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The Barberini are a family of the Italian nobility that rose to prominence in 17th century Romemarker. Their influence peaked with the election of Cardinal Maffeo Barberini to the papal throne in 1623, as Pope Urban VIII. Their urban palace, the Palazzo Barberinimarker, (completed in 1633 by Bernini), today houses Italy's Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Anticamarker (National Gallery of Ancient Art).

Early history

The Barberini family were originally a family of minor nobility from the Tuscan town of Castello da Barberino, who settled in Florencemarker during the early part of the eleventh century.

Antonio Barberini (1494-1559) participated in the defense of the Florentine Republic in 1530. After the capture of the city by Imperial troops, and the return to power of the Medici, he left Florence for Rome, thereby founding the Barberini dynasty in Rome.

Rise to power in Renaissance Rome

They acquired great wealth and influence when Cardinal Maffeo Barberini was elected to the papal throne in 1623, taking the name Pope Urban VIII. He elevated a brother (Antonio the Elder), and two nephews (Francesco and Antonio the Younger), to the cardinalate, made another brother Duke of Monterotondo, and gave a third nephew, Taddeo Barberini, the principality of Palestrinamarker. Taddeo was also made leader of the papal armymarker.

Patrons of the arts

The fine Palazzo Barberinimarker, the Barberini library (now a core section of the Vatican's Biblioteca Apostolica), and the many buildings, altars, and other projects spread across Rome (and marked with the heraldic three bees) give evidence of the family's wealth, taste and magnificence in the seventeenth century. The family were also important early patrons of opera, maintaining "star" singers like Marc'Antonio Pasqualini on payroll, and building a designated theater at their palace. While many objects from the Barberini art collections are scattered in museums around the world - such as the Barberini Faun and Barberini Apollo, sold to Ludwig I of Bavaria and now in the Munich Glyptothekmarker; the Barberini Venus; the Barberini Hera, also seen in this head; or the Portland Vase (once known as the Barberini Vase), bought off them by Sir William Hamilton and now in the British Museummarker - , a nucleus remains in the hands of the family, as well as in the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, which occupies part of the Palazzo Barberini in Rome. The cultural influence of the dynasty was considerable, and provided the subject for a major international conference in December 2004 (and subsequent publication), entitled "I Barberini e la Cultura Europea".

Maffeo Barberini as Pope Urban VIII

The ecclesiastical, diplomatic and cultural accomplishments of Urban's reign are sometimes overshadowed by modern shock at the extreme nepotism the pope practiced. Likewise, the disastrous War of Castro, a pyrrhic victory with which the pontificate concluded, sullied Urban's reputation and the popularity of those family members who survived him. The often repeated criticism of the pope, for removing ancient bronze beams from the portico of the Pantheon to procure bronze for the Baldachin of St. Petersmarker and for the papal cannon foundry, is perhaps less fair than it is clever. While the anonymous critic punningly wrote "Quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini" (Translation: What the barbarians didn't do, the Barberini did), the pope erected a tablet proudly proclaiming his re-use of these hidden beams for the glory and defense of the church.

Exile and restoration

After Urban's death in 1644 a hostile successor, Pope Innocent X, forced the Barberini family into exile. Cardinal Antonio, Cardinal Francesco, and Prince Taddeo fled to Parismarker, where the latter died in 1647. But by 1653, the Barberini had returned to papal favor and were restored to many of their former positions. Taddeo's elder son Carlo was made a cardinal, and his younger son Maffeo was confirmed as Prince of Palestrinamarker.

Modern history

In the eighteenth century, the direct male line of the family became extinct, and when the female heiress Cornelia Barberini married Prince Giulio Cesare Colonna di Sciarra of the Colonna family in 1728, he added her name to his own. The male line became extinct again on the death of Prince Enrico Barberini-Colonna, and the name went to his daughter and heiress Donna Maria and her husband Marquis Luigi Sacchetti, who received the title of prince of Palestrina and permission to bear the name of Barberini.

The family patriarch, Augusto Barberini, continues to hold the title of Prince of Palestrina, and unlike many of his noble peers, still inhabits the palace and farms the agricultural land from which his title derives. The family also maintains a residence in Rome. Of the four children of the Prince and Princess, Urbano Barberini is a film actor and Francesca Barberini is an author and historian of art.

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