Where Was the Mellini Family’s Art Collection Housed?

Nuria Rodríguez Ortega

The 1681 rhyming inventory of paintings and drawings in the Mellini collection describes ninety-five works of art—only a portion of the works owned by the family—as the “best paintings” “in the House in Rome.” The conventional inventory of 1680 lists 153 works. We can surmise that other paintings and drawings, as well as the collection of antiquities and sculptures that had been well known in earlier times, were distributed among the other properties owned by the Mellini family, such as the villa in the Monte Mario district in Rome,1 where Giulio Mancini2 first saw their collection of paintings.

Ferruccio Lombardi has identified the Mellini residence at the time of the 1680 and 1681 inventories as the Palazzetto della Compagnia del Rosario in the Colonna district in north-central Rome.3 A map preserved in the Archivio di Stato di Roma shows that this building included more than one residence and it describes it as “Capranica, Catucci, and other family homes.”4 The building was restructured in 1612 by the architect Flaminio Ponzio.5

It is curious that there seem to be no allusions to this palace in texts from this time that were dedicated to palaces, collections, grand homes, and places of interest, nor in contemporary guidebooks of Rome. Nor is it mentioned in reference works from later periods dedicated to Roman palaces. The only historical allusion to the Palazzo del Rosario that the Digital Mellini research team has found is in Giovanni Pietro Bellori’s6 Musei of 1664, which mentions a palace in the Piazza Capranica in which Cardinal Lorenzo Raggi lived. In fact, the document of donation of this building to the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary7 does not mention a palace; it alludes only to sette case (“seven houses”). The designation of “palazzo” began to appear later in the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary’s documentation, probably to distinguish this larger house from the other properties donated, which are named as botteghe, stalle, and so forth.8

Although Emma Zocca states in the 1976 edition of her classic Roman guidebook Nota delli musei, librerie, gallerie et ornamenti di statue e pitture né palazzi, nelle case, e né giardini di Roma that, “Today neither the palace nor the paintings can be identified,” we have been able, based on the catalogue compiled by Lombardi, to identify the palace’s location in the Piazza Capranica on a map of Rome today (fig. 1). “The House in Rome” to which Pietro Mellini refers on folio 7 recto of his rhyming inventory was the family’s main residence in the late seventeenth century until they purchased a palace in San Marcello al Corso, which they began occupying in the 1690s. In August 1667, their father, Mario Mellini III, had rented the home in the Piazza Capranica from the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary. The rent was extended until 1686.9 The location in this piazza is clearly indicated in the conventional inventory of 1680.

Archival map of Palazzo del Rosario with present-day satellite view.
Fig. 1. Archival map of the Palazzo del Rosario in Rome, site of the Mellini residence at the time of the 1680 and 1681 inventories, with (below) Google Earth view of present-day structures in the Piazza Capranica. Map: Plano Palazzo del Rosario, Archivio di Stato di Roma, Disegni e Piante, coll. 1, cart. 80, nº 245. Courtesy of the Italian Ministry of Cultural Property and Activities. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. Satellite view: © 2015 Google

Prior to the move to the Palazzo del Rosario, the family home had been in the Piazza Navona, where the Mellini family had owned a palace since the time of Pietro Mellini I. This palace is indicated on the map Ritratto di Roma Moderna by Totti10 and in the engraving by Girolamo Rainaldi, Easter Procession in the Piazza Navona (1592).11

The Mellini palace in the Piazza Navona was later absorbed into the Pamphilj palace and the adjacent church of Sant’Agnese. In a document dated May 1652, we read: “the house will be almost entirely demolished and incorporated [into the other buildings].”12 As a result, Mario Mellini III rented the palace in the Piazza Capranica from the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary, and his brother Urban moved to another palace owned by the family, in the Via delle Coppele. The family’s art collection was inevitably affected by these moves.

As was customary in the palaces of the time, the collection was displayed primarily in two rooms on the piano nobile.13 In the Palazzo del Rosario, these were “the large room that looks out onto the Piazza Capranica” (which had two adjoining rooms) and the “long room” with a view of the Via dei Pastini. There were also works of art in Pietro Mellini’s own bedchamber, as mentioned in the 1680 inventory. The two main rooms (the “large room” and the “long room”) are the basis for the structure of the 1681 rhyming inventory, which is divided into two sections, although the sequence of works described is very different in the two documents.14


  • 1. Monte Mario, in the northwest portion of modern Rome, is the highest hill in the city; it is not among the legendary Seven Hills of Rome because it was outside the boundaries of the ancient city.
  • 2. Giulio Mancini (1559–1630) was a well-known intellectual, art collector, and writer born in Siena. In 1592 he moved to Rome, where he became a personal physician to Pope Urban VIII.
  • 3. Ferruccio Lombardi, Roma: Palazzi, palazetti, case: Progetto per un inventario, 1200–1870 (Rome: Edilstampa, 1992).
  • 4. Archivio di Stato di Roma, Disegni e Piante, coll. 1, cart. 80, nº 245.
  • 5. Flaminio Ponzio (ca. 1570–1613), originally from Lombardy, was a founding member of the Accademia di San Luca. He was also the official architect to Pope Paul V Borghese.
  • 6. Giovanni (also known as Gian, or Giovan) Pietro Bellori (1613–1696) was a painter and antiquarian best known for his biographies of seventeenth-century artists; he is often called “the Vasari of the Baroque.”
  • 7. Confraternities are religious associations dating back to the Middle Ages. Their members dedicated themselves to charitable works and to strengthening the Catholic Church. The Confraternity of the Holy Rosary is devoted to the protection and promotion of the practice of praying the Rosary.
  • 8. This building originally belonged to a cavaliere named in the documentation as Giorgio Giustiniani, who donated it along with other houses and adjacent premises located in the same Piazza Capranica to the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary and the Collegio di San Tommaso d'Aquino in 1614 (Archivio della Confraternita del Stmo. Rosario, vol. 317, Archivio di Stato di Roma).
  • 9. Archivio della Confraternita del Stmo. Rosario, vol. 317, Archivio di Stato di Roma.
  • 10. 1638, cited by Carlo Cecchelli, I Margani, i Capocci, i Sanguigni, i Mellini. Le grandi famiglie romane, vol. 4 (Rome: Reale Istituto di Studi Romani, 1946), pl. IV.
  • 11. This engraving is preserved in the Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna, and is reproduced in Stephanie C. Leone, “Cardinal Pamphilj Builds a Palace: Self-Representation and Familial Ambition in Seventeenth-Century Rome,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 63, no. 4 (December 2004): 440–71.
  • 12. See Jörg Garms, Quellen aus dem Archiv Doria-Pamphili zur Kunsttätigkeit in Rom unter Innocenz X (Rome and Vienna: Hermann Böhlaus Nachf, 1972).
  • 13. The piano nobile is the second or sometimes third story of a building, usually given greater apparent height or prominence on the exterior and a higher ceiling within, and containing the principal reception rooms.
  • 14. See the essay “Comparison between the 1680 and 1681 Mellini Inventories.”