Cappella dell'Annunziata al Quirinale is the 17th century early Baroque former private papal chapel in the Qurinal Palace, which was the official residence of the popes until 1870.
Pope Gregory XIII began the construction of a summer palace in 1583 on the Quirinal Hill, in a cooler location with fewer malaria mosquitoes than the Vatican Palace. Pope Paul V (1605-21) then moved the official residence of the popes to this new palace, where it remained until 1870.
The same pope ordered a massive enlargement of the palace, which was initially undertaken by Flaminio Ponzio. When he died in 1613, Carlo Maderno took over. It was he who was personally responsible for the erection of the main chapel of the new palace, the so-called Cappella Paolina, which was finished in 1617.
Part of the same project was the fitting out of a private chapel attached to the new Papal Apartments (the suite of rooms where the pope actually lived). This was begun in 1609, and finished in 1611. The oversight of this part of the project was by Guido Reni, who had a team under him. Francesco Albani only worked here in 1609, but Antonio Carracci, Giovanni Lanfranco, Alessandro Albini and Thomaso Campana were involved in the whole scheme.
The Quirinal Palace was regarded as the seat of the pope as a temporal ruler in his own right, and the Vatican Palace as his seat as the Bishop of Rome.
The chapels of the palace were looted by the French during their occupation after 1798, but were re-established as the pope's residential chapels after the papal government was definitively restored in 1815. There was a major restoration by Pope Pius VII in 1818, when the Cappella dell'Annunziata was given a new floor.
When Rome was conquered by the Kingdom of Italy in 1870, the Quirinal Palace was sequestered as the residence of King Victor Emmanuel II. Pope Pius refused to accept this, and put its chapels under interdict. This meant that Mass could not be celebrated there, and in fact the court chapel of the kingdom was to be Santissimo Sudario di Nostro Signore Gesù Cristo. This state of affairs lasted for over fifty years. In this time, it is known that the chapel was used for the washing of dishes during banquets.
However, the artworks were respected and the aspect of the chapel has remained unchanged from 1818 to now.
The Lateran Pacts of 1929 normalised relations between the Italian government and the Holy See, and the latter finally relinquished its claim to the palace. Thus, the chapels were re-opened as places of worship and were restored in 1930.
When the Republic of Italy was proclaimed in 1946, the palace became the residence of the President and continues in that function.
The chapel is on the first floor of the north-east wing, towards the north end and with windows facing the gardens. However, there are no external architectural features.
It is part of the piano nobile. The main entrance is off the so-called Sala degli Arazzi, the left hand side door is from the Sala delle Fabbriche di Paolo V and the two sanctuary doors lead into the Sala dello Zodiaco. There are no sacristy facilities.
The little chapel has a nave on a square plan, with the floor-space as a Greek cross as the result of the insertion of four massive three-sided piers at the corners. The diagonal faces of these piers are recessed. They support a set of four fairly deep archivolts creating pendentives, and supporting a ring cornice itself supporting a saucer dome with a low drum. This drum has four windows, occupying the cardinal points.
The right hand wall, below the arch lunette, is occupied by a large window. The left hand wall has an entrance, and another entrance is in the front wall opposite the altar.
The sanctuary is the same width as the nave. The central zone, containing the altar, is square and is crowned with a smaller saucer dome with integrated pendentives. The back wall is flat. The two side zones behind the nave piers have short barrel vaults behind the archivolts defining the sanctuary dome. The right hand wall is occupied by another window, and the two far walls of these side zones each have an exit door.
The floor, laid in 1818, is in polychrome marble tiles, arranged in concentric rings and including zones of onyx which is cut to display a repeating pattern. The central roundel contains the heraldry of Pope Pius VI in pietra dura work.
A high dado in grey-streaked marble runs round the interior, and is embellished by framed panels in pink marble. Matching panels flank the two nave doors, and above the dado at the side walls of the sanctuary..
The nave dome is occupied by a fresco of The Coronation of Our Lady as Queen of Heaven. The pendentives have four Old Testament prophets: Moses, David, Solomon and Isaiah.
The left hand lunette has The Presentation of Our Lady at the Temple, and the right one has The Annunciation of Our Lady's Birth to St Joachim. The former tops a huge dedication tablet, giving the year of consecration as 1610.
The lunette over the main entrance door has a fresco of The Birth of Our Lady, which extends down to the door lintel.
The diagonal pier faces have eight panels depicting allegorical Virtues.
The dome drum, including its window embrasures, the arch archivolts and the wall and pier surfaces not occupied by frescoes or marble revetting are covered by lush stucco work in grotesque style. This is executed in gold on white, and includes putti, angels, eagles and masks. A very ornate high-relief coat-of-arms of Pope Paul V is over the dedication tablet to the left.
The altar frontal matches the floor, but is apparently original. It features onyx and banded green marble, around a red marble tondo bearing a cross device in gold.
The round-headed altarpiece by Reni depicts The Annunciation. It has a very ornate gilded frame in lieu of an aedicule, which has a triangular pediment having a broken cornice. This is supported on a pair of ornate posts containing curlicues and winged masks.
The left hand side wall has a fresco showing Our Lady Sewing the Veil of the Temple. An ancient tradition has it that she helped to embroider the veil of the Holy of Holies in the Temple which tore when Christ died on the cross. Over the door here is a round-headed niche containing a fresco of Adam As a Young Man. The lunette above the main fresco, and the barrel vault enclosing this, both have a gang of cherubs with roses and olive branches -symbols of Our Lady. These cherubs are thought to be by Albani.
The right hand side wall is a window. The niche has Adam As an Old Man (?), and the lunette and vault have more cherubs. These are with palm branches and lilies.
The right hand side area is sequestered with a gilded double screen door, each door having a grille. This was to allow the pope to sit in private to attend Mass, if a chaplain was celebrating instead of himself. The top has the heraldry of Pope Urban VIII.
The sanctuary saucer dome has a fresco of God the Father with the Heavenly Host.
The chapel is not part of the usual tour given to visitors. The Blessed Sacrament is reserved here, which may be the reason.