An important stucco and frescoes decoration qualifies the first floor of the Castello del Valentino, noble residential floor and representation floor for the court. The “Salone d’Onore” (Hall of Honour) is at the center of a composition of two symmetrical apartments, originally intended for Cristina di Francia and young Carlo Emanuele.
A series of sketches of interiors represents a precious pictorial evidence of the original decoration of the rooms on the noble residential floor. The sketches are stored in an album at the “Biblioteca Reale di Torino“ (Royal Library of Turin) and are sometimes annotated in the margins with observations by Leonardo Marini, «disegnatore ordinario delle camere del Re» (ordinary King’s rooms designer) since 1782.
The Fleur-de-lis Room
Isidoro Bianchi and his assistants decorated this room, starting at the large central panel which, in the late eighteenth century, was described as being filled with a large painting of ‘natural subjects’, but without specifying the subject. In later centuries other artists also worked in this room and now all that is left of this masterpiece is just a simple painting in blue which was probably done in the later nineteenth century. Domenico Ferri carried out extensive restoration work throughout the inside of the Valentino around this time and a lot of his work is still evident in this room.
In fact, possibly the large stucco frieze which connected this central painting to the walls has preserved only the articulation of the vault in its original form with triangular coves at corners and rectangular coves above the walls. This ceiling design faithfully follow the general lines of the original model documented in the sketches drawn by Leonardo Marini after he was nominated in 1775 by Vittorio Amedeo II as architect and decorator of the Regi Palazzi (The Royal Palaces). The sketch where Marini illustrates a part of this decorative border shows the subtle elegance of a female figure used as a column (or caryatid) connected by floral decorations to the simple architectonic frame of the adjacent niche wich houses two putti holding an amphora (a two-handled jar used by Romans and Greeks). The subtle decor created by the scrolls, candelabras and the caryatid’s garlands reminds one of the decor in the ‘golden flowers cabinet’.
The style left today however, shows the room as having been heavily influenced by the Green Room – to the extent that it was probably the object of deliberate and simultaneous restoration projects. Even the obsessive and insistent use of the Fleur-de-lis appears to be part of an eighteenth century ‘horror vacui’ (a fear of emptiness) criteria to disguise these major changes in the placing of amphoras and statuettes. Marini clearly documents a white ‘face’ whose details are ‘picked out in gold’. This same sequence of colours reappears, this time inverted, on the tapestry which the 1644 inventory describes as “a floral and colourful leather tapestry with gold background, made in Flanders”. Another original feature appears to be the border between the walls and the ceiling, where, within thin stucco frames, Isidoro Bianchi had painted an uninterrupted line of putti playing with ribbons inscribed with Italian and French verses and twisting them around Fleur-de-lis. The dance of the putti, represented by figures in the foreground, actually take place in the background.
This is an interior single space well definied by cove ceiling in perspective decorated with scrolls and royal monograms quite similar to those in the room entitled ‘Where Flowers are Born’. In the Fleur-de-lis room the corners of the painted freize are enhanced by the presence of two acanthus-limbed putti in golden stucco and flanked by lion heads. Energetic restorations seem to characterise the nineteenth century – even in fact, to the painting and sculpture over the doors and frames orginally done by Alessandro Casella in 1646.
The Rose Room
This room was originally decorated by Isidoro Bianchi and his collaborators; but since then a large part of their work has been heavily ‘re-touched’, including the stucco-work, and in places is completely damaged, like the circular panel in the centre of the ceiling: “A painting of figures representing Venus and Mars” still visible in the eighteenth century was substituted, in the midnineteenth century, by another with “a Fama bearing the Madama Reale coat-of-arms and painted by one of the disciples of Professor Gaetano Ferri”.
The painting of Venus and Mars – clearly modelled on Cristina and Amedeo – dominated the centre of the vaulted ceiling whose dome has been erected on a circular drum, encompassed in several sections by a series of putti on corbels. This drum is connected to the square room below by four angular groups of stucco putti as pedentives. The Savoy Rose coat-of-arms, reinforced as the symbol awarding to Vittorio Amedeo of the longed-for Royal title the king of Cyprus, in 1632, appears prolifically on all the frames which, in rigorous architectural succession make up the vault, both in those with lands, and with corbels and coffering.
It is difficult to determine what pro-portion of these roses dates back to the seventeenth century, and what dates back to the excessive glorification of Savoy in the nineteenth century. When one bears in mind, for example, the expanse of roses scrolls which now forms the first cornice in the vault, and was described by Leonardo Marini in the late eighteenth century as a “corbel with olive leaves”.
The motiv of stucco putti form a link between the drum and the fresco painted frieze at the top of the walls. The sixteen stucco putti on the arched ceiling divide this space by framing the panels adorned by garlands of flowers and fruit, and other winged putti were frescoed on the walls in pairs by Isidoro Bianchi under the lobed-cum-linear frames and on a gilded background. Each pair of putti is in mid-flight and playing with a motif of the Savoy coat-of-arms like the Cyprus Rose and the knightly insignia, the “Collare dell’Annunziata”.
The doors, originally carved by Casella, were totally re-done in the nineteenth century “from Domenico Ferri’s designs by the sculptor Isella as they were so badly reduced”. Busts of Emanuele Filiberto and Margherita of Valois on the south and north doors, and Maria Giovanna Battista on the west door were also sculpted by Isella.
The current tapestry which imitates a sample of mock damask not antique left in full view in a corner of the room. It stops one from imagining the original red and gold harmony of the room whose walls were enhanced by “a leather tapestry of red background and embossed golden flowers” which gave it a royal and stately appearance. There was even space for “four circular paintings, which represented the four elements” painted by Albani and currently in the Savoy Gallery, in Turin. This room was certainly of a state room, and not, as has been frequently written, the duchess’ bedroom, as the 1644 inventory explains that the bedrooms were on the floor below. Amongst these bedrooms there was one with silver-thread royal bedlinen and dark blue and gold-fringed satin cushions together with a gilded balustrade around the bed. This room was directly under the Fleur-de-lis room.
The Green Room
The decoration of this room was carried out by Isidoro Bianchi and his team. The 1644 inventory uses the definition ‘green room’ due to the dominating colour of the wall-hanging leather tapestries (green background with golden flowers), and does not use as reference the subject of the painting in the centre of the ceiling, as is the case with the other rooms in the apartment. This leads us to consider the symbolic value of the colour, which is quite evident in all the fresco panels especially in the clothes worn by the characters appearing in them. Bright green symbolises the arrival of spring and a much darker green re-presents death and life-after-death.
The fresco in the centre of the ceiling also seems to have a dual message as it represents both the triumph of Flora through the city’s offering to Maria Cristina (this is how Marini saw it and as well as the nineteenth century restorations), together with other significance, not particularly hidden showing darker events. The picture takes on a funerary aspect owing to the presence of a big bull adorned with floral garlands, accompanyed by three maidens that evoke sacrifical victims. However the painting in the sky of the zodiacal sign of Taurus suggests the re-birth of the bull. Vittorio Amedeo I was born under this sign and his death in 1637 probably prompted this painting. Flora – Maria Cristina, wearing dynastic French-Savoy colours of white, red and blue is no longer represented as she is in the “Where Flowers Are Born” Room happily walking through a world of flowers; but sitting with her arms open wide, her face drawn and tired, surrounded by heavy shadow and near her are empty vases or vases with wilting flowers (a white and a red Fleur-de-lis).
The frames and the motifs in the stucco-work decoration which divide the ceiling and the final border at the top of the walls also cleverly connect frescoed and plastic decoration, and this balance shows a compact and unitary piece of work as confirmed by recent restaurations. But if we study Marini’s eighteenth century sketch, we are perplex by a lot of details carried out on a single parts of framing and on single decorative elements. If the female figures and the vegetal-limbed putti are found in both images, and fit in with the seventeenth century style, the shape of the frames of the panelled frescos and the figures themselves appear quite different, in fact are more similar to pre-nineteenth century style.
The ceiling and the decorated border at the top of the walls are perfectly in keeping with each other and their individual stucco-work and fresco panels have the same importance and value. A pair of acanthus-limbed putti and a painted scene alternate in panelling of the same shape over the border at the top of the walls. The metamorphosis in the stucco-worked figurines represents an ulterior link with the subjects in the frescos mythologcally connected to the birth of plants and flowers described in Ovidio’s ‘Metamorphosis’. This is another ambiguity which dominates this room.
In the four frescos painted on the ceiling there are: Hyacinthus, on the ground having been hit by the discus thrown by the Phoebus, and whose blood generates the flower of the same name (Hyacinth); Pyramus and Thisbe separated by a river of blood and from which a bright red Lily is growing; Prometheus whose liver is being eaten by an eagle, and then renewed and then eaten again, is depicted here lying on the ground with his chest torn open and Jonquils (Daffodils) growing where his blood falls; and Ajax, unable to stand not being awarded a war-trophy, throws himself on his sword and from his blood a red Hyacinth grows. All four stories show the theme of a hero’s death and his re-generation in the form of a flower which immediately brings to mind, once again, the death of the Savoy hero Vittorio Amedeo in 1637. This adds to the already commemorative aura of the room. The paintings in the border at the top of the walls were also inspired by Ovidio’s Metamorphosis, but were further enriched by d’Agliè in paintings where the female presence is more significant than the male’s.
On the western wall there is, as d’Agliè describes “Helena resting on a tombstone, crying and from her tears Elenii is born” and King Midas’ Banquet. On the southern wall there is.Venus on a chariot pulled by swans and accompanied by Eros. At their feet grow a white and a red lily (according to d’Agliè’s explanation); Narcissus is looking at his reflection in the spring-water and flowers of the same name, Narcissus (or Daffodils) are growing on the bank nearby. On the eastern wall we find Hercules and Mercury and, finally on the northern wall there is Driope, with his son Anfisso and sister Loti at the moment when, having collected the branches of a lotus plant (which had just been transformed from a nymph), he is turned into one too. And finally the myth of Clizia, who having been turned into a sunflower, continues to face the sun.
The interlaced monogrammes of Vittorio Amedeo and Cristina on the corners of the frame of the central fresco in the ceiling, suggest a decided reference to the complex affairs of the ducal family between 1637 and 1640. These years were characterised by the death of the duke, and his wife Maria Cristina’s defence of her power once she had become Regent and her determination to preserve this power and hand it down to her son. The city’s offer to the duchess, the hero myth and the continuation of life after death, suggest this room was destined for official Regency use – it is no coincidence it immediately adjoins the great salon where the whole heroic Savoy history is celebrated.
The Castle of Valentino is an historic building in Turin, is located in Valentino Park on the banks of the Po. Today it is owned by the Polytechnic of Turin and hosts degree courses (three-year and master’s) in Architecture.
In the nineteenth century the castle underwent significant interventions that distort the seventeenth-century pavilion-system structure. In 1858 the castellamontian porticoes connecting the pavilions, one storey high above ground, were demolished and the two-storey galleries were built to a design by Domenico Ferri and Luigi Tonta. Starting from 1850-51, the expansion of the city to the south was planned (today’s San Salvario district ) and very soon the Valentino castle, from an extra-urban building, was urbanized.
The Valentino Castle has been included in the List of the UNESCO World Heritage since 1997, as well in the sito seriale «Le Residenze sabaude» (The Savoy residences), as property of the Politecnico di Torino, founded by the union of the Scuola di applicazione with the Regio Museo Industriale (Royal Industrial Museum) in 1906, and main seat of the Architecture Departments.
Subject of recent restoration, the Castle is regaining its ancient splendor. The rooms on the first floor have been gradually reopened and house the offices of the management of the Architecture and Design department of the Politecnico di Torino. On 12 May 2007 the splendid room of the Zodiac reopened, with its central fresco which mythologically depicts the river Po with the features of Poseidon.