by Giuseppe Vasi (1762), showing the palace with an elaborated (and in the event, temporary) façade. The Palazzo was at that point the residence of Cardinal Ignazio Michele Crivelli

The palace later several times changed hands. In 1819 Luigi Boncompagni Ludovisi (1767-1841), Prince of Piombino (VI) since 1805, bought the monumental residence from the Spada family. Henceforth it was commonly known as the “Palazzo Piombino” until its demise.

BL_PGSP_salaOne of the Sale of the Palazzo Piombino. The family portraits seen here would soon be resized and exhibited in the new Palazzo Boncompagni Ludovisi designed (1891) by Gaetano Koch on the Via Veneto (now the US Embassy in Rome); today they can be found in the Casino Aurora. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Even though the Boncompagni Ludovisi maintained the massive Villa Ludovisi on the Pincian hill until the mid-1880s, the Palazzo Piombino still played a central role for the family in the 19th century, ranging from its spiritual life to the staging of elegant balls. As an indication of its importance, Antonio (III) Boncompagni Ludovisi (1808-1883, Prince of Piombino [VII] after 1841) and his wife Princess Guglielmina Boncompagni Ludovisi (née Massimo, 1811-1899) saw the baptism of  their first-born son Rodolfo (1832-1911) and five of their other six children in the Palazzo’s Chapel. (A daughter Filomena, born in 1836, died in infancy.)  The tradition would continue with Rodolfo (Prince of Piombino [VIII] from 1883) and his own son Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi (1856-1935). As it happened, Ugo renounced succession to the Principate of Piombino and became a priest in 1895 after the death of two wives in rapid succession (1883 and 1892)—a story we will explore here on a future occasion.

For  the year 1884, Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi (in his 1921 memoir Ricordi di mia Madre) reports the family’s energetic efforts to save the Palazzo from the Comune’s takeover. His grandmother Princess Guglielmina, his father Rodolfo (newly created Prince of Piombino [VIII]) and mother Princess Agnese (née Borghese), his uncle Prince Ignazio and his wife Princess Teresa (née Marescotti), and indeed Prince Ugo himself with his new wife Princess Laura (née Altieri) “all left the Villa Ludovisi to settle in the Palazzo Piombino, where we remained to prevent the City from expropriating it for demolition.”

Their living quarters can be reconstructed with a fair amount of certainty. On the (European) first floor lived the widow Princess Guglielmina; the Prince of Piombino Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi and his wife Princess Agnese (Borghese); and also their son Giuseppe (born 1865). On the second floor lived the two other sons of Prince Rodolfo and Princess Agnese, Ugo (born 1856) and Luigi (born 1857), with their respective families. On the third floor, the brother of Antonio III, the mathematician Baldassare  Boncompagni Ludovisi (born 1821) seems originally to have lived. But his nephew Ignazio (born 1845) seem to have taken his place and Baldassare moved to the Casino Aurora; he certainly died there on 13 April 1894.

BL_PGSP_CapellaThe Chapel of the Palazzo Piombino. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

But the family’s occupation of the Palazzo Piombino was for nought. After the demolition in 1889 of the Palazzo Piombino, urban planners in the years to come mooted many various uses for the site. About 70 proposals in all came forward, including the creation of a central railway station. In the long and uncomfortable quarter-century gap between destruction and rebuilding according to the project of Dario Carbone, the area was used as a party space for the Roman Carnevale (1891), planted as a city garden, and also to house a pavilion for Rome’s International Exposition of 1911.

GalleriaProgettoOne of the more bizarre rejected proposals (this one dating to 1913) for the site of the former Palazzo Piombino. From the (excellent) website of the Galleria Alberto Sordi

Below are some remarkable views, taken from a larger set, of the family’s private spaces in the last year ofthe Palazzo Piombino. Though unattributed, it is reasonable to suppose that the photographs were the initiative of Rodolfo’s brother Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1845-1913, Prince of Venosa after 1901). Ignazio had resided in this Palazzo from 1884 through 1889 and also had seen to a major  photography campaign that captured the Villa Ludovisi in 1885 before its dismantlement.


BL_PGSP_GBL_1Salottino (upper image) and sala (lower image) in the apartment of Princess Guglielmina Boncompagni Ludovisi at the Palazzo Piombino (Piazza Colonna). Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.


BL_PGSP_IBL_2Studio (upper image) and bedroom (lower) of Prince Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi, in the Palazzo Piombino. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

BL_PGSP_TBLBedroom of Princess Teresa Boncompagni Ludovisi (née Marescotti, wife of Ignazio) in the Palazzo Piombino. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

BL_PGSP_WindowBalcony attached to the apartment of Princess Guglielmina Boncompagni Ludovisi. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

At the time of these photos, Prince Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi was a Senator (named in 1886) of the Kingdom of Italy. The story of his life and career—which included campaigning (despite strong family disapproval) with Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1867 in the Campagna dell’Agro Romano, and membership in the Giunta Provvisoria di Governo formed on 3 October 1870, just two weeks after the capture of Rome—is a long and intensely interesting story in itself.  (Of course we’ll be telling it on this weblog.) The image of Ignazio’s simple—indeed, austere—bedroom, with a crucifix as the only visual element, is one of the most striking in this intriguing collection from 1889.

GalleriaColonna1919AerofototecaThe situation in 1919, as the new Galleria Colonna (indicated with arrow) edged toward completion. Photo credit: Aerofototeca Nazionale


  1. […] villas. This they had built to compensate for the City’s expropriation and destruction of the Palazzo Piombino al Corso. The new complex was on the Via Veneto (originally known as the Viale delle Province). The […]

  2. […] Palazzo Grande on the Via Veneto, which the Boncompagni Ludovisi relinquished in 1891, or the Palazzo Piombino al Corso, which the family lost in 1889. I certainly don’t have the technical background to say. But […]

  3. […] the Villa is the fact that the Comune had started in 1884 to make strenuous efforts to expropriate the family’s Palazzo Piombino on the Via del Corso. Apparently, Rodolfo feared the prospect of losing that admirably situated […]

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