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Scenes of Parma, Emilia-Romagna, February 2016

A week's getaway in northern Italy


You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Day 2 in Parma, the National Gallery

Suitably restored after a brief rest, we're back at the Palazzo della Pilotta, so called because during the Bourbon period in the 18th century the Spanish troops passed the time by playing pelota in one of the courtyards. The original buildings were built in about 1583-1611, begun by the 2nd Duke, Ottavio Farnese, and were at one time connected with the Palazzo Ducale on the far side of the river.

Allied bombers, in May 1944, mistook the palace for the rail yards a kilometre or so to the north, and blew the daylights out of it. Amazing restoration works were carried out in 1947 and '48, but the mess over on the left side was retained as a memorial.

That's all new stuff, replacing the destroyed church of St Peter. Originally, the present palace complex here was intended by Ranuccio I, the 4th Duke, to function as service facilities (stables, barracks, etc.) for the Ducal Palace, which was connected by a covered 'corridor' across the river and through the Ducal Park.

Presently, the Palazzo della Pilotta houses the Galleria Nazionale di Parma, the pinacoteca or art museum; the national archaeological museum; an Academy of Fine Arts; a museum dedicated to the typographer Bodoni; the Biblioteca Palatina or Palatina Library, with more than 700,000 printed works, 6,600 MSS, and 3,000 incunabula, or books printed before 1500; and the Teatro Farnese, now the stunning entrance hall to the pinacoteca.

We're headed for the pinacoteca. As in its ducal sister city of Piacenza, when the Bourbons succeeded the Farnese in Parma, in 1734 they promptly shipped much of the dynasty's existing art collections (and home furnishings) off to their home-base in Naples, but some of it was got back subsequently and new acquisitions, including aristocratic collections, have been made since. During the French occupation of the early 19th century, a lot of it was hauled off to Paris, too, but after Napoleon's abdication the Duchess of Parma, Napoleon's wife Marie Louise, hauled it all back again in 1816.

The entrance to the National Gallery (get ready for this)

The Farnese Theatre was built in 1618 by Duke Ranuccio I, intended as an armory but hastily converted into this theatre for a proposed visit by Cosimo II de'Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, which never took place; it was inaugurated instead in 1628 for the marriage of the next Duke of Parma, Odoardo I, with another Medici, Cosimo's daughter Margherita. It was used by the Farneses for court spectacles and entertainments, infrequently, but fell into dilapidation after the end of the dynasty here, in 1732, and it took a devastating direct hit from the Allies in 1944.

The theatre is usually considered to be the first surviving theatre with a permanent proscenium arch, "fourth wall" style of theatre architecture.

The renovations begun in 1950, based on original plans and using existing materials wherever possible, were completed in 1962 and are just stunning.

For the marriage spectacle for Odoardo and Margherita in 1628, the centre was flooded for a mock naval battle, or naumachia, with pumps hidden under the stage.

There's a mini-museum under the seating, with photographs of the state of play in late May 1944.

The gallery may be strongest in medieval, frequently local and regional, stuff, and we've singled out some our fun favorites. First, as we walk in, we meet something for our collection of Madonna and Baby Nursing pictures with anatomically improbable arrangements, this by the Maestro di San Davino from Pisa/Lucca, early 15th century. The lady second from the left is the archangel St Michael.

This Assumption of the Virgin with an entourage of (apparently) nasty little red demons is here attributed to Botticelli or his circle (ambito). The cord hanging down from her waist looks like her famous girdle, the Sacro Cingolo, which she presented to Doubting Thomas, now in the Duomo di Prato.

The Madonna and Child Enthroned, with one of the stranger God the Fathers anywhere . . .

He certainly looks paternal, and beatific, and relaxed (by Jacopo Loschi, 1471)

These are three of the four very neat detached frescoes of "Works of Mercy" by an anonymous Parmigiani from the mid-15th century, taken from a medieval hospital in town.

Only three here because the fourth one didn't come out well -- we're in senza flash mode here, and rightly so.

It looks like someone in the right background, Christ? the local bishop?, blesses these 'opere di misericordia'.

This is a Madonna and Child (ca. 1500) by Cima da Conegliano; the lady on the left is St Michael, the gent on the right is St Andrew.

Leonardo's stunning head of a young lady, known as La Scapigliata, oil on wood from about 1500-1510

The Pallavicini were one of the leading clans of Parma and the region (and in later centuries one of the families that carved up the Parmigian contado or countryside into nearly independent fiefdoms), but we're interested in them chiefly because a cadet member of the family, Sir Horatio Pallavicino, of the Genovese banking branch, converted to Protestantism and moved to England, where he became Queen Elizabeth I's chief financial agent, a shipping magnate, occasional spy, and in effect the English ambassador to Protestant states in Germany.

This, however, is a family portrait of Rolando Pallavicino (d. 1529) and his wife, with his sullen daughter Barbara, whose marriage off to Count Ludovico Rangoni in 1525, without Pope Clement VII's permission, resulted in a big diplomatic mess. One of two big messes, actually: Rolando had his brother Polidoro jailed for being of unsound mind in order to get the family inheritance, and subsequently Ludovico and his brother Guido Rangoni sued Polidoro's heiress Livia and her husband, the diplomat Sir Gregorio di Casale, to gain control of the inheritance, an unsuccessful legal battle that was finally settled in 1695 [Catherine Fletcher, Our man in Rome: Henry VIII and his Italian ambassador, 2012, pp 84-86]. The picture is by Francesco da Cotignola, called Zaganelli, ca. 1515.

It's like a breath of fresh air, or something. Having seen hundreds of paintings of St Sebastian riddled with hundreds of arrows all over him, it's refreshing to see a nice economical, clean head shot. Especially as it doesn't seem to have upset him very much. This is signed by Jehoshaphat Araldi, early 16th century.

The lady with the huge sword is the archangel St Michael whaling on a webfooted demon, for reasons unexplained, whilst folks are amusing themselves round a table or gambling perhaps, and the Virgin Mary is ascending into Heaven with lots of angels, which didn't make it into this photo. By Dosso Dossi, the court painter of Ferrara, and his brother Battista, ca. 1533.

Moving on to the Renaissance-and-after rooms, Kristin's admiring four by Sebastiano Ricci.

Along a balcony above the medieval gallery

This is a fascinating exhibition of pictures of Parma in the 19th century

A perhaps-unflattering portrait of a young lady with a puppy, by Pierfrancesco Cittadini, a noted mid-17th century portraitist and pupil of Guido Reni

We collect Biblical beheadings and, especially, Judith and Holofernes; the front-runner so far is definitely Artemisia Gentileschi's, but this one, here attributed to the 17th century Frenchman Teofilo Trufamonti, is a competitor. Oddly, he's best known for a Judith and Holofernes, but it's not this one.

This is meant to be Duke Ranuccio I Farnese, a pleasant looking chap credited with Parma's "cultural renewal" and urban improvements during his tenure, 1592-1622. But he's best known for the "Great Justice" or Sanvitale Conspiracy, in which he uncovered an assassination plot by discontented local aristocrats and had a large number of them beheaded in May 1612 in what's now the Piazza Garibaldi, including the Countess Barbara Sanseverino, and kept all their properties. When he publicized manifestly untrue charges, wrought under torture from G. Sanvitale, Count of Fontanellato, of complicity in the plot by big-name lords like the Gonzaga Duke of Mantova and Este Duke of Modena, he was everywhere ostracized by polite society. This is attributed to the Bolognese Agostino Carracci, brother of Annibale, late 16th century.

This is Isabella Clara Eugenia, wee little daughter of Philip II of Spain, in about 1626, attributed to the workshop of Van Dyck; she essentially ruled the Spanish Netherlands from 1601 with her husband the Archduke Albert, but retired to a Franciscan convent in the mid-1620s and died in 1633.

Here's the wee lass in about 1573, painted by Sofonisba Anguissola, now in the Sabauda Gallery in Turin.

We're being shuffled out now, closing time for many parts of the gallery, and in fact the Baroque gallery (up that stairway) never opened at all. "Understaffed", we're told, but we've been instructed to show up at the Leonardo 'Scapigliata' tomorrow at 10 a.m. to be let in to see the Baroque stuff for exactly one half hour.

Bacchus with a fawn, from the Farnese Gardens on the Palatine in Rome. The gardens were created in 1550 by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, older brother of Ottavio the 2nd Duke of Parma and Piacenza.

Only the Correggio/Parmigianino wing is still open and here we are. This is a sinopie or cartoon on cloth for the figure of the Virgin Mary in Correggio's Assumption fresco in the Parma cathedral cupola.

Correggio's Lamentation, ca. 1524. We were rushing through here at this point, and will be back tomorrow, at first light, more or less.

Correggio's Martyrdom of the four saints (to wit, Placidus and his sister Flavia, 4th century unfortunates, with two others, already beheaded, in the background), ca. 1524.

Probably the best known picture by Parmigianino, from about 1533, known as the "Turkish Slave" because somebody thought that she's wearing a turban; in fact, it's a stylish bit of headgear made fashionable in northern Italy by Isabella d'Este, the Marchesa of Mantova, "supreme among women".

On my own again, I'll have a look-in at the Archaeological Museum one floor down. It turns out that it's sort of open and sort of not: only researchers and staff working, tickets apologetically at half price, and lots of construction going on.

Quite a lot of good old stuff, like this Corinthian-style helmet, 4th century BC

And some very depressing local finds

Generally, the museum is set up didactically, with general displays about mesolithic settlements, bronze age burial practices, archaeological how-tos, for school groups chiefly, and of course, local Roman items.

Wandering lonely, not unlike a huge bank of threatening clouds that 'floats on high o'er vales and hills', I've come upon the Verdi bridge over the Torrente Parma, connecting the Palazzo della Pilotta with the Ducal Park and Palace on the far side of the river.

The Palazzo della Pilotta from the river side of it

The Parma River looking northward towards the Po

The Palazzo della Pilotta from the Ponte Verdi

This is a picture celebrating the 'tribal spirit'.

The Palazzo Ducale, begun by Ottavio, the 2nd Duke, in about 1561, as he was contemplating shifting his capital from Piacenza to Parma. The huge Parco Ducale (now a public park) was created at the same time, but Frenchified in the 18th century; it's even got a large pond with a 'Trianon Fountain' on an island in the middle.

We're dashing over to check the opening hours, for a subsequent rewarding visit.

No such luck. It's presently the HQ of the Provincial Comando of Parma of the caribinieri, specifically the Department of Scientific Investigations. (I probably shouldn't be taking a photo here.)

Back to the Ponte Verdi, vestiges of the old fortifications covering the bridge

Announcing a film and conference on the role of the fascist Italian Army in Serbia during the war, specifically the execution of Italian resistance units of the Garibaldi Partisan Division in July 1942.

A lovely old aristocratic mansion (presently occupied by some restorers of ancient instruments, mostly lutes).

The rail station, built in 1859 and recently renovated . . .

. . . with a bus station underneath.

All aboard. A local, evidently, but the high-speed trains on the Milan-Bologna lines come through here.

A classy monument to Vittorio Bottego, a Parmigian army officer who led two exploratory expeditions in Jubaland in Somalia in the 1890s but made the mistake of coming back out to Ethiopia, unaware that Ethiopian unhappiness about the Italian army's funny business had led to the first Italo-Ethiopian War and a significant defeat of the demoralized Italian army in the Battle of Adwa in March 1896. His body was never found. The flanking figures may be Jubalanders.

Random walkabout

This is (I think) the Str. XX Settembre, just south of the rail station . . .

. . . on trash day. With a disused washing machine and a mattress out on the street. (Try that in our little Swiss town!)

Cute little Borgo Naviglio

At the Piazza Salvo D'Aquisto near the Casa della Musica, a view along the Borgo Pipa back towards the duomo.

The classic scowl of fury by the beloved Padre Pio (1887-1968), the sainted stigmatist

Behind the Duomo di Parma, this is the abbey church of San Giovanni Evangelista, built in the 10th century but substantially rebuilt in the years 1490-1519 after a bad fire in 1477. The Baroque façade by Moschino dates from about 1605. There's a huge Benedictine monastery along that left wall, which we'll visit another day.

A Latin cross plan with a nave and two aisles, and with a dome at the crossing.

Correggio and his workshop's frescos are all over the place, including in the cupola, as well as some by Parmigianino and an altarpiece by Girolamo Mazzola Bedoli, so we'll have to come back when we're not so distracted by planning for dinner.

The apse-end of the Duomo from the forecourt of the church of St John Evangelist

The baptistery and bell tower of the cathedral

The abbey church of San Giovanni. Now it's time to get focused on dinner.

Now we're bolting down Cavour Street to try the Duchessa ristorante in the Piazza Garibaldi -- it met our most ambitious expectations.

And now we're waddling back to the hotel in the Piazza del Duomo, pleased with our dinner and a free Amaro Del Capo on the house. Early rising tomorrow -- back to the Galleria; we're expected.


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 27 March 2016.


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