Carnival of 1656, carousel at Palazzo Barberini in honour of Christina of Sweden (1656/1659) by Filippo Gagliardi - Filippo LauriMuseo di Roma
In the leap year 1656, Shrove Tuesday, the last day of Carnival, falls on February 29th.
On the evening of Monday 28, the Barberini family organizes a large party with music, dance and acting, in honor of an exceptional guest: Christina of Sweden.
The party takes place for several hours in the courtyard of Barberini family’s Roman residence. The palace still exists, but the courtyard represented in the painting is no longer there. At the end of the nineteenth century was sacrificed for the opening of the current Via Barberini.
Two ranks of knights face off in an allegorical fight, wearing fancy and rich costumes. The colors of the two factions refer to the Church of Rome (gold and purple) and to the heraldry of the sovereign of Sweden (blue and silver).
It is not easy to see where the music comes from.
The terrace above the monumental door welcomes the musicians, some string instruments can be recognized.
The door, designed by Pietro da Cortona, constituted the access to the so-called horse-riding courtyard, a passage intended for the entrance of carriages and horses.
The stands are packed. At first glance it seems to be facing a large mass of people, as in a stadium of our days.
But observing carefully one realizes that sit among the spectators there are only men and not just anybody. They all dress elegantly: long black stockings and shoes with a bow; the white rabat collar that stands out on dark robes. They are distinctive signs of men of culture, tutors and scholars, but also secretaries of famous people.
As you can see, two people are going through the written program of the party: this shows that they are able to read.
But where are the women?
Here they are in the balconies on the right. Relegated to a well-defined space, and separated from the rest of the party.
Women in the seventeenth century - and especially in the Rome of the Popes - have no other social role than being wives and mothers, possibly of male children.
Their position is marginal,in the painting as in the society of the time.
Although large, the crowd of the presents is only a part of the large mass of people interested in participating.
In the lower right corner, an exceptional "order service" keeps possible "infiltrators" at bay, forcibly rejecting them.
The colorful dress and halberds bring to mind the Pope's Swiss Guards.
What an impression! A dragon advances menacingly among the ranks of the peformers and the fire really comes out of its jaws!
The very high technology of Baroque architects knows no limits to the imagination of artists and scholars.
We can only imagine the warmth and effort of those who inside the stage machine, in the form of a dragon, feed the fire continuously, not without danger for their own safety.
The complex allegory of the general representation is clarified by observing the chariot of the Sun, at the center of the scene. Its entrance closes the parade of floats and represents the culmination of the party.
The sun is a symbol of redemption for the queen who has abjured, that is, denied the Protestant faith to embrace the Catholic Creed.
On the wagon sit the four seasons and Janus double-faced as a coachman.
But where is the queen?
The protagonist of the party, the guest of honor, the central character of the evening is not actually present. Curios, isn’t it?
On the stage of honor, some cardinals are clearly seen, including Federico Borromeo, but only a red silhouette of Christina, perhaps an unfortunate outcome of an ancient cleaning of the painting.
What if they had revoked the copyright on the image of the sovereign?
Fulvia Strano, curator
Museo di Roma