Roman Curiosities II

Dear friends,


First of all, I wish to extend my gratitude to the many of you who have shown an interest in the history of Via Alibert, our gallery's current location. Today we are going to explore the history of the Teatro d'Alibert and Palazzo Raffaelli.

It is astonishing to think of the number of illustrious figures associated with art in one way or another who have had occasion to use the short but important Via Alibert. We can imagine Prince Alessandro Torlonia on the way to his theatre, the photographer Robert Macpherson whose workshop was here, and the architects and silversmiths Luigi and Giuseppe Valadier whose foundry was in the building on the corner of Via Margutta, or Franz Liszt and even Gioacchino Murat, in whose honour a spectacular ball was held in the Teatro d'Alibert.

But perhaps even closer to our heart is the work of the celebrated mosaicist Giacomo Raffaelli who lived and worked here. We can but imagine the number of sublime masterpieces that were created in the very rooms which we occupy today and now hold pride of place in public and private collections all around the world.


Teatro d’Alibert or delle Dame


Probably built by the architect Matteo Sassi for Count Antonio d'Alibert in 1716 but almost instantly enlarged and improved by Francesco Galli Bibiena, the Teatro d’Alibert or delle Dame, with 900 stall seats and seven rows of boxes, was the largest and finest of all Rome's theatres throughout the 18th century, even if it did lack a proper façade of its own. Spectators entered the theatre either via Via Alibert or via the overbridge in Via del Babuino which crossed through Palazzo Fede and brought them straight to the first row of boxes. The theatre was so successful that the queue of carriages waiting to "park" at the back of the theatre sometimes stretched as far as Piazza di Spagna, causing a fully-fledged traffic jam.

The theatre hosted performances of the entire repertoire of the period from Metastasio and Goldoni to Piccinni, Mercadante and Donizetti, with international audiences flocking to see such actors as Farinello (Carlo Broschi) or Farfallino (Giacinto Fontana), who played women's roles.



      a)                                                                                   b)

a)  Plan of the Teatro d’Alibert after its reconstruction in 1847   

b) The corner of Via Margutta with Via Alibert where the theatre once stood     



Equally famous were the masked balls held to mark the visit of such illustrious guests as Gioacchino Murat in 1804, with Giuseppe Valadier designing a stage set with a large baldaquin adorned with eagles and bees for the occasion.

After a period of decline, the theatre was bought by Alessandro Torlonia in 1847 and entirely rebuilt by the architect Nicola Carnevali, who improved access and even built an overbridge across Via Alibert to connect the first row of boxes directly to the box office and cloakroom which were located across the road in a palazzetto that was also owned by Torlonia.

This overbridge was to be the object of a lengthy lawsuit brought by a neighbour called Giacomo Raffaelli, who eventually succeeded in winning his case and in having the overbridge demolished. In any event, the entire theatre was destroyed in a fire started by an arsonist only three years later. The fire, however, failed to destroy the part of the building that had been rented out and turned into flats. This was not severely damaged at all and it continued to be owned by Prince Torlonia, as we can see from the coat-of-arms still visible on the façade.



           The theatre after the fire of 1863                  Torlonia coat-of-arms in Via Margutta         

Baldassarre Pescanti, the new owner, commissioned the architect Galanti to built a "Bathing Establishment with the Aliberti Hotel attached" on the site in 1872, thus starting a tradition in the hospitality business that is still going strong today.

The palazzetto owned by Torlonia across the road at no. 14 housed the celebrated workshop-cum-salon of painter and photographer Robert Turnbull Mcpherson, while the Associazione Artistica Internazionale moved to the former theatre foyer from the Dogana Vecchia or Old Customs House in Piazza del Popolo in 1871.

The palazzetto and the rest of the Torlonia property were subsequently gifted to the De La Salle Brothers of the Congregation of Christian Schools who commissioned Ciriaco Salvadori to build a church dedicated to San Giovanni Battista de la Salle on the site in 1886. This complex de facto sealed off the road which formerly ran as far as the Pincio, virtually parallel to Via di San Sebastianello.


Villa Medici seen from the terrace of Palazzo Raffaelli


Palazzo Raffaelli


The architect Giuseppe Valadier lived across the road from Via Alibert, in Palazzo Fede at no. 89 Via del Babuino where his father Luigi had earlier moved with his entire family and where, in a "large warehouse" adjacent to the palazzo on Via Margutta, Luigi had set up the foundry in which he was to create so many of his masterpieces, including in particular the largest bell in St. Peter's. A marble plaque in the palazzo entrance hall commemorates the visit of Pope Pius VI.



G. Valadier, Elevation of the house on Via del Babuino        Palazzo Raffaelli today 


Valadier completed Palazzo Raffaelli in 1823 by merging a number of houses situated between nos. 92-93 Via del Babuino and nos. 18-23 Via Alibert, owned by celebrated mosaicist Giacomo Raffaelli who had bought them from the Roman Republic in 1798, three of them having been confiscated by the Republic from the Convent of the SS. Trinità de’ Monti. One of these had been an inn known as the "Three Keys of Avignon" with a primarily French clientèle since the 17th century and was later to become the "WandreGoest" serving chiefly Flemish and English customers.


Plaque commemorating the visit of Pope Pius VI


Valadier built a private residence for the mosaicist designed to cater to his patron's need to set up a genuine "mosaic and enamel industry". To this end, the architect designed the ground floor, which was extended to nos. 15-17 Via Alibert in 1827, in the shape of a gallery of rooms used to house workshops, while the inner rooms served as a storehouse and manufactory. The façade on Via del Babuino, on the other hand, housed the shop for receiving and selling to customers, while the entire Raffaelli family lived on the upper floors and indeed continued to own the property up until the mid-20th century. This was the birthplace of countless jewels, boxes and snuffboxes adorned with classical scenes, mythological motifs, landscapes and costumes, the piazzas and ancient ruins of Rome, in other words the entire repertoire of motifs beloved of foreigners conducting the Grand Tour.


G. Valadier, Elevation of the house on Via Alibert 



The façade on Via Alibert today


The premises on Via del Babuino were to continue to house mosaic workshops and antique dealers: first Antonio and Alessandro Jandolo, then Augusto and Ugo Jandolo, followed later by the gallery of the Chiurazzi Foundy of Naples, and from 1933 by Eugenio Di Castro, an antique dealer specialising in Roman art, and his sons Nicola and Angelo. Not to mention artists such as sculptor Pietro Chiapparelli and Alessandro Paoloni, photographer Luigi Rocca and Luigi Morelli's Fine Arts showroom.


Francesca Di Castro

December 14, 2020