Sassuolo's Ducal Palace

The history of today’s Ducal Palace dates back to 1634 when the preexisting castle complex (already belonging to the Este Family and, subsequently, to the Pio Family of Savoia) was converted into a summer palace upon Francesco I of Este’s wishes. He was the young duke who brought the house of Este in the dukedom of Modena and Reggio back to its original splendor, after the loss of Ferrara in 1598 and the transfer of the capital to Modena. The Palace, which was also given the name “Delight” on account of its beauty and that of its landscape, is a real jewel of Italian Baroque art. It was built in the heart of the city, surrounded by gardens and a huge park in accordance with the project of the Roman Bartolomeo Avanzini. It is characterized by decorative solutions which were inspired by the famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini with contributions from Gaspare Vigarani, especially for the Fish Pond, an amazing “theatre of waters”. He was the engineer and stage designer of the house of Este and had also worked for Louis 14th of France.

The palace has been the headquarters of the Military Academy of Modena ever since 1941, and since 29th May 2004 it has been entrusted to the Superintendence for Historical, Artistic and Ethnoanthropologica l Heritage of Modena and Reggio Emilia and it is a national museum open to the public. The restoration of the palace, thanks to intense refurbishment and now housing a museum, allows for full use of the first floor, with its ducal and State apartments, and part of the ground floor with its reception rooms and the Giganti Apartment.

The first floor is accessed through the Grand Staircase of Honour and it is possible to visit 27 rooms which make up the Ducal Apartments, so-called because they were originally of exclusive use of the Este family: the Bacchus Gallery, the Duke’s Apartment, the Hall of the Guards, the Duchess’s Apartment, the stuccoed Apartment.

Despite the fact that there are still traces of antique decorations from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, today, the rooms on the ground floor appear in their baroque style, frescoed, by 1658, by a team of artists who were well able to interpret Francesco of Este’s artistic passion and his desire for grandeur. Jean Boulanger, the court of Este’s official artist, and the Bolognese trompe l’oeil painters Angelo Michele Colonna and Agostino Mitelli are protagonists of the fresco decoration, together with numerous other artists and skillful plastic sculptors. The rooms were furnished according to the baroque taste of the time, with paintings by famous artists like Guercino and Salvatore Rosa commissioned by the Duke.

Allegoric, mythological, literary and historical scenes are depicted on the walls and the ceilings which exalt the Este dynasty and the ideals of Duke Francesco’s “good governance”. These paintings are inserted within astonishing trompe l’oeil, architecture of deceit, which virtually multiply space in search of the baroque effects of illusion and wonder.

Contemporary works of art by American and European artists commissioned in 2001 for the Monochromatic Light exhibition by Giovanna and Giuseppe Panza di Biumo for these rooms (these works of art were subsequently donated to the State in 2005) can be found in the ornate frames in the Stuccoed Apartment which used to house seventeenth century paintings, now nearly all irretrievable. These present works were commissioned for these rooms in 2001 on the occasion of the Monochromatic light exhibition by Giovanna and Giuseppe Panza di Biumo (and subsequently donated to the State in 2005). The paintings are consistent with the conceptual expressions of Minimal Art. 

St Francis’s “palatine” church, a precious example of the Este baroque style, is perched on the della Rosa Square, opposite the Fish Pond. It was built in 1653 by Bartolomeo Avanzini upon Francesco I of Este’s wishes, as a ducal chapel connected to the Palace through an inner passageway. Inside lie frescoes by Gian Giacomo Monti and Baldassarre Bianchi, with contributions by Jean Boulanger in the figurative parts. A Crucifix known as the Santo Tronco can also be found there. As was tradition, it was given to Marco Pio as a gift from a Turkish maiden during a crusade.

ComuneSassuolo - 41049 (MO)

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