Once the plan for a monumental frontage giving onto the market square of the “Ghiaia” was abandoned, the Pilotta Palace was destined to remain above all an immense ‘container’ for services associated with the Ducal residence, an aggregate of imposing buildings joined together according to different plans and projects, sometimes contradictory and almost never completed.
The only constant which can be identified during the course of its tortured, centuries long building history would seem to be the choice to distinguish two distinct zones within the monumental complex: the area to the South, near the Ducal residence, identified itself almost immediately as the ‘cultural’ wing hosting over time theatres, galleries, museums and libraries whereas the stables, barracks, hay stores, storage areas and laboratories with their attendant smells and noise were relegated to the Northern part of the complex.
It was above all the interiors that interested the last Farnese who centred in the Pilotta the family’s extraordinary artistic and cultural collections: around 1649 the famous library and prestigious collection of antique coins arrived in Parma: in 1662 the celebrated collection of paintings and drawings and in 1673 part of the collection of ancient marble and bronze statues.
Initially the paintings were hosted in the newly renovated Palazzo del Giardino but the wish of Ranuccio II, Duke from 1646 to 1694, was to reconstruct the long ‘Corridor’ Gallery in order to transform it into a modern space suitable to exhibit the most precious jewels in the family collection. These wishes were also pursued by his son Francesco, Duke from 1694 to 1727.
In this way during the final Farnese period the imperial staircase led to the vestibule from where access to the library was possible on the left, to the theatres of Aleotti and Lolli from the centre and from the right to the Picture Gallery and to the scientific cabinet or Room of Globes.
The Farnese dynasty died out and in 1734 the entire Farnese heritage was transferred to Naples: thus the Pilotta lost its artistic wealth and it was only with the establishment of the Bourbon court in Parma that new cultural and artistic initiatives were undertaken. During the second half of the XVIII century with the establishment by the new Duke, Don Philip of Bourbon (Duke from 1749 to 1765) of the Ducal Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in 1757 and the foundation of the Palatine Library by Don Ferdinando Bourbon (Duke from 1765 to 1802) in 1769, the Palace of the Pilotta quickly regained its function as the heart of cultural activities both in the Court and in the City, a role which it would maintain substantially unchanged until the present time. It was in this period that the position of the Library and the Picture Gallery were inverted with respect to the final Farnese years: the former room dedicated to the Library now hosted the newly established painting gallery and the new Library found its place in the former ‘Corridor’.
During the Restoration under the Duchess Maria Luigia of Austria, 1816 to 1847, all the cultural institutions present in the Pilotta underwent transformation: the roof of the Farnese Theatre was restored in 1819, the Sala Rossi next to the Library was built in 1820, the Gallery of the Academy was enlarged between 1821 and 1825 as was the Palatine Library and the State Archives for which a new building was added between 1832 and 1835.
Such changes involved the interior while the outside maintained its disparate and austere appearance which had always been its main characteristic.
In order to render the Ducal residence of Maria Luigia more decorous the court architect Nicola Bettoli was entrusted with re-organising the interiors and Court reception rooms. The façade of the Palazzo was renovated in the elegant neoclassical style between 1833 and 1834.
The destruction of the building after the disastrous bombing of the Pilotta in 1944 helped to crystallize the current image of the building as an imposing “ruin” in the heart of the city.
The 1970s saw the beginning of a major refurbishment of the interiors used by the Soprintendenza Patrimonio storico-artistico (Direction of the historical and artistic patrimony) which comprised the South, North and West wings and the Farnese Theatre. The work was carried out in stages until finally completed in 1991 with the re-opening of the long itinerary in the National Gallery. The work undertaken also allowed for a total change to the museum pathway, a re-organisation of the collection, an increase in services and a new edition of the printed general Catalogue after that of 1896 and of 1939. Work then continued with restoration of the spaces for the Offices, Library and reading rooms of the Direction of the Artistic and Historical Heritage of Parma which was completed in 2001. The last stages of the project were to affect the XIX century collection; the rooms have been selected but work has not yet started. Restoration of the great Court known as ‘ del Guazzatoio’ (of the water trough) was finally completed in 2007: a huge area which characterizes the entire complex and which can be put to great use in function of the institutions which occupy the entire Palazzo.