The Main Palace in the Villa Ludovisi

Striking images from 1885

By Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

Photographic views of Villa Ludovisi: Area of the Grand Palace (3) (1885) by Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi, Principe di VenosaArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

A photographic campaign at the end of the 19th Century

In 1622 Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi transformed this mid-16th century palace into the main residence for his expansive Villa Ludovisi, situated to the northeast of Rome's historical center, but still within the ancient city walls. In 1885, Prince Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi launched a photographic campaign to capture the Villa before its development as a luxury business and residential quarter, and the Palazzo Grande before its transformation into an even grander family dwelling—now the site of the US Embassy in Rome.

Portrait of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi (1855-1858) by Pietro GagliardiArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

On 5 February 1622, Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi—nephew of Pope Gregory XV—bought from the Orsini a large vineyard with palace, to expand to the east his new (1621) garden estate on Rome's Pincian hill.

Photographic views of Villa Ludovisi: Area of the Grand Palace (1) (1885) by Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi, Principe di VenosaArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

To create an estate on the Pincio, Cardinal Flavio Orsini (1532-1565-1583) had united two vineyards and built a grand palace, which by 1589 was faced by this piazza, with gardens and a fountain.

Photographic views of Villa Ludovisi: Area of the Grand Palace (2) (1885) by Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi, Principe di VenosaArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

In 1589, the young Cardinal Francesco Sforza (1562-1583-1624) bought and improved the property (especially its water supply), but in 1613 sold it back to the Orsini, who resold it (1622) to Ludovisi.

Photographic views of Villa Ludovisi: Triton Fountain (1885) by Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi, Principe di VenosaArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

The centerpiece of the piazza north of the Palazzo Grande was a large elliptical fountain. In 1634—right after the death of Cardinal Ludovisi—it received a statue of Triton, still preserved in place.

Photographic views of Villa Ludovisi: Grand Palace entrance (1885) by Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi, Principe di VenosaArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

Already by 1589 the Palazzo Grande was connected to its facing piazza by a bridge, and surrounded by gardens at several levels. These features were lost in a massive expansion of the palace in 1890.

Photographic views of Villa Ludovisi: Area of the Grand Palace (3) (1885) by Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi, Principe di VenosaArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

East of the fenced Triton fountain (far right) can be seen a large sycamore tree (still extant), the rear of the main gatehouse (rebuilt 1809) to the Villa, and then the family's 'Casino of Statues'.

Photographic views of Villa Ludovisi: Grand Palace and Triton Fountain (1885) by Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi, Principe di VenosaArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

In 1622 the architect Carlo Maderno (1556-1629) developed a detailed plan for the Palazzo, perhaps aided by the painter Domenichino; this included an elaborate decorative program for the north facade.

Photographic views of Villa Ludovisi: Grand Palace (1885) by Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi, Principe di VenosaArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

Already in the 1590s Cardinal Sforza had put the architect Carlo Maderno to work on the Palazzo Grande and its grand gardens; yet the new owner Cardinal Ludovisi found the property in a sad state.

The 1885 photographs of Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi are full of micro-details, many seemingly deliberately placed. Here two men converse in the piazza, the one on right is seated on a small donkey.

Photographic views of Villa Ludovisi: Aviary (1) (1885) by Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi, Principe di VenosaArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

To the northwest of the Palazzo was placed a walled "secret garden" with aviary, and citrus trees were planted beyond—all later (ca. 1889) demolished to make way for the new Via Vittorio Veneto.

Photographic views of Villa Ludovisi: Aviary (2) (1885) by Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi, Principe di VenosaArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

Another view west from the Piazza, toward the "secret garden". The profile of the cupola of the Casino Aurora, the second principle building of the Villa, is visible behind the dome of the aviary.

Photographic views of Villa Ludovisi: Grand Palace and entrance bridge (1885) by Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi, Principe di VenosaArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

The bridge (now lost) that linked the Piazza to the Palazzo, showing the tracks of carriage wheels. Four "sunken" gardens were placed below the bridge's level, close to the palace's facade and flanks.

Photographic views of Villa Ludovisi: Aviary (3) (1885) by Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi, Principe di VenosaArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

A statue restored as the goddess Flora stood before the aviary; in 1890 the sculpture was relocated to top a wall of a newly-built 'Orangerie' that today forms part of the US Embassy.

Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi (1900) by UnknownArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

In 1860 Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi (1832-1911) and his wife Agnese (née Borghese, 1836-1920) moved into the Palazzo, and soon planned changes, realized in 1890 as a massive demolition and expansion.

General plan of new Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi (1889) by Gaetano KochArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

In 1890 architect Gaetano Koch added a massive block perpendicular to the Palazzo Grande, turning that into a wing of a huge 'Palazzo Piombino' that faced west onto a new Via Veneto.

Postcard of Palazzo Margherita (ex-Piombino) (1907-1914) by UnknownArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

Prince Rodolfo and Princess Agnese occupied their grand palace on Via Veneto in fall of 1890. But in summer 1892 a perfect storm of financial pressures turned the complex over to the Banca d'italia, and it was later (1900) sold to the Italian state to serve as a palace for Queen Margherita.

Credits: Story

Presented by T. Corey Brennan in collaboration with †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi.

Some of the most important primary documents (including plans) for the Palazzo Grande are assembled in C. Benocci, Villa Ludovisi. Rome: Istituto poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, Libreria dello Stato, 2010.

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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