From Famous Castles & Palaces of Italy, Illustrated in Colour from Paintings, by Edmund B. d’Auvergne, London: T. Werner Laurie, [undated, 1911]; pp. 167-178.
FAMOUS CASTLES AND PALACES OF ITALY
THREE FAMOUS COMMUNAL PALACES
AS the castles of the barons crumbled away, towers shot up into the city between the walls of the free cities, and in their midst rose massive fortified palaces, strongholds of the republic. The commune had need of a castle for its magistrates, to protect them against the violence of the city nobles and the insolence of the mob. These castle-like town halls, so expressive of the dignity of the city-state are among the most striking and famous buildings of Italy. Among the oldest is the Palazzo del Podestà, which bounds one side of the central square of gloomy and towered BOLOGNA. In 1201, we are told by a chronicler, those who governed the republic, seeing it grow daily vastly more powerful and rich, deemed it fit and proper to forsake the old communal palace and to build another suited to its splendour and dignity. The work does not appear to have been completed for another twenty-five years. The Podestà Uberto Visconti had hardly taken up his abode there when the leaders of the lesser trade guilds broke in upon him, burnt the archives, and demanded a share in the government. This was perforce conceded to them, and the bell of the palazzo thereafter rang to announce the accession of their representatives to office. These tribunes were called the Anziani. For them a special residence was 168 afterwards built. The old palazzo continued to be the residence of the podestà, and presumably remained for a time the strongest place in the city, since it was selected for the safekeeping of the city’s most highly prized captive, Enzo, King of Sardinia. This young prince was a son of the famous Frederick II., and was captured in battle by the Bolognese at Fossalta on the Panaro, on 26th May 1249. His horse was killed under him, and he surrendered to Lambertino Lambertini and Michele degli Orsi. A recent historian1 of the old city has collected practically all the information relating to the king’s capture and captivity. He was led in triumph into Bologna on 24th August, mounted on a mule. He was twenty-four years of age, of fine form, with an angelic face, having light hair falling to the waist. His father offered gold enough to encircle the walls for his ransom, but the townsmen held fast to their captive. He was lodged in the Palazzo del Podestà, and treated with every regard to his rank and misfortunes. The fine hall named after him was his apartment by day. Four other German prisoners of rank kept him company. His household was large, and the sixteen citizens who constituted his guard were allowed to converse with him. Like Charles of Orleans, the emperor’s son beguiled the time by writing verses. There is also an oft-repeated and oft-disputed legend that he was consoled by the love of Lucia Vendagoli, and that from the fruit of their love sprang the great family of Bentivoglio, which took their name from the king’s words of yearning for his mistress. Perhaps it was before he met Lucia that he 169 tried to escape. He was carried down the steps by a wine-seller in a huge basket, but as he was nearing the gate and freedom, one of his guards espied some long golden hair hanging out of the basket. The escape was frustrated and those who had abetted it lost their heads. Enzo lingered on in captivity twenty-two years and died on 14th March 1272. He was buried with royal honours in the Church of San Domenico, and there you may read his epitaph, placed there in 1731.
The podestà, during the king’s involuntary occupation of his palace, had shifted his quarters across the square to the new Palazzo del Comune, but from the balcony of his old home he continued to promulgate his sentences and decisions, while the poor devils he doomed to death or imprisonment stood by him. In 1410 the old palace was put to another use. Pope Alexander V. died at Bologna, and the great hall was fitted up for the conclave which was to elect his successor. Two of the Anziani were responsible for the custody of the cardinals, and they were assisted by Malatesta of Pesaro and the Marquis of Ferrara. From the balcony, John XXIII., formerly legate to the city, was presented to the people.
The building was by this time appropriated to the archives and most of the city’s business was transacted in the palaces opposite. In course of time the structure underwent many alterations and restorations, and lost may of its early features, such as its outside stair. Thanks to Signor Rubbiani, it has regained something of that forbidding castle-like aspect which it wore when it was the prison-house of the emperor’s son.
The huge mass of the Palazzo Pubblico, facing it, 170 dates from the year 1287. It has an appearance of immense brute strength and solidity — rather fitting a city which rejoices in the nickname of la grassa. In 1365 Cardinal Aldroino even strengthened it with a wet ditch and a drawbridge, where is now the main entrance. In 1424 Fieravante Fieraventi was called in to restore the palace, after a disastrous fire, and he succeeded in modifying its grisly, threatening appearance. It was restored repeatedly in the sixteenth century under the papal rule, and Bramante built the staircase up which a cardinal rode on horseback and which the youth of the city are at this day prevented with difficulty from ascending on bicycles. The building now accommodates all the provincial offices. The legates have left their arms on the wall of the principal hall, as at Ferrara, and various tablets and inscriptions commemorate the part the sons of Bologna have had in making national history; and that part is no mean one.
The last decade of the thirteenth century also witnessed the building of the great communal palaces of SIENA and FLORENCE. The history of both these edifices is so closely identified with that of the two great Tuscan republics that it can only be very briefly touched upon here. The Palazzo Pubblico of Siena was begun in the year 1288, in the city’s palmiest days, when it was governed by the famous Nine and filled with the vain, luxurious people stigmatised by Dante. The Nine “were men whose sires had travelled land and sea; had built palaces in London and purchased cloth in Flanders; had fought the Florentines at Montaperte and stormed the almost impregnable 171 heights of Campiglia d’Orcia; had visited half the capitals of Europe, and grown very wise and wily in dealing with kings and princes. Their honour, perhaps, was of the ledger and the counter, their courage rather that of the burgher than of the knight; but that courage, such as it was, sufficed to guard the rights of the commune and that honour to keep their hands clean in the administration of public affairs.”2
These merchant princes have a noble monument in their town hall, which took twenty-one years to build. It is partly of brick, partly of grey stone. Not content with so noble a pile, the city fathers called in two architects of Perugia, Minucci and Francesco di Rimaldo, who added in the year 1338 that beautiful tower, which “seems to quit the ground, to be not a monument but a flight.”3 The upper part was added in 1341. The Torre del Mangia the tower was called, after a figure that used to beat the bell on the summit and served the same purpose as did Pasquino at Rome. At the base was built a chapel in memory of the Black Death of 1348 which, as has often been remarked, rather impairs the effect produced by the façade. The statues within it are poor, and the paintings damaged and badly restored.
The third story on each side of the square central tower was superimposed in the fifteenth century and corbels sill mark the level of the original roof. On the façade are displayed the monogram of the Holy Name, the object of the local saint Bernardino’s particular devotion, and you see the black and white 172 shields of the republic on each side of the arms of its destroyer, the Grand Duke Cosimo. Over the door are two wolves on each side of the Lion of the People. A column surmounted by the favourite Roman beast marks the entrance to the apartments of the Signory as distinct from the podestà’s door. For there were many councils and many authorities in Siena, each as jealous of the other as the various monti or classes of the population which they were supposed to represent.
The interior of the palace is divided into spacious and finely decorated halls, a treasure-house of Sienese painting. The larger halls are named after the councils that sat in them. The Nine met in the Sala della Pace, to which they formerly gave their name. The Sala di Balia is called after the select council of fifteen, which in the last half of the fifteenth century really governed the republic. It is stained with the blood of one who well-nigh wrecked the state. In 1455 Siena was leagued with Pope Calixtus III. against the formidable soldier of fortune Jacopo Piccinino. Her army was commanded by Count Giberto da Correggio. Word was brought to the Signory that he had sold them to the enemy. On 6th September the count rode into Siena, demanding his arrears of pay. The Balia invited him to an audience next day. With much ceremony and respect he was conducted into the chapel of the palace, while his attendants were left in the adjoining Sala delle Balestre. Presently he was ushered alone into the hall of the Fifteen. He was seated by the prior, and civilly interrogated as to the progress of the campaign. Then, abruptly, he 173 was accused of treason, and the written proofs of it were thrown on the table. “Do you think you have trapped me?” he cried, rising, and supposing no doubt that his followers were within call. Instead, the officers of the council rushed in, and stabbed him to death beside the council board. The body was hurled into the piazza below. The Fifteen drew up a report and justification of the execution which was sent to the principal Italian courts. If justice always acted so speedily, it would not wear the cruel, cat-like guise it has been given by our modern law.
COURT OF THE BARGELLO, FLORENCE.
FROM A PAINTING BY C. E. DAWSON.
FLORENCE built a castle for her captain of the people and council of the elders in 1255; six years later it was occupied by the podestà of King Manfred. The iron-grey battlemented pile is known as the Bargello, after the sheriff, whose headquarters it became in Medicean days. It is of three storeys, and at one angle rises into a tower, where curfew was sounded every night by the great bell, Montanina. The courtyard in the interior, with its columns and round arches and the escutcheons of the podestàs, vividly brings back Dante’s day. In it used to be confined persons detained on suspicion by the state. The grim time-worn stronghold is now the National Museum. It has been the scene of many stirring events. It was attacked and invaded by the populace in 1295 and 1304, and was fortified in consequence — presumably by the addition of the machicolations and loopholes. A disastrous fire in 1332 caused the commune to vault the building up to the very roof. The Duke of Athens in 1342 installed Baglioni as podestà and painted his arms on the wall. When the people rose, they expelled 174 Baglioni, sacked the castle, and erased the duke’s arms. The municipality has restored the tablet recording the erasure, with an inscription affirming the city’s unalterable devotion to the cause of popular liberty. The building was vigorously defended against the Ciompi in 1378, but was forced to surrender. In the troubled times of Florence, the façade was pretty well covered with portraits of enemies of the state painted, gibbeted upside down, or surrounded by devils, or in other such uncomfortable postures. These pictures, which were often of great merit, were regularly effaced with each change of government. From 1502 onwards the palace was used principally as a court of justice and a prison. The seat of government had long been the Palazzo de Priori or PALAZZO VECCHIO, as it is now called. This famous and well-known building, familiar to everyone by photographs at least, was begun on 29th February 1249, by Arnolfo Cambio, in emulation of the Palazzo Pubblico at Siena. “The Palazzo Vecchio in its original form was strictly the Castle of the Guilds of Florence, which had imposed their rule in the thirteenth century over the whole city. It was, in short, the stronghold of the commercial oligarchy. The early government of Florence had been mainly aristocratic, and all its functions were performed by the nobles; but by 1282 the Arts or guilds, among which the Wool-Weavers and Silk-Workers were the most important members, had gained possession of the executive power, which they entrusted to their own Priori or Guild-masters. The body thus installed in the Palazzo Vecchio was known as the Signoria: it retained power in Florence until the gradual rise of the 175 democratic despotism of the Medici. The fortress-like appearance of the palace is due to the fact that the commercial oligarchy had to hold its own by force within the city against the great nobles on the one hand, and popular rising on the other.”4
The façade fronting the piazza is Arnolfo’s own work; the rear portions in the squalid Via dei Leoni were added by Vasari and Buontalenti in the latter half of the sixteenth century. The tower rises almost, but curiously enough, not quite, in the middle of this façade. It is in two storeys, the upper having been added in 1453. The Duke of Athens during his brief reign planned to make the strong palazzo the keep of a great fortress, and added to it new battlements, and a fortified portico which was demolished on his downfall. Two stone lions, the heraldic beasts of the people of Florence, were at the same time set outside the entrance. A ringhiera or balcony was also built where the magistrates could show themselves to the people.
In 1433 Cosimo de’ Medici was imprisoned in a dungeon called the Alberghettina underneath the tower, while the populace in the square outside clamoured for his release. A year later he made a triumphal entry into the palace, which his friend Michelozzi was presently commissioned to repair. In 1441 the building had the usual baptism of blood by the sudden apprehension and execution of Balduccio d’Anghiari, who had fought well for the republic and was detested by the new governing party. Again in 1478, the façade was festooned with the bodies of the Pazzi conspirators, hung from the columns of the windows. Twenty 176 years after, Cosimo’s old prison housed Savonarola. In the great hall of the Cinquecento he had preached before the Signoria; and in the chapel he celebrated Mass on the morning of his burning.
Forty-two years later the town hall became the residence of Cosimo de’ Medici, causing the “rooms which had once been those of the Priors and Gonfaloniers to be arranged in princely fashion.” Vasari was called in where Michael Angelo and Da Vinci had worked, and painted the whole interior, including those huge frescoes in the Sala de Cinquecento which so much offend by their want of unity of interest. In 1550 the duke removed to the Pitti Palace and a corridor was built fifteen years late to connect the two buildings. It was in the Palazzo Vecchio, however, that Cosimo was proclaimed Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1569. The old palace continued to be used for various state ceremonies, banquets and balls, and was the meeting place of the first Tuscan parliament in February 1848. The next year the Provincial Government took up their quarters here, living in the palace just as the old priors had done. When Florence became the capital of Italy the Italian parliament also met in the great hall of the Cinquecento, and there it was announced that Victor Emanuel had entered Rome at the head of the Italian army. The old palace was soon after restored to its original owners — the municipality of Florence.
1 Edith Coulson James.
2 Heywood, “Guide to Siena.”
3 W. D. Howells.
4 Grant Allen.
PAVIA AND MILAN