Pitigliano’s Palazzo Orsini: Renaissance Seat of Power
Palazzo Orsini is a defensive complex constructed by the Aldobrandeschi counts of nearby Sovana in the 12th-century, probably built on site of a pre-existing convent or monastery. In the early 14th-century, the palazzo becomes property of the Orsini family – a powerful Roman Guelf (pro-Papacy) family – as a result of the marriage between Anastasia Aldobrandeschi and the young Romano Orsini.
The countess Anastasia orders the building of an imposing fortress with three guard towers linked by walls enclosing huge courtyards as well as places of residence.
In the mid-15th-century, the fortress undergoes complete rebuilding for the celebration of the marriage of the powerful Niccolo’ III Orsini. In the early 16th-century, the defensive structure is restored under the great architect, Antonio Sangallo il Giovane, in order to best accomodate the use of new firearms..
In the early 17th-century, Pitigliano is absorbed into the Granducato di Toscana (Grand Duchy of Tuscany) and becomes residence of the Granduchi until cession of the palazzo to the Bishop of Sovana at the end of the 18th century when the entire fortress becomes the Bishop’s abode.
Full restoration of Palazzo Orsini began in 1980 and now paintings, sculptures as well as goldsmith artistry can be viewed as you wander the 21 rooms.
Let’s just view a few of the highlights of my recent visit to the Palazzo Orsini – and why not start in the courtyard….?
Entering the courtyard to the left, you’ll pass the splendid hexagonal 16th-century Renaissance cistern-well on the left, flanked by two Ionic columns and adorned on the sides with sculpted reliefs:
The relief with the rose over the shield with transversal lines (coat-of-arms of the Pitigliano line of the Orsini family) next to the Aldobrandeschi rearing lion with paw raised represents the union in marriage of the two families:
As you enter the palazzo through the richly-decorated sculpted door, do note the architrave center where joined hands holding a richly-decorated collar with sharp points, symbolizes the fedelity of Niccolo’ III Orsini to la Repubblica di Venezia:
The grand staircase inside leads up to the many rooms of the palace:
My wanders started in the Zodiac Room – restored in 2012 – vaulted with a starry sky and signs of the Zodiac:
In lo Studio del Conte (the Count’s Study), the remains of another once-splendid mid-15th-century coffered ceiling – decorated for a the wedding of Niccolo’ Orsini – stretches out over the 16th-century wooden poplar statue of Nicholas III Orsini in armor:Art historians believe that the statue was sculpted by an unknown Lombard-Venetian sculptor:
The ceiling decoration above the statue adorned with portraits of personaggi illustri di Casa Orsini (illustrious pesonages of the Orsini) – three of them, women – is unique for the 15th-century:
The late 15th-century marble tabernacle on the wall is from the Cathedral of Sovana……
….and the door in silver gold and copper is a 16th-century masterpiece of a Florentine goldsmith:
A highpoint of an exploration of the Palazzo Orsini is the Sala delle Madonne (the Room of the Madonnas) where the 15th-century polychromatic coffered ceiling crowns one of the palazzo’s most coveted treasures: the 15th-century statue of the Madonna with Child by Sienese master, Jacopo della Quercia:
To note: the graceful sculpted drapery, the wistfully sad tenderness of the young Madonna as she gazes at her Son, knowing His future destiny:
Two other 15th-century Madonnas share this elegant room. One is the Madonna Orante (Praying Madonna)….
…and the other is a glazed terracotta face of a young-blue-eyed Madonna of the Della Robbia school:
A majestic polychromatic coffered ceilings crowns these splendid Madonnas :
Other sculptural splendors of the Palazzo Orsini museo include the 15th-century painted terracotta statue of Saint Catherine of Alexandria,……
…..the 16th image of Saint Anthony Abbot and a 17th-century image of Augustinian saint, St. Nicholas of Tolentino (1246-1305):
Saint Augustine – born in the 4th-century in present-day Algeria – is there, too, sculpted in thee 17th-century:
As you head towards the exit, you’ll pass through the palazzo library:
….and then note a long flight of stairs, heading down….
…nto the olialia where the olives were pressed and the olive oil then stored:
As you return to the entryway, you might wish to step into a small room to see the 17th-century silver reliquary in the shape an upraised arm, containing a relic of the 11th-century Pope, Gregory VII of nearby Sovana, born Ildebrando Aldobrandeschi.
An appropriate end to your wanders in Palazzo Orsini which, after all, represents the merging of two noble families, the Orsini and Aldobrandeschi.
Read more about Pitigliano
Read about – and see! – Pitigliano’s “Little Jerusalem”