The Monumental Vestibule

The Monumental Vestibule2021-01-30T19:48:55+01:00


The area at the top of the scenographic stairway of honour, which heralds the wonders of the Farnese Theatre, welcomes visitors with material dedicated to the history of the building and of the institutes which make up the Monumental Complex.

1. The Farnese

Under the Farnese the complex of Ducal buildings, known as “Pilotta” from the game of the pelota which was played in one of the courtyards, was never used as a residence. The imposing complex which housed services destined for the Court, was also seat of the library and the Farnese collection of art and antiquities.

The construction was begun towards the end of the Duchy of Ottavio Farnese in 1585 and the first nucleus was the so-called “Corridor”, a raised gallery over arcades which connected the Palazzo Ducale with the Rocchetta Sforza tower from the XV century on the river bank which formerly housed the prisons. After the death of Ottavio in 1586, work came to an end as Alessandro Farnese, Duke between 1586 and 1592, was constantly occupied in Flanders fighting for Philip II of Spain. In the first months of 1602 his son Ranuccio I started building work again with a great project to give the building the appearance which in many respects it still has today: an immense and severe citadel organized around a system of courts enclosed behind high walls. The project was entrusted to Simone Moschino from Orvieto to whom, most probably, we owe the imposing stairway.

Work ended in 1611, except for the Farnese Theatre which was realized between 1617 and 1619, leaving the building unfinished: this state became a characteristic never resolved in later periods and indeed aggravated by the bombardment of 1944.

In 1612 important collections removed from the feudal families of Parma, which were brought to justice by Ranuccio I after being accused of plotting against him, were brought to the Pilotta and during the course of the XVII century the extremely rich artistic collection of the Roman palaces of the Farnese family was gradually transferred to the city. In about 1649 the library and collection of antique coins arrived; in 1662 the pictures and drawings and in 1673 part of the collection of antique marble and bronze statues came to Parma. A large part of the picture collection was housed in the Palazzo del Giardino, the suburban Ducal residence on the other side of the river, but the best works were placed in the Corridor Gallery by Ranuccio II and Francesco I. The collections, which were opened to carefully selected members of the public, became an obligatory destination for travellers on the Grand Tour and became famous throughout Europe.

2. The Bourbons

In 1734 the Farnese heritage was transferred to Naples by Carlo di Borbone, son of the King of Spain Filippo V and his wife Elisabetta Farnese, legitimate heir to the extinguished Farnese line. He was succeeded by his brother Don Filippo who decided to create a patrimony of similar significance around the Academy of Fine Arts, the Royal Parma Library and from 1760 onwards, the Royal Antiquities Museum.

Thanks to the marriage of the new Duke, Don Filippo, to the daughter of Louis XV of France, Louise Elisabeth, and to the reforming actions of the minister Guillaume Du Tillot, the Duchy opened up to the ideas of the Enlightenment and transformed into a refined and cosmopolitan cultural centre. Artistic rebirth began in 1752 with the establishment of the Accademia Reale di Pittura, Scultura e Architettura (Royal Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture). In order to help and inspire young artists statues and plaster moulds from famous originals were displayed next to paintings, drawings and reliefs by court artists and the winners of the annual competitions of painting and architecture, together with medals and archeological finds. The first masterpiece acquired in 1757 by the Duke was the Madonna di San Girolamo by Correggio around which the picture gallery took shape.

In 1761 Don Filippo nominated Paolo Maria Paciaudi as “Antiquarian and Librarian”; the Theatine monk began to construct a collection of books through accurate research on both the antiquarian as well as the current editorial markets. The Bibliotheca Regia Parmensis, which was both a public reading room as well as a book depository, was inaugurated in May 1769 in the presence of Don Ferdinando. The first seat was in the scenographic space known today as the ‘Petitot Gallery’ after the French architect who designed the shelving.

In 1747 the exceptional discovery of fragments of a huge bronze inscription, later recognized as the Tabula Alimentaria traiana, excited such interest that in 1760 the Duke activated excavations which led to the discovery of the Roman city of Veleia. In the same year the antiques collection was established in a small part of the Pilotta and entrusted to Paciaudi to host the excavation finds and an important numismatic collection. The statuary was placed in the nearby Gallery.

3. From the Bourbon requisitions to Maria Luigia

Under Napoleon many works of art were requisitioned to enrich the collections of the Louvre. With the Restoration the government of Maria Luigia of Austria enabled the restitution many works and began a period of new splendour for the artistic heritage and cultural institutions housed in the Pilotta.

In the first decades of the XIX century Maria Luigia of Austria, Duchess of Parma Piacenza and Guastalla between 1815 and 1847, rendered the Ducal Gallery a true public museum institution. Paintings from the convents and churches suppressed by Napoleon were added to those returning from France. The collection was further enriched between 1834 and 1851 with the acquisition of collections from the Sanvitale family, from Callani, Baiardi, Rossi and Dalla Rosa Prati all of which necessitated enlarging the exhibition spaces and the consequent realization in the area to the left of the Farnese Theatre of the XIX century salon in the neoclassical style.

In 1817 following the Napoleonic interlude, the Antiquities Museum was separated from the Academy of Fine Arts and moved into the area which it still occupies today. Maria Luigia entrusted direction to Pietro De Lama, former curator of the city’s cultural institutes. The Tabula Alimentaria and other bronze finds from Veleia, which had been transferred to Paris, returned to Parma during this time while the Museum became an autonomous institute of recognized public utility to which were assigned all archeological finds from the entire area of the Duchy. Maria Luigia furthermore, encouraged the acquisition of certain collections which XIX century erudition held to be indispensable: Greek and Etruscan ceramics, inscriptions, bronzes, coins and medals and Egyptian antiquities.

The Duchess was also involved with the library: stimulated by Angelo Pezzana and thanks to the munificence of the sovereign, a series of initiatives were undertaken which enhanced both the seat and the collections. Amongst them were the decoration of the Sala De Rossi (1819-1821), the construction of the new Maria Luigia reading room (1830-1833), and the decoration of the Sala Dante (1841-1856) by Francesco Scaramuzza. Pezzana managed to acquire important manuscript and print collections for the library: the collection of the Orientalist Gian Bernardo De Rossi, the collection of prints and drawings of Massimiliano Ortalli, the typographical material of Giambattista Bodoni and the library of Michele Colombo which ensured the entry into the Palatine of the handwritten manuscript by Piero Della Francesca De prospectiva pingendi.

4. From the unification of Italy to the present day

With national unification, the Pilotta found itself at the centre of a progressive activity of gutting which isolated it from the urban context, rendering it a “monumental” complex by itself. Simultaneously the ceasing of services linked to the presence of the sovereign freed up a great many spaces, progressively occupied by exhibition structures which underwent radical change due to the intellectual climate of positivism. The collections, which were originally linked together transversally through the unity of knowledge typical of the ancient régime, found themselves definitively separated by genre according to a modern scientific division which led to the establishment of specialized institutions juxtaposed amongst themselves: the National Gallery, the National Archeological Museum and the Palatine Library.

The Gallery was established as a true museum and its founder, Corrado Ricci in only three years, from 1893 to 1897, drew up the first scientific catalogue, fruit of the reorganized amplification of the collection and the adaptation of previously unused spaces to display those collections that the ruling house had returned. A significant impact was left by the Superintendant Armando Ottaviano Quintavalle, Director between 1933 and 1959 who gave greater resonance to the Parma School and during the war put in place a plan to safeguard the works. The 1960s saw an intense activity of reorganization, research and restoration and the exhibition spaces expanded to 30 rooms according to a new layout curated by Augusta Ghidiglia Quintavalle. The following ten years saw the activation of the restructuring project of the architect Guido Canali in the south, north and west wings as well as the Farnese Theatre which concluded in 1991 with the inauguration of a new museographical pathway curated by Lucia Fornari Schianchi who directed the Gallery until 2010.

Following the Unification of Italy, the Royal Museum of Antiquities enjoyed an exciting new period, thanks in large part to the research carried out by Luigi Pigorini (director between 1867 and 1875) into the “terramare”, and by the naturalist Pellegrino Strobel, who taught at the University of Parma from 1859. The nomination of Pigorini as head of the Prehistoric Ethnographical Museum of Rome implied the requisition of the most prestigious pieces; complicit in this situation were the interests of the new director, Giovanni Mariotti, who would become Mayor of Parma and then Senator, who reorganized the collection with antiquarian taste. Mariotti died in 1935 and was succeeded by Giorgio Monaco who directed the museum during the dark years of the second world war and was responsible for re-arranging the rooms and safeguarding the collection. In the second half of the XX century the Museum underwent further changes in the direction of a modern vision of archeology, no longer a historical appendix or simply a collection of antiques, but a science which develops and grows with the recruitment of new professional figures and new working methodologies.

In the newly unified State, la Parmense took the name of National Library, to which during the direction of Federico Odorici in 1865 the Palatine Collection, private library of the Bourbon-Parma Dukes, was annexed. In 1885 with the activation of Regulations for government Public Libraries, the institution finally assumed the name Palatine Library and four years later in 1889 the musical section was established putting together the music books and manuscripts in the library with those from the archives of the Conservatoire of Music in Parma. The XX century opened under the direction of Edoardo Alvisi who was in charge until the first world war (1893-1915). Years later Giovanni Masi (1935-1952) tackled the reconstruction necessary after the British bombing raids in April and May 1944, with courage and determination defying the definitive transfer from the Pilotta. Angelo Ciavarella, director until 1973, was responsible for the plan to enhance the value of the Bodoni material which culminated in 1960 with the setting up of the Bodoni Museum.

The reform, which in 2016 brought the Complex back to its original unity endowing it with administrative autonomy, constitutes a unique opportunity for today. The Collections housed within the immense building can once more establish a dialogue amongst themselves and the Palazzo can come into its own once more through the recuperation of the various connecting spaces between the former seats from the past; spaces like the Theatre vestibule.


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