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The artworks of the Quarter of the Throne in the Palazzo Ducale of Lucca

Lucca, Palazzo Ducale, tapestry, detail
Lucca, Palazzo Ducale, tapestry, detail

For the aims of Élisa Baciocchi, having just been placed by her brother Napoleon at the head of the Principality of Lucca and Piombino together with her consort, the need to repurpose the spaces of the palazzo in accordance with a formal and political plan could not have been secondary. And yet the combination of her brief tenure (just nine years), the idea to move the epicentre of power to the new quarter planned for the eastern zone of the city, next to the new city gate that still bears her name and the predilection for the Villa of Marlia in which funds were lavished, merged in such a way that the renovation of the Palazzo Pubblico was above all entrusted to surface coverings and furnishings, which were more rapidly produced than other, more time–consuming decorations. A project for the transformation of the rooms on the upper floor, and renewed use for some of these, remains however testimony to her intention to proceed in that direction, even if it would be for Marie Louise of Bourbon – former queen of Etruria and consoled after Napoleon’s defeat with the assignment of the duchy of Lucca while waiting to be able to return to that of Parma – to redefine the state rooms in the palazzo as well as those reserved for the rulers.

Well aware that she belonged to a great dynasty that limited her to a small duchy as if by bureaucratic assignment and proudly maintaining the signs of her auspicious past, the duchess, always keen on the maintenance of her title as queen, found an effective interpreter of her desires in Lorenzo Nottolini. The upper floor was therefore subdivided, as per the fashion in European palaces at the time, into three large blocks: the quarter for pomp and display, the quarter for the queen and that for the king.

One now accessed the quarter for pomp and display – or the quarter of the Throne, in accordance with the most faithful interpretations of Marie Louise’s aspirations – via a new stair, this, too designated as “royal&rdquo, and designed by Nottolini, who also saw to the design of the decorative scheme of bas relief stucco, alternating Victories, genuflecting next to candelabras with facing griffons, as well as winged figures supporting laurels over the heraldic symbols of the Bourbons: decorum and official character were therefore ensured by a celebratory lexicon articulated in pure and simple formulas. The new stair led to the sixteenth–century Sala degli Staffieri, designed by Bartolomeo Ammannati as a hall for the Senate of the Lucca Republic – ensuring the decoration of the grand portal, dominated by the monogram SPQL (Senatus Populusque Lucensis), from which one left the quarter of pomp and display and those reserved for the royal consorts (now occupied by the Prefettura). The modernization of the adjacent Sala delle Guardie (or Sala del Consiglio Generale), this too of sixteenth–century design, was decorated with fictive tapestries featuring Stories of Trajan, painted with terribleness and an Alfierian scowl by Luigi Ademollo, and with the valuable furnishings brought from Rome (tripods, trophies, rostral columns) that once embellished it.

But it was in the next room, the Sala dei Ciambellani, that Marie Louise constructed her own apotheosis. Here, the figurations – carefully designed by Nottolini and executed by one of the best stuccowork bottegas active in Tuscany at the time, already in the employ of Élisa – converged on the theme of magnanimous and merciful, benevolent and enlightened sovereignty. Around the central medallion documenting the name of the patron and the date of execution (1818), among a profusion of Bourbon lilies, within geometric partitions, allegories of the virtues and prerogatives of sovereigns (represented by Minerva, here bent over books to illustrate patronage for the arts; here armed to recall the duties of defence), alternate with recollections of the deeds of Charles V, underlining that the Spanish throne was in the hands of the duchess’ family. The prevalent use of monochrome, lightly reinforced with gold, was inspired by Tofanelli, who in 1809, in the chapel of SS. Sacramento in the cathedral, had painted fictive architectural sculptures in chiaroscuro of late antique and magniloquent inspiration.

Heraldic symbols and Bourbon deeds, next to a crown that again makes reference to Marie Louise’s past as a queen, also characterize the next room, called the Throne Room, the vault of which is lit up by the bright colours of the depiction of Wisdom assisted by the cardinal virtues, a clear allusion to the function of the room, painted by Domenico Del Frate, called for the occasion from Rome. By then a famous draughtsman and fresco painter, he was at the culmination of a career that, initially assistant to and student of Bernardino Nocchi and friend of Stefano Tofanelli, saw him come near to Canova. Marie Louise also commissioned him for the Gabinetto del Sovrano, which concluded the series of rooms and where commitment to the protection of the arts, among the prerogatives of a sovereign, is referenced in the central part of the vault by Apollo teaching history, not unmindful of Mengs, and the fictive monochrome bas reliefs that border it, these, too, dedicated to Apollo, and rather close to the lessons of Nocchi. Luigi Catani, a famous exponent of Neoclassical taste in Florence, was commissioned to do the panels above the doors, which illustrate other attributes of Apollo.

Another Florentine was commissioned for the decoration of the Sala dei Consiglieri, Gaspero Martellini, there for the second demanding project awarded him, following his debut at the Palazzo Pitti: the Battle of Pallas and Neptune over the name to be given to Athens alludes, as with the images of Solon, Phidias, Plato and Pericles that surround it, to the decisions that a sovereign and his (or her) advisors needed to make and the models that needed to inspire them.

Nothing remains however of the Élisa’s ambitious project – in part because never completed – to create a museum or ’palace gallery’ filled with the works that became state property following the suppression of the churches and the monasteries: sold in England in 1836 by Charles Louis, the Bourbon collection, which also included a few local masterpieces, the new collection donated by the Grand Dukes of Tuscany when Lucca lost its independence, which was for a brief time housed in the Palazzo, is now on display in the National Museum of Palazzo Mansi.
Thanks to recent restorations, which also restored the sumptuous silk wall coverings in their original colours as documented in contemporary inventories, the monumental Quarter of the Throne has drawn close to the dignity that inspired Tommaso Trenta to write in his guide to Lucca in 1820: It is scarcely believable how a Palazzo designed for use by a Republic took on the appearance in a such a short time of the most elegant and majestic Palaces in Italy.

Palazzo Ducale
Quarter of the Throne
Cortile Carrara,1

Tel.  +39 0583 417363
E-mail: info@palazzoducale.lucca.it