Each Saturday morning, the Palazzo Colonna throws open its doors (or at least the doors of its magnificent gallery) to the public. The Galleria Colonnais one of the largest private art collections in Rome. The gallery was created to celebrate the victory of the Christian fleet over the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto, in 1571. The commander of the Papal fleet, Marcantonio II Colonna (1535-84), is depicted on the ceilings of both the Sala Grande and the Sala della Colonna Bellica.
The gallery is extravagantly decorated in the Baroque style, with the characteristic surfeit of gilded surfaces. It was commissioned in the mid 1600s by Cardinal Girolamo I Colonna and his nephew Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna, and inaugurated by Lorenzo Onofrio’s son, Philip II, in 1700.
Embedded in the short flight of steps, which leads down to the magnificent Salone Grande, is a cannonball! It was fired from the Janiculum Hill by French troops on June 24th, 1849, during the short-lived Roman Republic. It has never been removed.
The fresco on the ceiling of the Sala della Colonna Bellica is by Giuseppe Chiari (1654-1727) and depicts the Apotheosis of Admiral Marcantonio II Colonna (1698-1700). The admiral commanded the pope’s fleet at the Battle of Lepanto, which took place on October 7th, 1571.