In Foligno, Palazzo Trinci Lauds Nobility
Foligno, often called “il centro del mondo” (“the center of the world”) was inhabited centuries ago (possibly as early as the 7th-century B.C.) by a native Italic people, the umbri. In the 3rd-century B.C., the Romans colonized the ancient city (then called “Fulginiae”) – and the area flourished after the Roman conquest, also due to its proximity to the Roman consular road of Via Flaminia (built in 220 B.C.)
With the fall of the Roman Empire, Foligno was ravaged for centuries by invasions of the barbarians but prospered under Frederick Barbarossa in the 12th century as a Ghibelline (supportive of imperial power) stronghold.
The Guelfs (supportive of the Papacy) and Ghibellines were in conflict for centuries, vowing for control of the town. In 1305 the powerful Guelf Trinci family – acting as deputies for the Holy See – seized power and maintained control until the early 15th-century.
Their Palazzo Trinci today houses the museum of the city and is certamente one of the most interesting and best-preserved noble historical residences in Italy. A noted historian has termed the palazzo, “enciclopedia figurata della cultura umanistica dell’epoca” (“a figurative encyclopedia of the humanist culture of the period”).
The noble palazzo was built between the late 14th century and early 15th-century in late Gothic style, under direction of the papal vicar Ugolino Trinci. At this time, the landholdings of the Trinci were on the increase as the Trinci lords subjected the towns of Spello, Assisi, Montefalco, Bevagna and Trevi to their control.
With the conclusion of the Trinci domination in 1439, the palace became the seat of the papal governors until the Unification of Italy (1860). The print below of 1575 depicts the walled city of Foligno, center of papal power:
After significant restoration, the building was re-opened in 1997 and now houses an an archaeological collection, displaying an array of ancient objects from the 7th-c. B.C to the 3rd-c. A.D. as well as the city museum.
And not only.
To enter the Palazzo Trinci for visits to the museums, one passes through an imposing arcaded inner courtyard which already gives one a sense of the Trinci power.
The most prominent feature of the museum is its fresco decoration, painted during the reign of Ugolino III, lord of Foligno from 1386 to 1415. Certamente, the theme of the frescoes is a celebration of the sublimity and and distinction of the Trinci family.
The loggia (documented in 1405), decorated with the Stories of Romulus and Remo – the Rome founding myth – symbolically compares the power and might of ancient Rome to that of Foligno under the Trinci famiglia:
Splendid Renaissance architecture highlights the Romulus and Remo scenes, all depicted not in ancient Rome but in the 15th century – perhaps in Foligno:
Each episode is explained with verses in Italian, inscribed below the frescoes. The artist was unknown although recently – thanks to the discovery of important documents – the frescoes have been attributed to Gentile da Fabriano, master of the International Gothic.
Access to the frescoed loggia is via the regal Scala Gotica (Gothic staircase):
From the Loggia, one enters the family chapel decorated in the early 15th-century with stories of the life of the Virgin Mary by Ottaviano Nelli, Gubbio painter.
These religious frescoes are unusual as they represent also both humanistic and profane iconography.
Look closely at the frescoes and you’ll note the Trinci “imprint” here, too: in the Crucifixion scene, San Feliciano (patron saint of Foligno and revered by the Trincis) and Blessed Paoluccio Trinci (died 1390) flank the Virgin and St. John the Beloved.
Another favorite Trini saint, San Francesco di Assisi is depicted near the Cross as he receives the Stigmata (his “Crucifixion”). St. Francis of Assisi, the two saints revered by the Trincis, are at the foot of the Cross with the Virgin and St. John:
The grandezza (“greatness” – though literally, “large-ness”) of the Trinci lords is clearly alluded to in the Sala dei Giganti (“Room of the Giants”) – also called the Sala degli Imperatori (“Room of the Emperors”) – where 20 heroes of ancient Rome are frescoed in larger-than-life size, each garbed in elegant Renaissance dress.
These frescoes, too, were painted by Gentile da Fabriano and assistants.
This maestro also frescoed the palace’s most exquisite room, the Sala delle Arti Liberali e delle Piante (“Hall of Liberal Arts and of the Planets”).
The liberal arts included the Trivium ( literally, “the three ways”): grammar…
. .. and dialettic:
The Quadrivium (“the four ways”) of the liberal arts comprised: music…
..geometry, arithmetic and astronomy (both pictured below):
Seven planets and the seven ages of man were frescoed on the other side of the room, opposite the liberal arts:
The various Ages of Man (infancy, childhood, adolescence, youth, adulthood, old age, decrepitude) are believed to be each under the influence of a planet, the influence of the planets varying throughout the day.
In the fresco depicting the sun, an old woman sits, head bowed, above the flaming red galloping horses….
…and she represents La Vecchiaia (old age):
Above the Moon’s galloping horse, Decrepitude sits forlornly:
At the end of the room, Mercury with winged feet is flanked by a roundel bearing an image of Infancy.
Opposite Mercury is Jupiter, bearing a fistful of arrows with Adolescence depicted above him.
The former name of this elegant room was Camera delle Rose (“Chamber of the Roses”) probably because of the decorative border running along the the top of the walls, symbol of the Trinci family.
Ugolino III Trinci, Foligno lord, had commissioned the frescoes to reinforce the status of the Trinci famiglia.
The frescoes achieved his aim and are considered among the most important surviving works of this kind in Italy: frescoes painted to laud the city rulers.
Read about the oldest religious edifice in Foligno.
Click here to read about – and see! – a contemporary mammoth sculpture in Foligno.
Read about the return of a Raphael masterpiece to Foligno
Read about a memorable Foligno culinary festival – in the medieval backstreets
Read about – and see! – Foligno’s stunning Baroque festival, La Quintana
Read about the celebration of honey in Foligno