The museum, which occupies parts of the three floors of the palace, contains works by great masters of Italian and foreign painting, from the 11th to the 18th century, including Raphael and Caravaggio.
The Barberini family had already started to cede their collections in the 18th century through sales made by the last descendant, Cornelia Costanza, wife of Giulio Cesare Colonna di Sciarra. The inheritance problems of the offspring who had to split the Barberini and the Colonna assets led to the division of the collections between the two branches of the family, as stipulated in an agreement signed in Paris in 1811.
Only in 1934 was the final dispersion of the collections completed, with the approval of the Italian State which, under a specific law, allowed the sale of the works of the trust in exchange for a small group of properties, giving up the tutelage of one of the most important Roman collections.
In 1984 the Corsini collection was returned to Palazzo Corsini, and works without an historic home returned to Palazzo Barberini. The idea was to create a true National Gallery, with a chronological order but with the possibility of including purchases – a different concept from the historical collections of Rome, with a structure more like major foreign museums.
The collection is rich with masterpieces, especially from the 16th and 17th centuries. The 15th century collection is incomplete, but a definite highlight is Filippo Lippi's painting of the Madonna enthroned with Child (1437). Among the 16th century collection, you'll find the famous Fornarina by Raphael, as well as paintings by Andrea del Sarto, Beccafumi, Sodoma, Bronzino, and works by Lotto, Tintoretto, Titian and El Greco, up to works from the school of Bologna and the end of the century represented by Judith cuts Holofernes' Head by Caravaggio. The 17th century is represented with works by Reni, Domenichino, Guercino, Lanfranco, Bernini, Poussin, Pietro da Cortona, Gaulli and Maratta. The 18th century collection is organized by schools, giving a rather complete and homogeneous idea of Italian painting of the period. A small group of rare French paintings from the 18th century completes the collection.