A new trust secures the longevity of noble wealth.
In a country where dynastic fortunes once flourished, Prince Jonathan Doria Pamphilj of Rome works to keep an estate estimated at more than one billion euro thriving despite one of the worst recessions in the euro zone. Issued from a long line of aristocrats, Prince Jonathan has jointly managed the Doria Pamphilj estate with his sister, Princess Gesine Doria Pamphilj, since 2000 when they inherited a literal treasure trove. Among property owned by the family across Italy, the Doria Pamphilj Palazzo in Rome shines as one of the most opulent in Europe. The palazzo boasts some 1,000 rooms with apartments, drawing rooms, a lavish ballroom, and a spectacular gallery that house some of Italy’s most impressive works of art, with pieces by Caravaggio, Raffaello and Tiziano, not to mention Brueghel, Correggio and Bernini.
A sumptuous Gallery of Mirrors opens onto one of four lush inner courtyards that speak to the peace only wealth can provide in a bustling capital city. There, in a smaller room at the north end, hangs the masterpiece of the collection— a Velasquez depicting Giovanni Battista Pamphilj after his rise to the Papacy as Pope Innocent X. While the family was affluent well before his reign, the nepotism that prevailed during his time on the throne catapulted their wealth substantially.
Just off the Poussin Room, where a vast array of paintings by the artist Gaspar Dughet were rehung almost two decades ago, a Throne Room displays the papal seat, appropriately turned to face the wall until the next papal visit. The grandeur is unquestioned, as with many sumptuous palazzi across Italy. But unlike other noble families in Rome, Doria Pamphilj has prospered despite an arid economic landscape that pits a national 12.7% unemployment rate against a low overall 1.2% inf lation rate in late 2013.
Their success comes from solidarity, a modern management strategy, and a recent legal move that safeguards the estate from being parcelled out.
Forethought: a family attribute
On the heels of WWII, the family sold off or gave to the State most of their remaining lands, palaces, and castles, which freed them from the cumbersome financial millstones that would eventually bankrupt many august families in Rome, such as the Borgheses. When the 2008 global economic crisis hit Italy hard, non-revenue generating lands might have threatened and suffocated the Doria Pamphilj fortune.
As guardians of the history and treasures that are theirs, the family undertook massive renovations to the gallery and halls in the 1990s, with costs reaching in the ballpark of two million euro for the restoration of a single façade.
“The renovations represented rivers of money,” says Prince Jonathan, surrounded in his palatial apartment by silk tapestry wall coverings and priceless works of art. “My family has always believed in maintaining the property, that with privilege comes responsibility.”
A framed photo of Queen Elizabeth of England rests opposite a jet-black grand piano where a lesson book has been left open by one of the two children of Prince Jonathan and his civil partner, Elson Edeno Braga.
Armed with a degree in art history, Prince Jonathan runs the estate like a business draped in philanthropy. His mother, the Princess Orietta Doria Pamphilj, was passionate about preserving it for the enjoyment of the public, and Prince Jonathan has followed in her footsteps. One of his additions to the gallery has been a new audio guide—the first of its kind in Italy—on which the prince himself accompanies visitors through the private palazzo with a running historical commentary that’s refreshingly punctuated with his own childhood anecdotes. He’s chosen to make the technology available free of charge, unlike a majority of European museums that ask up to 5 euro for a guide.
“Art and history, even music, help you to understand who you are, where you’ve come from. It shapes the way you see the world,” he says. It’s a legacy worth fighting for.
New generation nobility
If the letting of property to agricultural workers was the main revenue generator for nobility of yore, in a cosmopolitan downtown Rome, it translates into the leasing of apartments, shops and office space. Lavishly decorated halls within the palazzo rising up from hardwood floors polished to perfection with ecofriendly beeswax produced on the Doria Pamphilj farm, are used to host sleek corporate events that feed the administrative budget.
Operating at a loss but with significant historical importance to the family is the Doria Pamphilj palazzo in Genoa, The Villa del Principe. It boasts an extensive collection of Renaissance tapestry, silvers, paintings, and frescoes. A three million euro investment propelled the recreation of its original sixteenth century landscape, revamping renaissance gardens around a central historic fountain. When asked whether his efforts are intentionally in step with the popular Save Italy movement that seeks to raise funds to restore historical landmarks and attract emerging generations to what can be considered the soul of Italian culture, Prince Jonathan scoffs.
“Look at Pompeii, which is crumbling alongside countless other invaluable monuments and locations. Where is all the money going?” he asks, citing poor management as the reason. “Replace the incompetent people with competent, effective professionals, and stop wasting all the resources.”
Though he tangibly contributes to ‘saving Italy’ through his personal efforts, in typical Doria Pamphilj fashion he does it on his own terms.
“If you’re not giving back to society or contributing in any way—what’s the reason for your function?” asks Prince Jonathan, whose British board ing school upbringing underpins a cool pragmatic approach.
To back that up the prince is in the early stages of developing a new, highend hotel residence in Rome in collaboration with a local orphanage. It’s a bold move in light of Italy’s foundering economy, but one that’s designed to pump profits straight back into the orphanage in a concept he calls ‘ethical luxury’.
The project seeks to draw an affluent clientele moved by the thought of contributing to both financial and cultural sustainability -—something the prince says is atypical of a mentality where power and political interest prevail.
A penchant for the altruistic
With a predilection for giving back, Prince Jonathan regularly opens his family’s private apartments and palazzo halls for charity events.
“It is really important to keep these rooms alive,” he says with enthusiasm. “These spaces can be really sterile if you don’t use them. They need to be filled up for a good cause every now and then.” Through the events he reaches out to organisations like Anlaids Lazio, a branch of the Italian National Association for the Fight Against AIDS.
In May of this year, an intimate party of professional actors and musicians commemorated the 450th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare through the reading and singing of sonnets when some 60 well-heeled and highly- placed guests gathered in the prince’s old-worldly private apartments for a benefit fundraising.
“The event combines poetry, love, reflection on life and the tragedies of it: all things that preoccupy teens and young adults,” says Prince Jonathan.
With a nod toward professional advancement, Prince Jonathan is an active member of Italy’s first EDGE network (Excellence and Diversity by GLBT Executives)— an association of professionals, entrepreneurs and managers who work toward a global acknowledgment of the value of diversity. The association’s annual general meeting is held in Switzerland, where members are instrumental in lobbying with the Swiss government to bring civil rights to where they are today. Pushing a cutting-edge policy, Helvetia is leagues ahead of Italy in the fight for equality, and serves as a model for emerging groups south of the border.
Securing the future
In June 2012, government tax-exemption slashes were announced that altered the running of the estate for good. With property formerly taxed on its historical value, which represented a very low number, the new law dictates that commercial tax be levied at 45%. The financial repercussions of this are staggering, Prince Jonathan explains, and at the end of the fiscal year, there’s no money left for major restoration.
“From now on we’ll have to be content with ‘patch-up’ repair,” he says. “It’s a huge blow.”
In addition to changes in tax law, inheritance issues threatened to break up the estate and put its continuity in peril. The estate had been passed down to Prince Jonathan’s mother, the Princess Orietta Doria Pamphilj, as sole heir, and it runs well as a whole. But between Prince Jonathan and his sister, Princess Gesine, things are not so simple.
The status of the prince’s first child, Emily, as a legal heir to the family fortune was questioned in court in 1997 by his sister, a devout Roman Catholic. Masked in an argument of blood line, the challenge thundered at the idea of a same-gender family, which undermined the princess’ religious and moral stance. If Prince Jonathan and Princess Gesine could not see eye to eye, dividing the estate would secure the dynasty’s downfall.
After years of conflict, Prince Jonathan relates with no small measure of satisfaction that a decision was recently made to transfer all holdings into a trust to avoid Italian inheritance taxes and lineage complications. “The trust safeguards the estate from being divided,” says Prince Jonathan. “It secures the future of our family and the entire Doria Pamphilj estate by ensuring that it can work as a whole.”
A manor needs its lord, and with Prince Jonathan drawing up the master plan this is one patrician family that’s sound for another generation.
Article & Photos by Allison Zurfluh