The Buildings of the Bibliotheca Hertziana

Spanische Treppe and Palazzo Zuccari
Spanische Treppe and Palazzo Zuccari

In Roman times the Pincian Hill was called Collis Hortulorum, ›garden hill‹. Its south-facing slope was the site of large villas and gardens owned by wealthy Roman citizens, among them the famous epicure Lucius Licinius Lucullus. The ancient gardens had long fallen into disrepair when, in 1590, the painter Federico Zuccari bought a plot of land on the newly laid out Via Sistina to build a house that would also accommodate his studio. In his will Zuccari decreed that his studio was to serve as an academy for painters, sculptors and architects. His ambitious vision nearly came to life more than 300 years later when Henriette Hertz, together with the industrialist Ludwig Mond and his wife Frida, acquired and completely modernised the palazzo, establishing her salon and later the Bibliotheca Hertziana in the sixteenth-century building.
Today the institute extends over several neighbouring buildings. The Palazzo Zuccari – repeatedly remodelled over the course of the centuries – and the nineteenth-century Palazzo Stroganoff are the domain of academic research and the library administration. The middle tract, designed by the Spanish architect Juan Navarro Baldeweg and completed in 2011, houses the central functions of the library and the photographic collection. The Villino Stroganoff on the other side of the road serves as a venue for conferences and events and is home to the administration of the institute.

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Palazzo Zuccari

Selfportrait of Federico Zuccari with his wife Francesca in the Palazzo Zuccari
Selfportrait of Federico Zuccari with his wife Francesca in the Palazzo Zuccari

Situated on the slope of the Pincian Hill, the Palazzo Zuccari was built from 1590 by the painter and art theorist Federico Zuccari. The ground floor still features the original frescoes executed by Zuccari who also designed the celebrated mascherone on Via Gregoriana which provided access to the artist’s garden. The Zuccari coat of arms, a sugarloaf (pan di zucchero), is still the emblem of the institute. In his will the artist stipulated that after his death his studio should serve as a meeting place for the painters, sculptors and architects of the academy and that the rest of the house provides accommodation for poor young artists, especially for artists coming from regions north of the Alps. Unfortunately, no struggling artist was to enjoy that privilege. When Zuccari died in 1609, heavily in debt, the building was still unfinished so that his provisions could not be fulfilled. After completing the palace, Zuccari’s heirs rented it out to prominent tenants.

Palazzo Zuccari
Palazzo Zuccari

From 1703 to 1714 it was home to Maria Casimira, the widow of King John III Sobieski of Poland. She commissioned the architect Filippo Juvarra with set designs for the operas and singspiele by Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti staged in her small domestic theatre in the palazzo. Johann Joachim Winckelmann wrote his groundbreaking description of the Apollo Belvedere while he was staying at the Palazzo Zuccari in 1755, and in 1786 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe paid a visit to the antiquarian and ›art consultant‹ Johann Friedrich Reiffenstein who lived in the palazzo from 1767 until his death in 1793. In the nineteenth century it was the residence of Jakob Salomon Bartholdy, the Prussian Consul-General, who commissioned the Nazarenes Friedrich Overbeck, Peter Cornelius, Wilhelm Schadow and Philipp Veit with a monumental fresco cycle, which is now at the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin.

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Palazzo Stroganoff

Palazzo Stroganoff, Staircase, Foto: Andreas Muhs
Palazzo Stroganoff, Staircase, Foto: Andreas Muhs

Like the Palazzo Zuccari, the Palazzo Stroganoff was popular with artists who stayed there during their time in Rome. By 1649 the property on Via Gregoriana, first developed in 1581, was owned by the painter Salvator Rosa. Over the course of the following centuries his descendants rented it out to numerous artists, among them Thomas Jones, Anton Raphael Mengs and Auguste-Dominique Ingres as well as the writer Stendhal. The palazzo is named after the Russian count Grigory Sergeievich Stroganoff who bought the building in 1881 and converted it into a grand residence. However, the refurbishment was not so much designed to create a sumptuous space to entertain the great and the good of Rome as to house the count’s extensive art collection and made the house look like a museum (Kieven 2013). Acquired for the Hertziana in 1963 with funds from the Volkswagen Foundation, the Palazzo Stroganoff is the seat of the library administration.

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Villino Stroganoff

Villino Stroganoff, Garden
Villino Stroganoff, Garden

In 1883, soon after the acquisition of the palazzo, Count Grigory Sergeievich Stroganoff also bought a property on the other side of the Via Gregoriana. Today’s Villino Stroganoff was then known as Casino di Mignanelli after the family in whose possession it had been since they inherited it in 1608. Among their tenants was Jean Baptiste Louis Georges Seroux d’Agincourt, the French art historian and author of Histoire de l’Art par les monumens, depuis sa décadence au IVe siècle jusqu’à son renouvellement au XVIe, who lived there until his death in 1814.
Stroganoff refurbished the Villino, but it is not clear what he used it for. In December 1906 he sold it to the American Marion Kemp who turned it into a fashionable meeting place for Rome’s high society (Röll 2013). In 1980 the Max Planck Society acquired the Villino for the Bibliotheca Hertziana. From 1985 to 2012 it housed the photographic collection; today it is used for events and conferences and is home to the administration of the institute.

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The New Building

The new library building by Juan Navarro Baldeweg, photographed from the roof terrace, Photo: Andrea Jemolo
The new library building by Juan Navarro Baldeweg, photographed from the roof terrace, Photo: Andrea Jemolo

In the early nineties it had been concluded that the 1960s Silvio Galizia building in the garden of the Palazzo Zuccari was insufficiently stable to house the 250,000 volumes of the library and no longer met current fire safety regulations. It was demolished in 2001 and replaced with a new library building with a reading room and high-density stacks designed by the Spanish architect Juan Navarro Baldeweg (video). Its inauguration in January 2013 finally restored full access to the rich holdings of the library and photographic collection to the international research community (see User Information). Baldeweg’s library building is the new centre of the Hertziana and acts as an architectural and functional link between the Palazzo Zuccari and the Palazzo Stroganoff. It is accessed through the former entrance to Federico Zuccari’s garden, the gaping jaws of the iconic mascherone.

Juan Navarro Baldeweg's New Library Building, Entrance, Foto: Andreas Muhs
Juan Navarro Baldeweg's New Library Building, Entrance, Foto: Andreas Muhs

Baldeweg’s design of the new library tract references the history of the site. He re-imagined the former garden of the Palazzo Zuccari in the form of a trapezoid inner courtyard and reopened its original access, the long-locked grotesque maw of the mascherone. The roofless inner courtyard is framed on three sides by tiered reading galleries and book stacks that rise around it and evoke the fabled terraced gardens of Lucullus that once occupied the site. A funnel-like glass wall protects them from the elements and lets in plenty of natural light which bounces off a white sloping wall that forms the fourth side of the trapezoid. Despite their limited size, the library rooms are suffused with a sense of space, transparency and light (Kieven 2013).
 

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State of the Art Construction Technology on Ancient Ground

Cross section, Graphic: Studio Enrico da Gai
Cross section, Graphic: Studio Enrico da Gai

As early as 1910, building works on the Palazzo Zuccari had unearthed vestiges of the villa of Lucius Licinius Lucullus built around 60 BC. Known as a gourmet and bon viveur but also as a collector of books and art, the military leader was the proud owner of a famously beautiful terraced pleasure garden on the southern slope of the Pincian Hill.
Faced with the Herculean task of preserving all archaeological remains and keeping them accessible while at the same time erecting a new building on top of them, the architect developed a design that is notable for its outstandingly bold structural engineering: A three-metre high ›box‹ of reinforced concrete rests on 170 micropiles sunk up to 50 metres deep into the ground along the facades on Via Sistina and Via Gregoriana. This construction carries the enormous weight of the new building which straddles the archaeological site like a bridge without compromising it.

Excavations under the New Library Building
Excavations under the New Library Building

The archaeological excavations undertaken by the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma beneath the building site discovered a terraced wall erected during the time of Lucullus. Around 47 AD, Valerius Asiaticus, the new owner of the property had converted it into a nymphaeum – a sanctuary consecrated to water nymphs – embellished with sumptuous mosaics. Among other finds were some forty buried pots with fossil plant remains, for example the roots of rosebushes, and a head of Venus. Thanks to the raised construction of the new building, these excavations can continue even after the inauguration of the new library.

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Hertziana Guided Tours

Contacts

Elisabetta Pastore
Tel.: + 39 0669 993 226
Fax: + 39 0669 993 333
pastore(at)biblhertz.it

Raffaele Rossi
Tel.: + 39 0669 993 257
Fax: + 39 0669 993 333
rossi(at)biblhertz.it

Further Reading

100 Jahre Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max-Planck-Institut für Kunstgeschichte. Der Palazzo Zuccari und die Institutsgebäude 1590–2013, ed. by Elisabeth Kieven, with the collaboration of Jörg Stabenow, Munich 2013.

Marco Biagi and Enrico Da Gai, »Spazi per la cultura. Biblioteca Hertziana, Max Planck Institut – Roma. Juan Navarro Baldeweg«, Casabella (2012), 810, pp. 72–89.