The Collegio Innocenziano, erected on the western side of Piazza Navona at the intersection with Via di Sant’Agnese, represents the last constructive intervention of the grandiose project undertaken by the Pamphilj family which gave the square its Baroque character.
The Pamphilj’s had a decisive role in the transformation of the square, by acquiring the whole series of buildings that looked onto the western side and unifying them in the monumental complex that includes the palazzo Pamphilj, the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone and the Collegio Innocenziano.
The process of acquisition of buildings that would form the Insula Pamphilj was begun in 1470 with Antonio Pamphilj, a nobleman of Gubbio who become a lawyer and tax attorney at the Camera Apostolica, had taken up residence near the Piazza di Parione (now Piazza Pasquino) and had then greatly enlarged his estate by buying some adjacent houses.
The expansion of the properties of the Pamphilj’s in Piazza Navona had a rapid growth with Giovanni Battista Pamphilj, elected cardinal in 1630 and then Pope in 1644. Between 1630 and 1654 all the properties on the block were purchased where the first home of the Pamphilj Palace, which was built, including the Palazzo Ornano where the Collegio Innocenziano was built.
The Collegio was intended to house the clergy of the Church of Sant’Agnese, the boarding school for the children of employees of the Pamphilj’s who were beginning an ecclesiastical career and the family library, until then was kept in the Palazzo Pamphilj.
The original nucleus of the Pamphilj library consisted of a collection of legal, philosophical, historical and theological works belonging to Girolamo Pamphilj (1544-1610). The collection was enhanced by Innocent X, and then further expanded with Aldobrandini collection after the marriage of Camillo Pamphilj to Olimpia Aldobrandini. In March 1662 the Pamphiliana, according to the inventory drawn up by its first librarian Nicolò Angelo Caferri, counted 2,250 books.
The construction of the building took a long time: Palazzo Ornano was taken down around 1654, the Collegio was not yet completed in 1666, since Camillo Pamphilj in his will drawn up between 20 and 25 July 1666, asked his son Giambattista to complete the building and to move the library there. Probably the work on the Collegio suffered delays due to the death of Pope Innocent X in January 1655 and the alternating direction of the building by Francesco Borromini and Girolamo and Carlo Rainaldi.
Giambattista Pamphilj, flanked by his mother Olimpia Aldobrandini, oversaw the installation of the family library on the main floor of the Collegio and commissioned Francesco Cozza, a Calabrian painter of the school of Domenichino, who worked from 1667 to 1672 on its decoration.
The theme of the fresco is the Triumph of Divine Wisdom with the four branches of knowledge and the four elements and the triumph of the Pamphilj and Aldobrandini families.
The center of the ceiling is dominated by the figure of Divine Wisdom which holds in her left hand a book with seven seals topped with a lamb and brandishes in her right hand a shield in the middle of which shines a dove surrounded by rays of light, the symbol of the Holy Spirit.
Wisdom is flanked by allegories of the three theological virtues: Faith, presenting an open book, Hope, characterized by an anchor and a lily, and Charity, depicted as a woman dressed in red bearing a baby in her arms.
At the four corners of the fresco are depicted the four Elements: Fire is a young man dressed in red with a yellow drapery waving over his head; Air is a winged woman dressed in white, on her hands are two doves; Water is represented by Neptune on chariot drawn by sea horses and finally Earth, is depicted as Tellus bearing two cornucopias overflowing with fruit and shafts of wheat.
Next to each Element there are other allegories, conceptually related to each one, such as the Aquarium on the wagon of Neptune and, next to the figure of the Air, Aura the spring wind depicted as a young maiden with wind blown blond hair and with flowers in her hands, caught in the act of blowing.
The allegories grouped around Air are dominated by the figure of Juno seated in his chariot pulled by peacocks. The goddess, traditionally associated with air and weather events, holds in her hands lightning bolts and a tambourine, which alludes to the sound of thunder.
Mirroring Juno, above the element Fire is Venus, sitting in her dove-drawn chariot and flanked by three young girls, presumably the Three Graces.
The group iconographically more articulate is developed around the element Earth. Above the personification of Earth sits a female figure dressed in green and with a turreted headgear that could be identified with the Oikoumene, meaning the inhabited Earth. She is located at the center of a ring, symbol of the cycle of the year, on which are depicted the allegories of the seasons: Winter is a great angel dressed in white scattering snowflakes, Autumn is a putto bearing grapes, pears and other fruits typical of the season, Summer is characterized by the sickle and wheat and finally Spring is an angel with her hands full of flowers.
The sides of the fresco are dominated by the allegories of the four branches of knowledge: Theology is personified by a female figure sitting on a starry globe and rests her foot on a wheel; Music is intent on playing a viola; Science, represented as a winged woman with her head surrounded by a starry halo holding a compass in her hand; while Rhetoric, crowned with a laurel wreath, holds a tablet in one hand and a quill in the other waiting for inspiration.
Among these allegories of knowledge are some winged putti bearing the coat of arms of the Pamphilj family (the dove with an olive branch in its beak and three fleur-de-lis) and the Aldobrandini family (a cog-wheel crown and six eight-pointed stars) along with symbols of Papal power (the tiara and keys) to evoke the memory of popes Clement VIII Aldobrandini and Innocent X Pamphilj.