Dwight Peck's personal website

A pilgrimage to Fort Bard, December 2015

With side trips to Ivrea and the Sabauda Gallery in Turin

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.

The Galleria Sabauda, Turin

Brighter and Earlier than we're used to, 22 December 2015, there's no time to peruse historical explanations in Bard as we head down to the car to catch our train in Ivrea.

Last year at about this time we visited Turin, or Torino, to see the museums in the "Polo Reale of Turin", the palaces gathered around the Piazza Castello and the Cathedral -- but mainly to see the Sabauda Gallery, which was then undergoing a long renovation and reopening . . . the following week. (We threw in a little fun-facts background on Turin history on that page, and won't repeat it here.)

So now we've come to see the Sabauda Gallery (or bust). We've taken the tram from the Porta Nuova central rail station out XX Settembre street to the Piazza Castello stop, and that's the Palazzo Madama in front of us.

A commodious tourist bus parked in the Piazza Castello. The Cavourese company operates nearly 200 buses in the region, with a variety of Mercedes, Iveco, Scania, and Setra models, but this one is not shown on their website.

The Palazzo Madama -- a 17th century renovation of the front half, ordered by "Madama Reale", Marie Jeanne Baptiste, Duchess of Savoy and mother of Victor Amadeus II of Savoy and later King of Sardinia, built around the 15th century fortress that's still around the back. It is very cool inside.

One of the world's bigger Christmas advent calendars -- almost as big as this one in Bolzano in 2013.

At the length of the Piazza Castello, that's the Palazzo Reale or Royal Palace. The original building was the Bishop's Palace from the 16th century but was rebuilt beginning in 1645 by the Dowager Duchess of Savoy, Christina Marie of France.

We're entering the Royal Palace, which we didn't find that charming -- impressive, but not charming -- on our first go at it last year (and the armory rooms with the stuffed horses were depressing); but this time we're just seeking our way through the very confusing signage to the Galleria Sabauda.

"Go left" the lady said, so we're back up the main staircase, and the statue of the Duke of Savoie Victor Amadeus I (1587-1637) riding roughshed over the slaves is no more endearing now than last time. ("The figures of the slaves are well executed, but the statue itself is contemptible." - Dr John Bell, 1825)

As you see, impressive, but not charming. Luckily, there's a room guide up here who gets us straightened out; in a word, we're in the wrong building. Same ticket, luckily.

Back out, past the Cathedral, to the Via XX Settembre, looking across at the Porta Palatina Roman gate towers, and along the road halfway towards the archaeological museum

Past some of the exterior archaeological digs (the archaeological museum's all along the basement level under the Sabauda). The Cattedrale di San Giovanni and its bell tower are in the background.

The newly renovated Sabauda Gallery officially opened on 4 December 2014 (we were lined up to dash in on 24 November 2014). It's basically built around the best collections of the family of Savoy (hence the ancient name Sabauda), which ruled the Savoy region now in the French Alps from about AD 1000, eventually to include much of southeastern France and southwestern Switzerland and, more lastingly, the Piedmont region of northern Italy as well as Sardinia. They became the first kings of modern, mostly united Italy in 1861, and its last ones, when Umberto II abdicated in 1946. Prince Emmanuel Philibert ("Iron Head"), the great general for the Habsburg empire (and suitor to the English Queen Elizabeth I), moved the Savoyard capital from Chambéry to Turin in 1563.

And the Saubauda's open, yay. Over 500 works are displayed, from medieval to 18th century, with generous helpings of the Italian Renaissance and the Dutch and Flemish golden age.

Fun early stuff -- Madonna and Child with St Stephen (with rocks on his head) and St Lucy (carrying her eyeballs on a plate, both with martyrs' palms), and with Baby Jesus nursing in an anatomically unsuitable manner (Jacques Iverny of Avignon, ca. 1425).

Roger van der Weyden and his workshop, two wings of a triptych (the centre part's in the Louvre): a praying donor [the medieval version of naming an NFL stadium], and the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth, commissioned by Torinesi bankers in the mid-15th century and purchased by the Duke of Savoy in 1635.

The Passion of Christ, by Hans Memling, commissioned in about 1470 by a Florentine banker named Portinari (same family as Dante's Beatrice, presumably, but two centuries later) -- it's like a film-strip, all the big events are here, you just have to follow them along from one 'station' to the next.

Two cute guys and their cute little dog: The Archangel Raphael is assuring the bon vivant Tobias that he was happy to get rid of the demon Asmodeus for him and get him the beautiful Sarah to take back to Nineveh with him (The Book of Tobit in the Catholic Bible). By the Pollaiolo brothers, ca. 1465.

The snobby 'In Crowd' clique at the local late medieval high school (Saints Barbara, Catherine, Mary Magdalene, and Margaret of Antioch, by Spanzotti from Casale Monferrato, ca. 1470)

A portable altar with God and Jesus in the centre (the 'thronum gratiae' motif), with Mary Magdalene's last communion on the left and some bishop on the right. Attributed to Jean de Chetro, who worked in Étroubles near the Grand St Bernard Pass in the mid-15th century

Mantegna and his workshop, Madonna and Child with infant John the Baptist and Catherine of Alexandria with her spiked wheel and various others, about 1488, a present from Federico Gonzaga of Mantova to Bona of Savoie, the Duchess of Milan, ca. 1490.

Botticelli, obviously -- or at least by his workshop

Charlemagne donating his Christ Relics, with zombies waiting outside. Bernard van Orley of Brussels, early 16th century

Eclectic collections

A collection of Ostrogoth, Byzantine, Lombard, and Frankish gold stuff from the region

Canaletto, of course. The Ducal Palace in Venice.

A lovely portrait by Louise-Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Marie Antoinette's favorite, who fled to Turin with the French Revolution and painted the artist Porporati's daughter Margherita as thanks for his hospitality (before moving on to Russia, back to France under Napoleon, then to England (where she painted Byron), Switzerland, then France again, where she died at 86).

Things have got way out of chronological order here, as the elevators were directing people in all directions to get round school groups, but though we've been here for some hours, we're holding up pretty well.

Onward, and upward

'The Three Graces' -- how memes evolve. And hence the modern adjective "Rubenesque", but this is by Pietro della Vecchia, who could and did imitate everybody.

But this run of David Teniers the Younger's funny pictures is priceless: the Card Players, amongst his series of tavern scenes, dated 1650.

Another tavern scene

Tenier's picture of his wife (Jan Brueghel the Elder's daughter) and son David, also a painter; dated 1645.

An intriguing picture by Gerrit Dou, 1662, of a young woman with grapes

A curiosity: 'St John of Nepomuk taking confession from the Queen of Bohemia', with a tabloid reporter at the other window. By Giuseppe Maria Crespi, ca. 1735. Traditionally, John angered the less-Good King Wenceslaus IV by refusing to reveal what the Queen had confessed, so in 1393 he got tied up in a burlap bag and tossed off the Charles Bridge into the Vltava River in Prague. Thus he's now the patron saint of confessional secrets and flood victims. (The bridge part is true, but the reasons probably had to do with church-state battles over appointing abbots.)

We've come to the end, but we missed a whole floor.

One floor down

A Veronese, Christ visiting Simon the Pharisee, 1556

We collect beheadings, and this is a fairly good one: St John the Baptist (Salome in the background, ready), by Daniele da Volterra, 1551.

Sofonisba Anguissola's portrait of the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, probably 1573 when she was 7. A while ago History Today had a fascinating article about the correspondence of King Philip II of Spain with both of his daughters, very charming and a totally different Philip II than the workaholic religious freak that we normally see. Isabella's sister married Duke Charles Emanuele of Savoy and moved to Turin in 1585, and presumably brought this with her. Isabella ruled the Spanish Netherlands from 1601, with her husband the Archduke Albert, and brought in a golden age of relative peace and patronage of the arts; she was appointed Governor of the Netherlands on the death of her husband in 1621, joined a Franciscan order of nuns, and died in 1633. There's a portrait of Isabella in late life just down the corridor here (and another in the Galleria Nazionale di Parma), but the contrast with this one is devastating, painful to see.

Adoration of the Shepherds, attributed to Denys Calvaert, ca. 1600, with . . .

. . . the happiest Baby Jesus ever.

A pious old Jacob and a totally unimpressed Rachel (by Tanzio da Varallo, probably from the 1620s)

The hall of more very pious people (won't detain us)

The Vanity of Human Life, Brueghel the Younger, prob. 1631 and added to the Savoy collections in the same year

Van Dyck's portrait of the kids of Charles I of England and his wife Henrietta Maria, 1635. She sent it as a present to her sister Christina Marie (she who built the Palazzo Reale), wife of Victor Amadeus I, Duke of Savoy. [The little tyke on the right got thrown out of England in the Glorious Revolution, 1688.]

Well, that's enough for now.

Out the front door of the Sabauda, there's the Roman gatehouse, the Porta Palatina, again.

Just alongside, this is the Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista, built in the 1490s on the site of three churches which were, in turn, on the site of the ancient Roman theatre; the belltower alongside was erected in 1469.

A nave with two aisles, and a huge number of side chapels

Ornate side chapels

Very ornate; overwhelming to look at, actually, which may have been the point

And let us not forget the famous Shroud of Turin, with miraculous imprints of Christ after the crucifixion on it, a tourist draw in the Middle Ages as it is now -- "the single most studied artifact in human history . . . And yet, the controversy still rages", as Mr Schwortz, editor of the website https://www.shroud.com gracefully puts it. It's trotted out on special occasions, and otherwise reposes in its own chapel built onto the back of this cathdral in the late 17th century. The holy article first showed up in France in the 1390s, when the antipope Clement VII (the 'Butcher of Cesena') was informed that the artist who'd forged it had confessed [the fabric has been radio-carboned to that period]. It was bequeathed to the Counts of Savoy in 1453, but damaged in a fire in Chambéry in 1532 and brought along to Turin in 1578, the new Savoyard capital. Controversy about its authenticity may still be raging (the Catholic Church officially takes a noncommittal line), but after a very large number of modern analyses, any remaining controversy is not a scientific one.

In fact, there's a sort of ghostly image there, could it be?

That's just a reproduction of a negative photo taken of the Shroud in 1898, so we needn't genuflect yet.

Books and souvenirs, over to the left please.

What it lacks in subtlety it makes up for in determination.

The Cathedral of St John the Baptist, with its bell tower and, just behind it, the Chapel of the Holy Shroud

We're hunting all over for a catfood store, instructed convincingly that there's one right over here.

Bingo. The Squirrel is in luck.

When the Allied bombardment puts paid to your medieval palazzo, why not just recreate it on the side of your cement-block replacement?

We're making our way back down towards the rail station, no hurry.

An ample helping of pedestrian shopping streets between the museum quarter and the main rail station

We're crossing the pedestrian Via Garibaldi and entering the neighborhood of the medieval Guardinfanti guild (who made wooden hoops for ladies' dresses)

This is perhaps the closest thing we've seen here to a medieval atmosphere, recently renovated and cleverly self-conscious. The bulls on the second banner represent Turin's coat of arms, with its tauros or bull.

Civic pride is almost always a good thing.

Street scenes, off the Via Barbaroux

Window shopping along the Via Pietro Micca

The northbound tram along the Via XX Settembre

The Piazza San Carlo, a huge city-centre square created in the 17th century, with its equestrian statue of Emmanuel Philibert (former suitor to Queen Elizabeth of England, the guy who brought the Shroud of Turin to Turin in 1578). Entering the piazza behind us, and continuing out the far end as far as the Palazzo Madama, is the Via Roma, Mussolini's great concept of connecting the central rail station at Porta Nuova with the royal palaces, 1931-1937, with new fascist buildings in a more 'rationalist' spirit.

The majestic Porta Nuova central rail station (70 million travelers per year, third highest rate in Italy), with its trompe-l'oeil façade during renovations, built 1861-1868 on the site of the original southern gates to the medieval city.

It's convenient for people to insist that Europeans hate the USA's intimidatory foreign policies, but the Old Wild West from the grand Hollywood tradition will never fade away, even for a birreria in the train station.

And so, we're back to Bard, ready for a very nice little something at the Albergo del Mulino in Hône across the river.

Tomorrow: the Forte di Bard its-own-self

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 21 January 2016.

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