Sanvitale fortress

21 Jun

It was a very strange saturday, one moment sunny and warm, the next cloudy and windy….perfect for an indoor visit. So, with my daughter and her friend L, I drove to the nearby village of Fontanellato and we entered the old district…

Our final goal was the Sanvitale Fortress……….

The Fortress dates back to the Middle Age, precisely to 1124 when he first defensive tower was built by the Pallavicinos. The walls were then erected, starting from the north squared turret, probably after 1386 by the Sanvitales who acquired the Castle from the Viscontis of Milan. The whole structure was completed only in the XVIth century with the construction of the first floor, adapted later as an apartment, operation which can be considered as the beginning of a definitive transformation of the Fortress from a defensive structure into a residential home

The rampart on the two wings was created, for example, as a warehouse for weapons but it subsequently became a roof garden.
The original entrance to the Fortress, today the entrance to the Chapel, emerges from the nucleus of the structure with traces of the old battlement on the front and on the left side and the lift truck attachments of the drawbridge. The present entrance is in the central part of the castle through a brick bridge built in the XVII th century.

During the centuries many interventions have been done to the structure. They are still visible mainly in the façade: here a big XVII th century clock Alessandro Sanvitale ordered and several windows with wroutht iron balconies can be seen.
The entrance leads to the inner court characterized by a squared plan and closed by porticos on the two sides: one with brick rounded columns substaining vaults surmounted by two open galleries on the right side and, opposite, another with squared pillars substaining low arches.
Today, although restored, the XV th century vaulted staircase leading to the upper gallery is still existing and the underground portico on the north-east wing is the original one

The presence of the Sanvitales is still tangible not only in the coats of arms, in the blazons scattered everywhere but also in the formal organization of the urban centre, in the rooms of the Fortress which look still lively as well as in the churches and in many other places. The first documents describe the family as not coming from the feudal nobility but strictly linked to the magistratures and the town structures ( the Sanvitales were registered as podestà or capitani del popolo in several towns). They got many benefits and much power from the development of the Municipality during the Middle Age. This is the reason why they were considered members of the municipal nobility. Their Guelphic attitude led them to be in charge of important positions in many towns and to get as a benefit the land of Fontanellato in 1378 from Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the Lord of Milan, who had occupied lands belonging to the Terzis. In 1404 the brothers Gilberto and Gianmartino Sanvitale got the investiture for the County of Fontanellato. From the XV th century on they chose this castle, among the many they owned, as the centre of the family’s belongings and in spite of a temporary confiscation of Alfonso II Sanvitale’s goods in 1612, as he had been involved in the Farnese’s conspiracy, they were the Lords of the place till the suppression of the feuds under Napoleon’ s government. However, the link between the Sanvitales and Fontanellato was not interrupted. The Sanvitales were present and active till 1948 when Count Giovanni sold the Fortress to the Town which accepted to keep it with courage and farsightedness.

The Apartment on the Fortress first floor guests furnishings and decorations dating back to the time between the XVI th and the XIX th centuries : from the courtyard a staircase leads to the first gallery admitting to the armoury with weapons from the XVII th to the XIX th centuries and a typical iron coffer of the end of the XVI th century.

The “ Dining Room “ with XVIII th and XIX th centuries ceramics leads to the “ Billiards Room “ with a ceiling and a floor of the late XV th century and furnishings of the XIX th century and then to the Party Room with a with a monochrome painted ceiling and a pictorial ornament of the late XVII th century, a beautiful XVII th century decorated harpsichord and many XVIII th century furnishings. The visit goes on with the “Wedding Room” with its rich XVII th century furniture and a lacunar ceiling, coming from the old Sanctuary of the Madonna, and ends with the “Gallery of the Forefathers” housing 74 family portraits by a XVII th century anonymous artist and some important relics belonging to Duchess Maria Luisa as the famous Hand with a Flower in her Wrist by some Canova’s pupils, dating back to 1820.

On the ground floor there is a valuable collection of paintings: from the Sanvitales’ portraits attributed to Molinaretto and Boldrighi to the canvases by Carlo Francesco Nuvolone, Boselli, Ilario Spolverini, Carlo Preda. The Gallery leads to the so called “Equilibraste Women” decorated with a monochrome freize full of amorini, feminine pictures, sphinx-like masks and animals on threads and to the next “Amorini and Grotesque Rooms“ attributed to a pupil of Cesare Cesariano.

The most important jewel of the Fortress is the Diana and Atteone ‘ s Room frescoed by Francesco Mazzola, known with the name of Parmigianino ( Parma 1503 – Casalmaggiore 1540 ). Painted between 1523 and 1524 for Galeazzo Sanvitale and his wife, Paola Gonzaga, it  is a work of the artist’ s youth. The vault is decorated with putti around a  pergola with, in the middle, a wide spot of sky and a mirror with the warning “Respice Finem“. In the lunettes below the myth of Diana and Atteone, inspired by Ovidio’ s Metamorphosis, is painted. Several interpretations have been given to the small room during the decades but the most credible hypothesis is the one indicating it as a small “boudoir“ or the private study of Paola Gonzaga represented in the lady over the window.

The visit of the ground floor ends with the “Theatre Room“ of Maria Luigia’s children and with the ”Room of the Maps“ where maps and plans of the Sanvitales’ lands are shown

The final room is the XIX th century “Optical Room“ where a system of mirrors casts the reflection of the square in front on a screen.



Posted by on June 21, 2015 in Uncategorized


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