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Bruno Panunzi






















"I believe in oral tradition"


His few writings













































































The Orsini Castle in Bracciano


























































Da "Italy Italy 1987-1988"



















































































































Sperando di poterlo pubblicare presto anche nella versione originale in Italiano, qui

l'articolo in Inglese dalla rivista "Italy Italy", anno V, 1987-1988, numero 10, pagine 8-13













































































"Bracciano's Castle







































Impregnable fortress




















magnificent palace"


























































[Like a giant]





















































































































Relating his impressions of the Orsini Castle in

Bracciano, the 19th-century historian Ferdinand

Gregorovius wrote in a romantic and admiring tone,


"The fortress looms like a giant, seeming to cast its

shadow over all of Bracciano, as if beside it all else

should disappear.


How regal the power of this family must have been to

have built this marvelous palace, both impregnable

fortress and luxurious residence, in a place so

isolated and far removed from the world".



Much earlier, in 1475, an envoy of the Este family, in

a letter to his master, the duke of Ferrara,

enthusiastically described the magnificent welcome

that he and envoys from Milan and Florence had

received from Gentil Virginio Orsini


"in his residence in the castle, which is beautiful and



The castle, conceived as a proud symbol of the

power of the most important branch of the large

Orsini clan, was just then being completed.  








































































































































[The construction of the castle




















 was begun about 1470]





















































































































The fortunes of the Orsini family one of Rome's

oldest, had taken a distinct turn for the better during

the 13th century, when one of its members became

Pope Celestine III and another was elected Senator of



The Orsinis actively supported the papacy against

the attacks of the rival Colonna family and gradually

acquired vast fields in the Lazio region, among them

Bracciano, some twenty-five miles northwest of




The construction of the castle was begun about 1470

by Napoleone Orsini, known as


"a man of superlative splendor… who was equal in

grandeur and magnificence to the renowned princes

of his time".



It was completed by his son, Gentil Virginio.


Both father and son were eminent military

commanders who participated ably in the intricate

political maneuvers of the end of the 15th century,

allying themselves with the Medicis of Florence and

the Aragonese rulers of Naples.































































































































































































[An exceptional example




















of Early Renaissance]





















































































































An extraordinary example of an edifice serving both

as a defensive construction and as a sumptuous

Renaissance residence, the castle has two readily

discernible architectural models, Palazzo Venezia in

Rome, built by the Venetian cardinal Barbo, who was

to become Pope Paul II, and the Palazzo Ducale in

Urbino, designed for Duke Federico da Montefeltro.


Like Palazzo Venezia, the Orsini castle in Bracciano

has a massive, impenetrable aspect, rectangular

windows divided by simple crossbars and two-storey

loggias on octagonal columns within the courtyard.



Like the superb palace in Urbino, which is

unsurpassed for its spatial harmony and exquisite

decorative detail, the castle of Bracciano has bright,

airy halls and many finely sculpted details adorning

chimneypieces and portals.


Gentil Virginio Orsini, however, lacked the broad

vision that had made his friend Federico's palace at

Urbino a touchstone of Renaissance architecture.



The Orsini castle broke no new ground.


Rather, it was an exceptional example of Early

Renaissance déjà vu.



Its tall, round towers are reminiscent of those of the

Castel Nuovo in Naples, and there is a Tuscan

elegance in the small loggia at the entrance to the

main hall which can perhaps be attributed to

Francesco di Giorgio Martini.








































































































































[Pope Sixtus IV and




















Charles VIII of France]





















































































































At their new residence in Bracciano, the Orsinis set

out to increase the family's fortunes and prestige by

entertaining many of the great men of their time,

among them Pope Sixtus IV, all too happy to leave

plague-ridden Rome in 1481, and Charles VIII of

France, who stayed at the castle in 1494 on his way

to conquer the kingdom of Naples.



A contemporary chronicler reports that


"the king was welcomed to Bracciano, Lord

Virginio's principal domain, which is beautiful,

secure and well stocked with victuals.


I later heard that the king put great value on this and

on the welcome extended to him".



During this stay, Charles VIII surely had occasion to

admire the frescoes with episodes of the life of Gentil

Virginio Orsini, painted in the castle in 1491 by

Antoniazzo Romano.































































































































































































[The castle besieged




















by the papal army led by




















Guidobaldo da Montefeltro




















and Juan Borgia]





















































































































After the king's visit, the castle was besieged for the

first and last time in its history, when it was

assaulted by the entire papal army led by Guidobaldo

da Montefeltro and Juan Borgia, eldest son of Pope

Alexander VI.



This was the most important and bloodiest episode

in the war waged by the pope against the Orsinis,

who were temporarily in a precarious political



In the end the Orsinis won, and in the meantime their

castle had proved itself to be a highly efficient

defensive structure.








































































































































[Isabella de' Medici




















 strangled in 1576]





















































































































The elegant but disquieting shade of a defunct

duchess Orsini is linked to the frescoes.


She was Isabella, daughter of Cosimo de' Medici and

wife of Duke Paolo Giordano I, the duke who

commissioned the frescoes.



Isabella died a violent death in 1576, strangled, some

say, by her jealous husband.








































































































































[Vittoria Accoramboni




















a murder worthy of




















 a Shakespearian tragedy]





















































































































His second wife, Vittoria Accoramboni, met an

equally tragic fate at the hands of her husband's



Vittoria's murder was worthy of a Shakespearian

tragedy, a dark deed decidedly out of tune with the

sunny garden of the castle designed for her on a

large artificial terrace overlooking Lake Bracciano.































































































































































































[A visiting duchess of




















the powerful Sforza family]





















































































































Chronicles of the period relate the splendors of the

Orsini castle.



A visiting duchess of the powerful Sforza family


"arrived in Bracciano at night and in front of the

fortress found the entire garrison of foot soldiers

and cavalry waiting to salute her while cannons were

fired in her honor.


She wished to see the palace immediately, and she

marveled at the number of the apartments and the

richness of the furnishings throughout the vast

residence, in which many potentates could have

been comfortably accommodated at the same time.



From the very first evening, for the whole of her stay

the table was always lavish and abundant.


The noble lady was served by a knight and ate in

state in the company of the duke of Bracciano's most

important subjects, who were always superbly




On Saturday evening, after an entertainment of nicely

concerted music, a beautiful ball was held, at which

there were great numbers of gorgeously adorned









































































































































[Pope Innocent X




















of the Pamphili family]





















































































































In the mid-17th century a typically extravagant

Baroque display celebrated the sojourn of Pope

Innocent X of the Pamphili family at the castle.


"Among the many occasions of great joy and delight

was the sight of fireworks set off from Trevignano, a

town on the north of the lake eight miles from

Bracciano, which came across the water with rockets

that seemed to emerge from the lake itself, and the

vision of a huge dove of fire with an olive branch in

its beak, the pope's family emblem, which moved

over the water from the lakeside town of Anguillara,

six miles southeast of Bracciano, and came ashore

under the windows of His Holiness, for the

apartment that the Pope honored with his presence

has a view of the lake and rises as high above it as

the dome of a church usually rises above the piazza

on which it stands".








































































































































[Queen Christina of Sweden]





















































































































Another famous visitor arrived at a gallop on the

night of December 19, 1655.


Known as the "Amazon of the North", Queen

Christina of Sweden, having abdicated her throne

and embraced the Catholic faith, was on her way to

Rome to pay homage to the pope.



Her stop at the castle of Bracciano was supposedly



It might have been one of those impulsive decisions

for which the eccentric queen was known, although

the great pomp and jubilation with which she was

greeted by Paolo Giordano ll Orsini hint that the visit

was secretly arranged in advance by the two, who

had for some time been carrying on an amicable