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Palais Fesch in Ajaccio

Ajaccio, Palazzo Fesch in a nineteenth–century photograph
Ajaccio, Palazzo Fesch in a nineteenth–century photograph

The impressive bulk of the Palais Fesch characterizes the historical centre of Ajaccio with a presence fully restored by period photographs documenting the building’s open view onto the seashore, now lessened by the later addition of a promenade.

The palazzo, which is principally rectangular in plan with two minor wings enclosing a large quadrangular courtyard, was built starting in 1827 on the impetus of Cardinal Fesch. Napoleon’s maternal uncle, cardinal of San Lorenzo in Lucina from 1803, had long hoped for the creation of a centre dedicated to the arts and sciences in his birth city, and the project was concluded by architect Sylvestre Frasseto in 1837, two years before the high prelate’s death. This building, conceived therefore more as a research centre than as an exhibition space, is characterized by long corridors that ensure circulation along the major axis of the main building, lit by large windows.

In successive years, the edifice was expanded and finished by Jean Caseneuve and Jérome Maglioli, who, among other things, realized the library and the monumental stair. With these interventions, the structure was ready to accommodate part of the cardinal’s collection, which at his death included 17,767 art objects, and the other donations that had been added in the meantime to the conspicuous original collection, becoming a true museum starting from the end of the 1850s. Meanwhile, in the minor right wing, the Imperial Chapel was built, destined to house the Bonaparte tombs.
The museum, which at the end of the nineteenth century and over the twentieth century was used in part as an elementary school and hospital, was definitively reopened in 2010 after a major restoration campaign. Today it includes twenty rooms on four floors and features a valuable library and an auditorium. The display is primarily dedicated to painting, presenting a collection of more than 400 works, with a sizeable nucleus of Italian primitives and Roman and Neapolitan Baroque paintings. There are also landscape paintings and still lifes from the Flemish school, painted in the Napoleonic age, and a collection of Corsican paintings.

In the courtyard one finds a commemorative bronze statue of Cardinal Fesch, commissioned by the Ajaccio municipality to pay homage to the illustrious benefactor and made in 1856 by the Parisian sculptor Vital–Gabrel Dubray. On request by the municipal council, which allocated the notable sum of twenty–thousand Francs for the work, the bronze bas reliefs on the base (made by the marble worker Joseph Luciani) depict the Consecration of Joseph Fesch as bishop of Lyon, the Foundation of the Christian schools of the Brothers and Sisters of Saint–Joseph and Cardinal Fesch as protector of the arts.

Dubray’s work was contested by the patrons, who complained that the portrait did not resemble the cardinal closely enough. Called to explain himself, the artist replied that he had worked in collaboration with the painter Jules Pasqualini, who had known Joseph Fesch personally and well, having been one of the artists under the Fesch’s protection and having made a portrait of the Cardinal, which is in fact housed in the Musée Fesch.

Jules Pasqualini, Portrait of cardinal Fesch

Musée Fesch
Rue Cardinal Fesch, 50–52

The museum is open according to the following schedule
1 October to 30 April: Monday, Wednesday and Saturday 10 AM to 5 PM; Thursday, Friday and the third Sunday of the month 12 PM to 5 PM.
2 May to 30 September: Monday, Wednesday and Saturday 10.30 AM to 6 PM; Thursday, Friday and Sunday 12 PM to 6 PM; Thursdays during the month of August, the museum remains open until 8.30 PM
Day of closure: Tuesdays.
The museum is closed on the following holidays: 25 December, 1 January, 1 November, 11 November, 18 March, Easter Sunday, 1 May.

Admission ticket: full 8.00 euros; reduced 5.00 euros; reduced for tourism operators partnered with the museum 4.00 euros.