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Bruno Panunzi

“Credo nella tradizione orale”

I suoi pochi scritti


























































The Orsini Castle




















in Bracciano



























































“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 strong”.


The castle, conceived as a proud symbol of

the power of the most important branch of

the large Orsini clan, was just then being









































































































































[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 Rome.



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




A contemporary chronicler reports that


“the king was welcomed to Bracciano,

Lord Virginio’s principal domain, which is

beautiful, secure and well stocked with



I later heard that the king put great value

on this and on the welcome extended to




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
































































































































































































[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 position.


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



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









































































































































[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 relatives.


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
































































































































































































[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



“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




From the very first evening, for the whole

of her stay the table was always lavish and



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 dressed.



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









































































































































[Queen Christina




















of Sweden]