The long-term plan to extend the space for exhibiting pictures within the Palazzo Barberini, which houses the Italian states main collection of antique pictures, reaches its first stage on 13 December. In the presence of the president of the republic, Giorgio Napolitano, and the minister of fine arts, Francesco Rutelli, eight newly refurbished rooms will be declared open to visitors.

The next stage, due to be completed by the end of December 2006, is the vacating of the enormous apartments in the palace occupied for some 70 years by the Circolo degli Ufficiali (officers club).

Works to restore these spaces and prepare them for exhibiting will then begin and will continue until the end of 2009, after which there will be enough room to display all 1,500 pictures in the collection. At the moment these are distributed between inadequate space in the building, store rooms (and therefore invisible to the public) and the Palazzo Corsini in Via della Lungara. Amongst the best-known works in the collection are Raphaels Fornarina, Holbeins portrait of Henry VIII and Caravaggios Narcissus.