31 Oct 2003-15 Jan 2004. Over 150 objects that belong to Sweden's royal collection. They cover an important period in Swedish history, from the reign of Queen Cristina in the 17th century to that of King Gustave III at the end of the 18th century.

Queen Cristina is less remembered for her reign on the throne of Sweden (1644-1654) than as one of the most judicious and acute sponsors of the arts of her time. She came to the throne when only 18, a learned, bright and wilful young woman. She had no use for the strictures of official marriage and none for those of the reformist church of her country. She abdicated as queen of what was then one of the most powerful countries in Europe. She packed her bags and went to Rome, figuratively and literally speaking.

She entered the busy, flamboyant papal capital with all her retinue through the Piazza del Popolo gate and took up residence in the sumptuous Palazzo Riario in Trastevere, now the Corsini museum. After she converted to Catholicism she also wholeheartedly entered the complex life of the city, its political machinations, rich public display, private cultural events. She was soon called the Minerva from the north.

Because of her mannish looks and clothes she was at times thought to be a lesbian, but an intensive friendship, recorded in a twice-daily exchange of letters and many visits, has linked her to Decio Azzolino, the cardinal who lived across the river from her.

She sponsored the concerts of the baroque composers, founded the Tor di Nona theatre in 1671. She wrote essays and helped to publish the best writers of the time. But in art she gathered work from the past as well as the present.

Portraits of Cristina, her relatives and courtiers, her jewels, her clothes as child and grown-up, her arms, her official coaches and horse gear and arms, give witness in this exhibition to her particular period and her multifaceted activities and the Rome of her time. But it is her taste in paintings which is the splendid attraction here. From the Gothic, through the Venetian Renaissance, to the Baroque, she managed to catch the cream of the crop.

Here is a "Lucrezia", naked and sleek like a snake, by Lukas Cranach the elder; plump Venuses embracing puzzled lovers by Titian and Veronese. A naughty, wide-legged Dana by Correggio; a pensive Rembrandt working girl with a labourer's hand. Three happily fat graces with silky tresses holding up a basket of fat roses by Rubens.

Most of the objects are on loan from the National Museum in Stockholm and the Swedish Royal collections. For our enjoyment, other delectable works beyond Cristina's time are also on display here: a "Beheading of St John" by Tiepolo a tragedy told in satiny brush-marks. Rosy tumbling nymphs by Boucher. Morning-fresh Venice by Canaletto. Lancret's shaggy grottoes of the Roman countryside.

Edith Schloss

General Info

Address Palazzo Ruspoli, Via del Corso 418, tel. 066874704.

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Cristina of Sweden and the royal collections

Palazzo Ruspoli, Via del Corso 418, tel. 066874704.