The Palace of Fernán Núñez: History and Splendor

A historical and visual journey through 19th-century Madrid

Fernán Núñez Palace's Façade by Photo: Pablo García LumbrerasSpanish Railways Foundation

The Palace of Fernán Núñez is one of the most significant and best preserved buildings of romantic, Isabelline Madrid. Located at number 44 on the popular Santa Isabel Street, and also known as the Palace of Cervellón, it was the primary residence of the Dukes of Fernán Núñez.

Texeira's MapOriginal Source: Madrid City Hall History Museum


In 1753, Blas Jover, Council Secretary to King Ferdinand VI, built his home on land acquired through the subdivision of the gardens of the Convent of Santa Isabel in 1618. The convent had been built on the site of the so-called Casilla de Atocha, an estate belonging to Antonio Pérez, Secretary to Philip II.

13th Duke of Alburquerque's Mansion Model by Photo: Pablo LinésOriginal Source: Madrid City Hall History Museum

In 1769, the 13th Duke of Alburquerque, Miguel José María de la Cueva Velasco, purchased the building. Between 1790 and 1799, he had it remodeled to better meet the needs of a Spanish dignitary. The work was carried out by the architect Antonio López Aguado.

Earl of Cervellón's Family Portrait by Photo: Vicente MorenoOriginal Source: Cultural Heritage Institute of Spain (IPCE)

The duke died in 1803, triggering a long process of inheritance. This was resolved in 1815, when his grandson, Felipe María Osorio y de la Cueva, 7th Count of Cervellón, inherited the residence with his sister María del Pilar.

In 1821, Felipe María Osorio married Francisca de Asís y Gutiérrez de los Ríos, 2nd Duchess of Fernán Núñez. From then on, the names Cervellón and Fernán Núñez were used interchangeably to refer to their home on Santa Isabel Street, where they lived until 1823.

Francisca de Asís died in 1836, survived by an only daughter, Pilar. The 7th Count of Cervellón extended the residence for her, adding a new floor with facade, and creating the palace as it is known today.

Fernán Núñez Palace's Façade Elevation (1847)Original Source: Archivo de Villa, Madrid City Hall

The architect responsible for this remodeling was Martín López Aguado, son of the previous architect, who continued with the same esthetic as his father, respecting the structure he had built. The works took place between 1847 and 1849, following the building style of the period, with an irregular floor plan around interior courtyards.

Pilar Osorio y Gutiérrez de los Rios Portrait by Federico MadrazoSpanish Railways Foundation

In 1852, the 3rd Duchess of Fernán Núñez, Pilar Osorio y Gutiérrez de los Ríos, and Manuel Falcó d’Adda, son of the prince Pío de Saboya, were married, marking the beginning of the most illustrious period in the palace's history. They transformed the building and extended the interior, turning it into one of the most lauded palaces of Spanish romanticism.

Manuel Falcó D'Adda Portrait by Eduardo RosalesSpanish Railways Foundation

There were spectacular parties. Events for the monarchy, high nobility, politicians, and artists. They also commissioned new decorations from the most prestigious French and Italian artists of the time.

Isabel the 2nd's Portrait (1863)Spanish Railways Foundation

This portrait shows Isabella II dressed up as Queen Esther for the costume ball held at the Palace of Fernán Núñez in 1863.

Walnut Staircase on a Ball Night (1880)Spanish Railways Foundation

This painting by Juan Comba García depicts the spectacular walnut staircase (Escalera de Nogal) leading to the dukes' private rooms, carved with plant motifs.

Costumes Ball at the Palace (1884-03-15)Spanish Railways Foundation

Accounts from the period expressed the luxury and good taste present in the rooms. Examples of this include the stuccoes that still cover the ceilings and walls, simulating hardwood and Carrara marble, as well as the opulent furniture: Baccarat lamps, lamps made from La Granja and Murano glass, and rugs from the Royal Factory, completing the collection.

Sculpture Gallery (1875) by Photo: J. LaurentOriginal Source: Cultural Heritage Institute of Spain (IPCE)

Early Photos of the Palace

In 1875, the palace's decoration concluded, 23 years after it had been started by the dukes. They commissioned a feature by the photographer Jean Laurent, a Frenchman working in Spain, who published the photos in the Nouveau Guide du Touriste en Espagne et Portugal. Itinéraire Artístique, in 1879, giving the mansion the recognition sought by the 3rd Dukes of Fernán Núñez.

Portraits Room or Goya Room (1875) by Photo: J. LaurentOriginal Source: Cultural Heritage Institute of Spain (IPCE)

These are the first known photographs of the palace, showing the original condition of the principal rooms, and offering information on their names. The rooms appear empty, but there is a sense of warmth that comes from a lived-in house, and also of the presence of the dukes and their children.

Portraits Room (1875) by Photo: J. LaurentOriginal Source: Cultural Heritage Institute of Spain (IPCE)

This alternate view of the Portrait Room includes the portraits of Manuel Falcó and Pilar Osorio, painted by Rosales and Madrazo, respectively.

Yellow Room (1875) by Photo: J. LaurentOriginal Source: Cultural Heritage Institute of Spain (IPCE)

In the Yellow Room there are beautiful silk fabrics from Lyon hanging on the walls, and notable iconography on the overdoor paintings by the Madrid artist, Vicente Palmaroli. It was also known as the Isabelline Room due to it being Isabella II's favorite space.

Gala Dinning Room's general view (1875) by Photo: J. LaurentOriginal Source: Cultural Heritage Institute of Spain (IPCE)

The Formal Dining Room set, acquired by the 3rd Dukes at the International Exposition of 1867, in Paris, stands out for its walnut wood panels with green diorite inlay, carvings, and French Aubusson tapestries.

Music Room (1875) by Photo: J. LaurentOriginal Source: Cultural Heritage Institute of Spain (IPCE)

The Music Room, also known as the boudoir, and billiard hall beyond, today the Yellow Room or Lost Steps Room, were recreational spaces. The duke and his guests would relax here while the ladies sipped coffee and listened to a piano recital by an invited artist or relative of the hosts.

Duchess' Cabinet (1875) by Photo: J. LaurentOriginal Source: Cultural Heritage Institute of Spain (IPCE)

The dukes' private and personal spaces consisted of the duchess' office, or Red Room, and the bedroom. Both underwent significant modifications between 1921 and 1923, and later during the Renfe period.

Otelo's Gallery (1875)Original Source: Cultural Heritage Institute of Spain (IPCE)

The Othello Gallery, the palace's greenhouse, is a magnificent iron and glass construction built between 1860 and 1870, which became the main social space in the palace.

The name comes from the bust of Othello that is featured in the center of the image.

Tapestry Room (1875) by Photo: J. LaurentOriginal Source: Cultural Heritage Institute of Spain (IPCE)

The Tapestry Room is a brightly lit space leading out onto the garden. It is a regal room, holding the immense wealth of its gothic tapestries from the Flemish school.

Ball Room current view by Photo: Félix LorrioSpanish Railways Foundation

Want to know more?

Continue reading about the history of this building in the following exhibitions:

- The Palace of Fernán Núñez in the 20th Century

The Palace of Fernán Núñez Now
Credits: Story

Coordination: Communication and Cultural Activity Management (FFE) / Texts, documentation, and image selection: Inmaculada García Lozano (FFE) / Digital edition: José Mariano Rodríguez (FFE)

Ana Costa Novillo. Madrid City Council. Museum of History/María Luisa Crespo Rodríguez. Madrid City Council. Department of Culture, Tourism, and Sports Governance. Town Archive/Isabel Argerich and Carlos Teixidor. Photograph collection of the Institute of Cultural Heritage of Spain. Ministry of Culture and Sports/Susana Romero Martín. Center for Historical Memory Documentation, Salamanca. Ministry of Culture and Sports/Leticia Martínez García. Historical Archive of the Railways (FFE)/Volunteers (FFE): Luisa Atienza Calvo, Pablo García Lumbreras, and Gustavo Martínez Guibelalde.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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