Palazzo Madama: where Italy became a Nation


Every time I have the chance to be a visitor in my own city, I grab it. Last Sunday was an amazing day here in Turin: the weather was very good, temperature was perfect, and the sky was the bluest ever. Therefore I decided to take a stroll to the city centre and I reached the main square called “Piazza Castello”. When I saw Palazzo Madama I remembered I haven’t been inside for a while. Thus I decided to take my time and visit it.

Palazzo Madama is a National Monument. Before being a Museum, hosting a prominent collection which spans from the Romanesque and Gothic artifacts, to the local Renaissance paitings and the Baroque architecture, it is one of the oldest building in town, as well as one of the oldest in Italy.

The palace is a mix of structures built at different times: the first section of it is the Eastern Roman City Gate. In the middle ages, a castle incorporated the Roman Gate turning the whole thing into a “fairytale” looking castle with for round towers and a set of buildings connecting all of them.

The Facade of Palazzo Madama – Turin. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

In the 1600s a very smart woman from France, called Cristine (daughter of the King and wife of the Duke of Savoy), decided to turn the old medieval apartments into baroque ones and she also created a pretty big ballroom right in the middle of the palace, by closing the central courtyard.

Then, in early 1700s another duchess, called Mary Joan Baptist of Savoy, decided to cover the 4 sides of the palace with 4 monumental baroque facades and staircases. But she ran out of money, thus only 1 was completed.

You may think that what made it a National Monument is its architectural adventure, but it’s not so. The reason is due to the ballroom of the palace which was turned into the Senate of the kingdom of Savoy in 1848 and then into the first Senate of Italy, when the Country was unified and eventually declared a Kingdom on March 17th, 1861 and Turin became the first Capital City.

The monumental Staircase of Palazzo Madama – Turin. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

Nowadays the capital of Italy is Rome, thus the Palace has been turned into a Museum.

Among the several masterpieces that are kept here, I picked two that from my point of view are the best, both for the quality of the work and the emotion you get while staring at them.

The “Portrait of the Unknown” by Antonello da Messina, one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance era, born in Sicily in 1425 where he also died at the age of 54. He was very good at portraits, which are countless, but when experts have to speak about him, they alway choose the work kept at Palazzo Madama, due to the extraordinary quality of it and the photographic effect that make the eyes of the subject to keep looking at you wherever you move.

Portrait of Unknown – Antonello da Messina – Turin. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

I am not a “selfies” person, thus I do not picture myself very often, however, I couldn’t resit and, while there was no one in the same room, I took one. If you look at my eyes and those of the man in the painting you see we are both staring at you.

Myself and the Unknown. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

Another work of art that I really like among the several that are displayed inside the Museum, is a sculpture made by the artist Simon Troger, which represents the Judgement of King Salomon. The reason why the royal family wanted such sculpture is that they wanted to stress out an analogy between the Savoys and the Jewish King, who was used to judge situations using good sense and led the people accondingly. Thus the sculpure does not only display the famous dispute between two women, each claiming the baby its her’s, but also the welfare of a Country, when guided by good rulers and administrators.

The Judgement of King Salomon. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

The sculpture is actually made up of two separate structures. At the centre of the scene there’s King Salomon on his throne, pointing at the two arguing women while the side scene, to the left, displays a soldier on the edge of cutting the baby in half while the real mother stops him.

The disputed baby. Palazzo Madama, Turin. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

To the right you see another sculpture by the same artists but the subject is different. In this case you see Abraham on the edge of killing his own very son to prove his faith to God, while an angel comes from above to stop him and a sheep observes the scene unaware of what will happen later.

Abraham and Isaac. Palazzo Madama, Turin. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

The Museum displays incredibly beautiful artifacts such as the amazing medieval wooden trunk of the cardinal Guala Bicchieri who founded an Abbey in the city of Vercelli thanks to a donation by the King of England.

The Guala Bicchieri Trunk – Palazzo Madama, Turin. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

The round plates are made of solid gold and they have been carved in a way to display fantastic beast as well as chivalry scenes.

The keyhole plate. Palazzo Madama, Turin. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

Museums are essential to keep our cultural background alive. Although I must confess I do not visit many when I travel, I do also pick at least one per each travel. In most of the cases I get back with a deeper knowledge of the local culture. I also believe that some places are “open air” museums such as the Colosseum in Rome, the Angkor Wat complex in Siem Reap, the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Empire State Building in New York, thus we all visit museums every day, without paying any entrance fees.

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