The Mellini Collection in the Context of Seventeenth-Century Baroque Rome

Francesca Cappelletti

In comparison with other Roman collections of the second half of the seventeenth century, the Mellini collection clearly maintained the flavor of the early decades of the century. Every art collection is linked to the fortunes, social position, and intuition of its owner, and reflects particular choices that may have been more or less obligatory. The inventory dated 1666 that was drawn up following the death of Camillo Pamphilj describes the totality of the works of art that he had accumulated, first as a cardinal and nephew of Pope Innocent X and later as a prince, husband of Olimpia Aldobrandini, heir to the collections of Pietro Aldobrandini, the cardinal-nephew of Pope Clement VIII.

Camillo’s collection had in large part been created from works on the market of the 1650s, through purchases and probable gifts; he certainly consulted specialists on landscape, including Nicolas Poussin’s pupil Gaspard Dughet. Camillo was assisted by Niccolò Simonelli, a friend of the painters Salvator Rosa and Pier Francesco Mola and subsequently adviser to Cardinal Flavio Chigi, the nephew of Pope Alexander VII, patron of Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Giovanni Battista Gaulli. In Chigi’s palace was a cycle of allegorical paintings commissioned from painters in Bernini’s circle; many works by the highly popular painter of flowers Mario Nuzzi (known as “Mario of the Flowers”); and portraits by Gaulli, Carlo Maratti, and Jakob-Ferdinand Voet.

Other collections, though not belonging to families linked to the popes, were enriched with works by contemporary artists with whom the owners were in direct contact—for example, Camillo Massimo collected works by Poussin and Claude Lorrain, and Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna frequently employed the painters Lorrain, Dughet, and Maratti. Maratti enjoyed a privileged relationship with Niccolò Maria Pallavicini, one of the greatest collectors of contemporary art of his time, as shown in the studies of Stella Rudolph.1 Seen in this context, the Mellini collection seems to have had an almost archaic flavor: the names of the painters date from the early decades of the seventeenth century, and the inclusion of landscapes, for instance, reflects the rather passé language of the kinds of experimentation and exchange of ideas that had taken place among Italian and Flemish painters in the early days of the genre. In the Mellini collection, this rather old-fashioned connotation is not watered down by a large number of paintings, as in the Borghese collection, for example.2 Nor is it attenuated by later acquisitions, as was the case with the Mattei collection, which remained anchored to artists and themes from the first thirty years of the seventeenth century.3


  • 1.Stella Rudolph, Niccolò Maria Pallavicini: L’ascesa al Tempio della virtù attraverso il mecenatismo (Rome: Ugo Bozzi, 1995).
  • 2.The Borghese family, originally from Siena, became one of the most powerful dynasties of the Roman aristocracy during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
  • 3.The Mattei family was another powerful Roman family, famous, like the Borghese, for their extensive art collections. The Mellini family never attained the standing and political and ecclesiastical clout of the Borghese or Mattei.