Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Donna Orietta

I have only ever known one continental noblewoman, and even then only slightly. Somehow it seems absolutely right that I should have been introduced to her and to her family in Rome in 1986 by those shrewd but kindly Ladies of Bethany. Donna Orietta Doria Pamphilj, Princess of Torriglia, Princess of Melfi and of Valmontone, Duchess of Avigliano, etc. etc., was far more than their landlady. To a very large extent Princess Doria was a vital and practical patron of their work, and the principal reason why Miss Koet and Miss Galema managed to live for so long in their sunny apartment on the roof of the Collegio Innocenziano at Via dell’Anima, 30, overlooking Bernini’s exceptionally theatrical fontana dei quattro fiumi right in the middle of the Piazza Navona. Donna Orietta spoke English, French, and Italian with complete fluency, and was no doubt therefore entitled to make what at the time seemed the rather suprising observation that I spoke Italian with a Japanese accent. She was rightly proud of the staunch, anti-fascist stance, adopted by her father, Prince Filippo Andrea VI Doria Pamphilj, long before and right the way through World War II, and at considerable personal cost. Having refused to fly a fascist flag, a mob ransacked the Palazzo Doria, and Orietta and her mother hid in an old elevator that they stopped between floors. After the fall of Mussolini and the end of World War II, Don Filippo, who had been imprisoned, first, in a concentration camp, and later hid with his wife and daughter in different safe-houses in Trastevere, plotting with the partisans to dynamite the headquarters of the Waffen SS, which happened to be in the Villa Doria Pamphilj on the Gianicolo, whose cellars Don Filippo explored in early childhood and therefore knew like the back of his hand. He became in 1944 the first postwar sindaco of Rome, a vital role in the transition from allied occupation to the plebiscite in 1946 which abolished the Italian monarchy and established the Italian Republic. Before his death in 1958 the family estates were vast, and, I seem to recall, extended over such extensive southern territories in what was previously the Kingdom of Naples that there existed a family train in which to travel through them, at times escorted by cowboys mounted on horseback, ebulliently firing their rifles into the air by way of tribute. Upon the prince’s death, Donna Orietta had to sort out estate taxes and death duties of colossal size, and resolved to do everything in her power to save the enormous Palazzo Doria, one of the largest in Rome, together with her astonishing collections of art, among them the famous portrait of Pope Innocent X by Diego Velázquez. This she did with the assistance of her English husband Frank Pogson, who took much pleasure in sustaining over many years a cricket club which played socially in the grounds of the Villa Doria Pamphilj. That beautiful property eventually had to be made over to the Italian state, but was restored some time during the 1980s, at enormous cost to the Italian taxpayer, in order to provide a suitable venue for entertaining Diana, Princess of Wales.

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