Santissimo Crocifisso di Palazzo Barberini is a 17th century palace chapel in the Palazzo Barberini which is at Via delle Quattro Fontane 13 in the rione Trevi.
The dedication is to the Holy Cross (despite the name, "Holy Crucifix").
The chapel is not used for liturgical events and the altar is dismantled, but the writer has not been able to find out whether it has been formally deconsecrated.
The chapel is part of what is arguably the greatest early Baroque palace in Rome. Work began on the Palazzo in 1625 on the orders of Maffeo Barberini of the Barberini family, who had become Pope Urban VIII two years earlier.
The architect first commissioned was Carlo Maderno, at the time undertaking the extension the nave of St Peter's. He was assisted by his nephew Francesco Borromini, but when Maderno died in 1629 the latter was passed over and the commission was awarded to Bernini, then better known as a talented young sculptor. Borromini stayed on however and the two worked together, albeit briefly, on the project. The structural work was completed by Bernini in 1633. He was responsible for the structure of the chapel.
The chapel on the piano nobile was fitted out and frescoed in the previous year, 1631-2, under the supervision of Pietro da Cortona. He was to execute his masterpiece ceiling fresco The Triumph of Divine Providence on the vault of the neighbouring salon in the subsequent seven years. The team included Giovanni Francesco Romanelli, Giacinto Gimignani and Pietro Paolo Baldini. As per usual, deciding who painted what has been a fertile source of scholarly argument -although the altarpiece is accepted as the sole responsibility of Pietro da Cortona.
Although the fabric of the palazzo is early Baroque, the decoration of the chapel has aspects which are more like late Renaissance.
In 1873 the church and convent of San Caio was sequestered by the Italian government, and completely demolished in 1885 without archeological investigation. This church was by tradition on the site of the home of Pope St Caius , who ruled from 283 to 296 before being martyred. His shrine was in the Catacombe di San Callisto, but his alleged relics were under the church altar. After the church's demolition, the relics were moved to the chapel at the Palazzo.
This action should have raised the chapel's status to that of a church, but this did not happen. It is unclear as to whether these relics are still here.
In the earlier 20th century, there is evidence that the family were struggling (or not overly bothering) with upkeep, because the chapel frescoes suffered substantial damage. In the Thirties, part of the Palazzo was leased to an army officers' club which was to cause trouble later.
The Barberini family managed to keep the Palazzo as a private possession until 1949, when they sold it to the State to become a home for the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica which is the main collection of pre-19th century paintings in Rome (it has another gallery, the Palazzo Corsini in Trastevere).
The chapel has no external architectural identity. It is a tall room on a square plan, having a false saucer dome supported on pendentives. These in turn are created by four lunettes, and unusually the front and back lunette archivolts are shallower than those to the sides. This means that the supporting corner pilasters are transversely rectangular, and have incut corners.
The doors are covered in blue leather, each chased in gold leaf with an outline of an arch surrounded by curlicues.
Each wall has a large fresco in a bead-molded and gilded frame, above the doors except the altarpiece which is above the altar. The latter has had its frontal removed. These frescoes are surrounded by strip-panels of Grotesque decoration, including vine-scrolls, in grisaille except around the doors where they are in yellow.
The dome has no drum, but sits on a molded ring cornice itself supported by the pendentives. The deeper pendentive archivolts to the sides are in gilded stucco work depicting angels playing musical instruments, with putti banqueting at the keystones. The shallower ones at front and back sport incense thuribles and palm fronds with a crown in each keystone. The pendentives themselves have high-relief stucco tondo portraits in white of four saints.
The dome is divided into four sectors by very broad ribs, containing more floreated Grotesque decoration in white and gold. There is a central tondo, but no lantern.
The altarpiece depicts The Crucifixion, and is the only work in the chapel entirely by Pietro da Cortona. Above is a lunette which used to depict The Apotheosis of St Francis of Paola, but this has mostly been destroyed. St Francis of Paola also features in the lunette opposite.
To the left is The Adoration of the Shepherds, and the lunette shows The Holy Family with St Anne.
To the right is The Ascension, and the lunette shows The Holy Family Resting on the Way to Egypt. The former is attributed to Romanelli (or Baldini), but the intervention of Pietro da Cortona is detected. The latter is attributed to Gimignani.
On the near wall is The Annunciation, and above is The Miraculous Voyage of St Francis of Paola. He allegedly crossed the Strait of Messina by using his cloak as a boat.
The four dome sectors have angels holding The Instruments of the Passion, although one has been lost. The central tondo has The Dove of the Holy Spirit. These panels are by Baldini and Romanelli.
You can only see the chapel by buying a ticket for the gallery, which was twelve euros in 2019. But obviously you also get to see a lot of other good stuff.