Madama Palace, Turin, Italy

Palazzo Madama and Casaforte degli Acaja is an architectural and historical complex located in the central Piazza Castello in Turin. Having played a leading role in its history from Roman times through to the present day, it was declared a World Heritage Site with the other Residences of the House of Savoy in 1997. Palazzo Madama, as part of the Savoy Residences serial site. The building houses the Civic Museum of Ancient Art.

It is a combination of two thousand years of Turin ‘s history, from the ancient eastern gate of the Roman colony of Julia Augusta Taurinorum to a defensive stronghold, then to a real castle, a symbol of Savoy power until at least the sixteenth century, when the current Royal Palace, as the seat of the Duke of Savoy.

The western part of the first medieval complex was later called Palazzo Madama because it was first inhabited by Madama Cristina of Bourbon-France, called the “first Royal Madama”, in the period around 1620 – 1663, then fromMaria Giovanna Battista di Savoia-Nemours, called the “second Royal Madama”, in the period 1666 – 1724. It was for the latter that the current facade was designed, in 1716 – 1718, by the court architect Filippo Juvarra.

The visit covers four floors, where the centuries-old story of its construction interacts with the collections of the Museo Civico d’Arte Antica, which have been here since 1934.

The early centuries of the Middle Ages are illustrated in the Mediaeval Stonework Collection on the moat level, with its sculptures, mosaics, and jewellery dating from the Later Antique period to the Romanesque. The fifteenth-century rooms on the ground floor contain paintings, sculptures, miniatures and precious objects from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, mainly from Piedmont. In the circular room in the Treasure Tower there is a selection of masterpieces, including the famous Portrait of a Man by Antonello da Messina. On the piano nobile, with its stunning array of Baroque stuccoes and frescoes, there is the modern picture gallery with works from the Savoy Collections and an important selection of furniture made by Piedmontese, Italian, and French master cabinetmakers. Lastly, the top floor houses the decorative arts collections, which are a key part of the museum’s assets, with majolica and porcelain, glasswork and ivories, fabrics and lace, jewellery and metals, as well as the stunning collection of gilded, painted and sgraffito glass, unrivalled in terms of its quantity and quality.

Palazzo Madama, a palace with two thousand years of history and a great heritage of painting, sculpture and decorative arts, to be preserved and made accessible to the community

From Roman Porta a house-strong
Located in the heart of Turin, in what was to be the Roman Quadrilateral castrum, the complex stands on what, at the time of the ancient Roman colony of Julia Augusta Taurinorum, was called the Porta Praetoria (for other historians it was instead the Porta Decumana), from which the Decumanus Maximo was entered by entering from the eastern part. Here in fact you had access to the city from the side of the Po, which was carefully defended due to its strategic position; after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the gate was transformed into a fortress, suitable for city defense, given the obvious importance of this route of communication, even if it maintained the original function of passage with the opening in the ancient Roman wall. Already in the ninth century the name of a second passage, called Fibellona, of uncertain etymology is confirmed.

The primitive fortification then passed to the Marquises of Monferrato in the thirteenth century, and this was the place where, in all likelihood, the treaty between William VII of Monferrato and Thomas III of Savoy was signed which provided for the release of the first and the transfer of Turin from the Aleramici to the Savoy. It was 1280.

The centuries went by and the fortification of Porta Decumana passed into the ownership of the Savoy-Acaja family (cadet branch of the Savoy family) who enlarged it into a castle in the first half of the 14th century: this happened by natural dynastic descent, from Thomas III to Philip I, prince of Savoy and lord of Acaja, who has since exercised effective power over Turin, making this stronghold its center of power.

A century later it is always an Acaja, Lodovico, to rearrange the castle, making it assume the square shape with courtyard and portico, four angular cylindrical towers, still partially recognizable today on three sides. The extinction of the Acaja branch saw the castle become a residence for Savoy guests.

Both for the distance from the real capital of the county and the duchy, Chambéry, and for its marginal position even in the Piedmontese domains, the Acaja Castle played a role of secondary importance in the succession of the years between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Designated as a temporary residence of the Duke during his travels to Turin, he was mainly housed by the guests of the House of Savoy: among them, the figure of Charles VIII of France stands out, who lived here on September 4, 1494, on the occasion of his descent towards the Kingdom of Naples.

The regent Bianca di Monferrato, wife of Carlo I of Savoy, chose the permanent residence during the period of Turin residence on the occasion of the minor age of the only son had by her husband, Carlo Giovanni Amedeo, who died prematurely. When Charles VIII arrived in Turin, Bianca, who then lived in the rooms of the palace, ceded her apartments to the King of France, retiring to the halls of the bishop’s palace (he was then Bishop Domenico della Rovere): in 1497, in order to make them easier the movements with the future Royal Palace, a connection was created between the two buildings through a gallery, now in the recovery phase.

Corte dei Savoia
It was inhabited for a short period by Emanuele Filiberto di Savoia, who wanted to make it the residence of the dukes after moving the capital from Chambéry to Turin. However, considering the future Royal Palace more suitable for his figure, he brought Palazzo Madama back to its old function as a building for guests. From 1578, however, (on the occasion of important weddings or solemn holidays) the Savoy family exhibited the Sacred Linen from Palazzo Madama.

Seat of members of the royal family, not of the direct dynastic branch, it was also the seat of shows and performances, designed to celebrate large events such as, for example, weddings: this is the case of the celebrations for the wedding of Carlo Emanuele I of Savoy, in in 1585, when he staged Il pastor fido of Giovanni Battista Guarini.

The year 1637 is a milestone in the history of Palazzo Madama: the regent of Duke Carlo Emanuele II of Savoy, Maria Cristina of Bourbon-France, wanting to escape the heavy air of the court, elects him as his residence. As soon as it was installed, it commissioned important renovations, such as the roofing of the courtyard (which still stands one floor above the rest of the building) and the modernization of the internal apartments.

Sixty years later, another strong woman of the Savoy house, Maria Giovanna Battista di Savoia-Nemours (regent of Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoy) will inhabit this palace and she owes its current appearance and part of the name of the palace itself, seat of the regencies of two “Madame Reali”.

The traces of the ancient medieval castle had to be canceled or, at least, hidden: so, for example, the ancient drawbridge, still present until 1686, was removed from the west side. Carlo and Amedeo di Castellamonte were called to the restoration works, together with the painter Guglielmo Caccia.

Filippo Juvarra designed a magnificent white stone Baroque palace for the regent. The project, however, was never completed – as often happened in the history of the Savoy palaces – and after the completion of the forepart in 1721 nothing else was done.

However, this spectacular entrance is enough to admire the grandiose Juvarrian project: above a rusticated floor stands a body with large windows punctuated by columns and pilasters of a composite order that support a sculpted entablature surmounted by an elegant balustrade decorated with vases and statues also in white marble.

The interior instead contrasts an almost arcadian lightness given above all by the light that penetrates from the three windowed sides and has four central columns that support the vault of the monumental staircase leading to the upper floor. The windows, in addition to giving great brightness to the entrance staircase, allowed the people in front of the palace to participate visually in the great Baroque festivals.

The baroque mask does not hide the ancient medieval castle but gives it importance and official status, as a symbol of power. Since the death of the last Madame Reale, who fell in love with it, it underwent heavy changes due to the various uses that it made of it, from the police station to the seat of the French provisional government in the Napoleonic countryside.

Modern Age
The return of the Savoy, to Turin and Piedmont, allowed a new life to the palace: seat of the Military Commands, the place was used as an astronomical observatory since 1822 and still for most of the century it was possible to observe, on the top of the building, a curious dome for scientific observations: it was later moved to the hills.

Carlo Alberto reconsidered the building, making it the seat of the Pinacoteca Regia (later Museo Civico) and subsequently of the Subalpine Senate and then of the Court of Cassation: the Senate was inaugurated on May 8, 1848, while the king was at war against Austria; the last session is dated 9 December 1864. The classroom, until 1927 still intact, was then demolished following internal works on the building.

The funeral of Grande Torino took place on May 6, 1949. The corpses were exhibited right in Palazzo Madama, and then transported out, in a procession, among the crowd formed by 500,000 people gathered to give the last salute to one of the strongest football teams of all time.

Towards the end of that century, interest in the history of the Palace began, digging the foundations and finding traces in the architecture of buildings and previous versions.

Become the seat of the Civic Museum of Ancient Art in 1934, during the twentieth century the castle underwent numerous restorations and restorations, which ended at the end of 2006, returning to the city an important “document” of the two thousand years of its history.

Since 2007, the museum has hosted important works of art (ancient sculptures, an art gallery and a large collection of porcelain).

In 2010 the Juvarrian façade underwent a demanding restoration, while the gardens around the fortified house were reorganized hosting botanical species dating back to the medieval period. Furthermore, thanks to a loan from the CRT Foundation, the Sala del Senato Subalpino was recovered, whose inauguration took place on March 18, 2011, in the presence of the President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano, in the broad context of the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy.

In 2014 the transfer of ownership of Palazzo Madama from the Italian State to the City of Turin was approved, which was then completed in 2016.

The Museum
Palazzo Madama is a large historic building that now houses the collections of the Museo Civico d’Arte Antica, Turin’s municipal museum of ancient art. The visit thus consists of two tours in one: you will learn about the history of the building, as well as about the works of art it contains.

The Museum was set up in 1861 by the City of Turin to bring together and house the heritage of Piedmont. This is why most of the works in Palazzo Madama come from the region and from neighbouring areas. You will discover the works of great artists and craftsman, which will help you understand the culture and artistic tastes of an Alpine and frontier region which was governed for six centuries by the Savoy dynasty. But there is more to the spirit of the Museum: that of its great masterpieces and one that takes inspiration from the great international museums of the applied arts. The immense collections on this floor were initially set up by the first directors of the museum as a catalogue of models for Piedmontese craftsmen, and they now form one of the greatest collections of the applied arts in Italy.

The facade
The facade of Palazzo Madama is one of the symbolic images of Turin. The facade of Palazzo Madama was designed and built by Filippo Juvarra between 1718 and 1721 for Maria Giovanna Battista di Savoia Nemours, the second Royal Madama.

It is one of the architect’s masterpieces and the light shades of the materials used contribute to the effect of lightness that Juvarra has designed for the front of the building: a sort of transparent grid, through which the internal decorative development is perceived, in a composition overall based on the passage of light.

The façade is made of stone materials from various Piedmontese quarries: for the largest surface, Chianocco marble(Valle di Susa, Turin), a light marble, with warm and luminous tones that fade from ocher to pink; for the statues and vases on the top, the Brossasco marble (Valle Varaita, Cuneo), white with green veins; finally, for the base, a gray stone, the Vaie gneiss (Valle di Susa, Turin).

In the basement, down by the Roman foundations, there is the Lapidario Medievale – the medieval stonework collection – with stone sculptures and jewellery. From there you can reach the Medieval Garden, a heaven of nature and silence in the heart of Turin

Ground floor
The ground floor is mainly devoted to the fifteenth-century castle and to the art of the Middle Ages and of the Renaissance. In the Treasure Tower, you will find the Portrait of a Man by Antonello da Messina.

On the ground floor, characterized by fifteenth-century rooms, there are paintings, sculptures, miniatures and precious objects from the Gothic-Renaissance period. In the room of the Torre Tesori, one of the fifteenth-century towers of the old castle, you will find some of the most important pieces of this period such as the famous Portrait of a man by Antonello da Messina.

The exhibition on sculpture in Piedmont from the Gothic to the Renaissance was organized, showcase the Medieval Lapidary houses sculptures, mosaics and goldsmith’s works (including the precious Treasure of Desana) ranging from the late ancient period to the Romanesque period.. A twofold opportunity, therefore, to visit Palazzo Madama, not only to admire the Juvarrian masterpiece, but also to verify the consistency of the acquisitions of the Civic Museum of Ancient Art (many exhibited works are part of the museum’s collection). The possibility of making a point on sacred sculpture in Piedmont of that period.

The collection of Piedmontese Gothic and Renaissance sculpture is a very important nucleus of the Civic Museum of Ancient Art, continuously enriched with acquisitions that saved monumental sculptures from dispersion but also wooden furnishings and terracotta frames, testimony of a centuries-old artisan tradition.

This section is now on display, together with works from other museums, to signal the protective action carried out by the Civic Museum in the area since its early years. In fact, the Gothic and Renaissance exhibition in Piedmont dates back to 1939, which was not only a temporary exhibition but designed the museum in sections dedicated to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Similarly, the exhibition set up today in the Senate room is a stage of scientific study to plan the new museum itinerary.

First floor
The Baroque rooms on the first floor contain the art of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with paintings and with furniture by Pifetti and Prunotto in lavishly decorated settings.

Senate Hall
The majestic Senate Hall created in 1638 has witnessed crucial historical events for the history of Italy, Europe and their citizens. The large hall on the first floor, formerly owned by the Swiss, is used as a classroom in the Subalpine Senate. The architect Ernesto Melano transforms the space into a large auditorium made up of seats and grandstands, a set-up designed as a temporary one and which does not compromise the original state, being independent, detached from the walls. Above the great monumental order, decorations are painted depicting the deeds of the Savoy house over the centuries.

Behind the seat of the Senate President there are two inscriptions on two rectangular plaques: one cites the form of government currently in force in Italy, namely the Republic; The other is much older and gives the words with which Vittorio Emanuele II commemorated the unity of Italy. The cupola ceiling is painted with a painted cloth, called the Velario, which contains the medallions with the effigies of four jurisprudents, the four civic virtues and the four capitals of the pre-kingdoms.

The hall is named after Caesar Maccari, who decorated it after winning a contest banned by the Ministry of Education in 1880. The decorations affect the ceiling in the form of four allegorical figures surrounding the central motif depicting a personification of triumphant Italy. The four medallions represent specifically trade and agriculture (industry), weapons, sciences and arts. Allegories are depicted in the form of goddess incarnation as girls.

It is a large salon used for representation functions, created at the beginning of the thirties from the demolition of a dividing wall and provided with a modern style chest of drawers. In the seventeenth-century frieze to the Buvette, figures of putti and lions prevail, and in the other there are female figures. The room is enriched by six historic frescoes.

Royal residences
On the first floor, inside the baroque rooms where Madame Reali lived, the arts of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with the picture gallery, the furniture of Piffetti and Prinotto and the sumptuous decorations of the rooms.

The monumental staircase of the Juvarra, the archaeological route of the Medieval Court, the sumptuous baroque rooms on the main floor where the apartments of the two royal Madames were (Cristina of France and Maria Giovanna Battista Savoia of Nemours), and the Salone del Senate which hosted the works of the chambers in the aftermath of the unification of Italy, completely restored and enhanced on the historical-artistic and functional level and with a new layout of the museum collections, vast and heterogeneous, which Palazzo Madama has been hosting since 1934.

The architectural survey of the building, carried out with modern information technology, and the archaeological survey have followed. an intense campaign of stratigraphic essays on decorated surfaces and stuccos; the study of the building’s artifacts and multiple historical and archival investigations, which involved over 40 scientific collaborators and which have clarified, in part, the construction and use evolution of the Palace and the functions of the rooms in the different eras.

The walls, vaults and decorative structures of the building have been restored, in particular those that contribute to defining its baroque face (from the plaster to the stucco decorations, from the boiseries to the stone and glass artefacts, from the over door to the floors, from the mirrors to the frescoes), bringing to light original colors and decorations, sometimes completely hidden: as in the case of the facade and the Juvarrian staircase, where the scenographic decoration wanted by the great architect has emerged, or as for the recovered nineteenth-century setting in the upper registers of the walls and in the vault of the Senate Hall.

Simultaneously with all this, the functional adaptation of the spaces and an overall and systematic restoration of the collections in view of the new set-up were carried out.

Collections that with their heterogeneity – paintings, sculptures, illuminated manuscripts, majolica and porcelain, gold and silver, furnishings and fabrics – testify to the richness and complexity of ten centuries of Italian and European artistic production.

On the main floor of the building, the modern picture gallery is set up, with works that come from the Savoy collections (the Assunta and San Gerolamo by Orazio Gentileschi, the landscapes by Vittorio Amedeo Cignaroli, the works by Jean Miel and Bartolomeo Guidobono, for example) and an important selection of furniture resulting from the expertise of Piedmontese, Italian and French craftsmen.

Followed the historical suggestions in the building, the setting also focused on the idea of the dialogue between ancient and modern. So next to the design of new structures suitable to increase the value of collections, the Sale of Decorative Arts in the 73 windows of the thirties made by the company Fontana Arte in Milan – at that time directed by Gio Ponti – restoring the wooden structure and functionalizing the lights, the large curved glass, the play of mirrors on the shelves and the bottoms.

The rooms, transformed and redecorated between the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century, returned to shine through the precious texture of stuccos, frescoes and carved and gilded furnishings that emerged from a long and patient restoration work.

In the Royal residences rooms: Madama Reale’s room, Four Seasons, Party room and Guidobono room, a part of the picture gallery of the Civic Museum of Ancient Art is set up, with fifty works by important Piedmontese and Italian artists, including, Jan Miel, Giovanni Battista Crosato, Giacomo Ceruti, Agostino Masucci, Giovanni Paolo Pannini, Sebastiano Conca and Vittorio Amedeo Cignaroli.

Madama Reale’s room:
Between 1708 and 1715 the new bedroom of Maria Giovanna Battista was set up. The decorative program includes the four over doors with allegories of Authority, Kindness, Faithfulness and, perhaps, Charity. The carved wooden over fireplace with the portrait of Carlo Emanuele II, made in 1688-1889 by Cesare Neurone, comes from the old apartment of the Duchess.

A very suggestive atmosphere is that of Madama Reale’s room. The room, chosen in 1708-1709 by Maria Giovanna Battista di Savoia-Nemours, second Madame Reale, as her bedroom and private setting has a rich and eccentric style. The room is furnished with paintings and furniture that suggest, based on the documents, the ancient apparatus of the room, now lost.

Four Seasons Room:
A refined and refined environment is that of Sala Quattro Stagioni. The room takes its name from the rich decoration of the vault and dome which houses the allegories of the Seasons, The elaborate decoration, carried out in stucco and fresco, was made between 1708 and 1715 drawing on the decorative models, inspired by decorative models by Jean Bérain, French architect and ornamental designer at the court of Louis XIV.

Treasure Tower:
In the windows it is suggested, through the works that come largely from the Savoy collections, the idea of a Wunderkammer, the collections, that is, that the great principles of the eighteenth century created by gathering rare and precious objects, with imaginative shapes, built with materials unusual, scientific instruments, fossils and archaeological finds, to create a spectacular and amazing effect.

Party Room:
Built in 1927-1928 to equip the building with a large reception room, it was created by demolishing two eighteenth-century rooms. It houses beautiful artifacts of decorative art that evoke the taste and style of the royal Madame’s court through the furniture, furnishings, sculptures and ceramics.

Guards Chamber:
Characterized by a sumptuous stucco decoration of the vault made in the eighteenth century, Guards Chamber is austere and composed in its elegance. On the walls there are paintings inspired by the work of Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio and two paintings by Orazio Gentileschi.

Round Cabinet:
The small and precious space, housed inside the north-west Roman tower, is a key point of the apartment set up in the middle of the century for the first Royal Madame of Savoy, Maria Cristina di France. The dense selection of portraits of the Savoy and the most important court figures is exposed on the walls, which tell us about the fashions and faces of the past.

The Room of Flowers
The name of this room in the palace derives from the decorations made in 1688-1689 by the flower painters Agostino Belleudi and Salvatore Bianco, now lost but remembered in the documents. Subsequent interventions also concealed the frieze painted with cherubs, cartouches, scrolls and vegetable scrolls, re-emerged during the renovations of 2005. The room is now set up with modern windows that host a selection of micro-carving works and the collection of miniature portraits donated to the museum by the Bruni Tedeschi family.

Second floor
On the second floor, you will be able to see the decorative arts of all ages: ceramics, ivories, jewellery, fabrics, glasswork, and much more besides. Lastly, on the third floor, the Panoramic Tower offers a special view of the city and the surrounding natural envirement.

Ceramics and Majolica Collection
The exhibition Italy of the ceramics and majolica, presents an exceptional set of ceramics and majolica produced by the most prestigious Italian manufactures, bringing together the masterpieces from private collections of Palazzo Madama. The exhibition opens in the Camera delle Guardie with a large showcase, which evokes the protagonist furniture of the Renaissance dining room, the sideboard, where the refined majolica was exhibited both to be admired and to serve the table equipment. Then you enter the Sala del Senato where the route winds through the main majolica production centers in Italy, such as Deruta, Faenza, Urbino, Gubbio, Venice, Castelli and Turin, and focuses on the characteristics of the decoration and the main artists, including which Nicola da Urbino and Francesco Xanto Avelli.

The exhibition continues by illustrating the wide variety of themes reproduced on the historiated majolica, which, in addition to religious subjects, sees profane subjects richly represented, drawn from ancient history and mythology, or concerning affective life, such as love themes, or status social responsibility of clients, such as heraldic services. The graphic sources of this painting of stories derive from the repertoires of engravings that circulated in the workshops of majolica and which were the means to reproduce on a small scale and for a domestic vision the most famous inventions of the great painters of the time.

The use of ceramics and majolica in social life widened and differentiated. In the furnishing of the Italian house, especially in country residences,the historiated majolica was displayed on the sideboards but also used on the tables and could be offered as gifts on occasions such as marriage and birth. Small sculptures, which sometimes masked the function of inkwells or fountains, were used for decorative purposes in private interiors. Particularly flourishing became the use of majolica in pharmacy kits, generally commissioned by religious institutions.

Glass Collection
The “Camera di vetro”, the new room for the decorative arts on the second floor of the Toriense museum in Palazzo Madama, entirely designed and built with the contribution of Rotary Club Torino. The room is the result of a careful study of the design and rearrangement of the “Glass and Ivory Room”, a museum space historically dedicated to the exhibition of the collection of medieval goldsmiths, Renaissance bronzes, enamels, blown glass, carved ivories and the extraordinary collection of painted glass and gold graffiti glass. The new project has made it possible to transform this space from an exhibition gallery of many different techniques to a thematic room essentially dedicated to glass, presented in all its forms.

The new room is the result of a careful study of the design and rearrangement of the “Glass and Ivory Room”, a museum space historically dedicated to the exhibition of the collection of medieval goldsmiths, Renaissance bronzes, enamels, blown glass, carved ivories and the extraordinary collection of painted glass and gold graffiti glass. The new project has made it possible to transform this hall from an exhibition gallery of many different technical types into a thematic room essentially dedicated to glass, presented in all its forms. The setting, which collected suggestions from the glass galleries of the Murano Glass Museum, the Musée des Arts decoratifs in Paris and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, tells the story of this material so versatile through the works, the presentation of the components and tools used from antiquity to today for its manufacture. The result is a real glass Wunderkammer, a sparkling and suggestive place that illustrates the many techniques and even more numerous uses of glass.

Lace and Fabrics Collection
The lace and fabrics exhibition features important pieces from the museum’s rich collection of laces: artifacts including numerous clothing accessories, fans, aprons, headphones, handkerchiefs, collars.

With precious Renaissance patterns, the fashionable gros points of Venice, the very light borders and barbes of the Flemish eighteenth century, the nineteenth-century lace made by machine, the selection traces the history of lace and offers insights on techniques, fashion and use, on its symbolic value in our life.

Focus on the theme of lace also in the Room, exhibit tailoring proposals, elaborated reflecting on the basic concepts of lace: the knot and the plot, the emptiness and the fullness, the transparency. The clothes on display are the result of a path that has seen the vistors engaged in the study of the Palazzo Madama artifacts, the techniques and the stylistic evolution of lace, to then devote themselves to the development of personal research and creative ideation paths.

Third floor
On the third floor, the Panoramic Tower offers a special view of the city and the surrounding natural envirement.

To recreate the garden, respecting the traditional subdivision of the space into hortus (vegetable garden), viridarium (forest and orchard) and iardinum domini (prince’s garden) as well as the presence of traditional furnishings (falconara, pigsty, hen enclosure).

In this space, in addition to the plants and plant species mentioned in the ancient maps, plants and herbs not specifically described in the sources, but certainly present in the medieval gardens between Italy and France, were also included, based on the indications provided by the agricultural and medicinal plants of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.