Last update 27 November 2023
Located in the northern part of the city, but separate from the inhabited area, it is still characterised by a sense of majestic severity. The palace was built in the 50ies and 60ies of the 16th century, upon will of the duchess Margaret of Austria, wife of Ottavio Farnese; it was located in the area of the Visconti Citadel, aiming to construct a stately residence for the dukes, which would have to symbolize the power of the Farnese family. The architect in charge of the project was Jacopo Barozzi, known as Vignola.
History of the Palace
The construction of Palazzo Farnese was commissioned by the duchess of Parma and Piacenza, Margaret of Austria (1522-1586), the daughter of Charles 5th and wife to Ottavio Farnese.
The architect Francesco Paciotto (1521-1591) had initially been in charge of the residence construction. The first project, carried out in 1558, aimed to exploit the old foundations of the Visconti Castle, previously built upon request of Galeazzo Visconti in 1352. The long absence of the architect and the impossibility to use the old foundations convinced the dukes to ask another architect: Jacopo Barozzi known as Vignola (1507-1573), who had already worked at the villa in Caprarola.
In the project, dated 1561, Vignola thought of expanding the four wings of the building and to increase the width of the yard. The lack of funds prevented the completion of the project, as a matter of fact the part which was built corresponds to the half of the building designed by Vignola.
The decadence of the palace began with the extinction of the Farnese dynasty and the transfer of their wealth to the Borbone. In 1734 Carlo Borbone (1716-1788), after becoming king of Naples, moved all the paintings and furniture from the palace to Naples. Further ransacked by Napoleon’s troops in 1803, the palace was subsequently occupied by the homeless during the second world war. In 1965 the ‘Ente per il restauro e l’utilizzazione di Palazzo Farnese’ (Board for the restoration of Palazzo Farnese) began restoring the palace. In 1976 the whole complex, which was still state property, was given to the Municipality of Piacenza, which made it the headquarters of the ‘Musei Civici’ (Municipal Museums). In 1988 the first section of the Museums was inaugurated; the complex grew in the following years until it finally included all the four sections. In 2014 the palace became a Municipal property.
At the end of the 50ies, after years of abandonment and improper use, it was finally possible to restore the palace by Vignola and the Visconti citadel and to transform it into the suitable location where to display the historical and arts collections of Piacenza.
With this aim, in 1965, ‘Ente per il restauro e l’utilizzazione di Palazzo Farnese’ (Board for the restoration of Palazzo Farnese) was born , founded by ‘Ente Provinciale per il Turismo’ (Province Tourist Board), ‘Comune di Piacenza’ (Municipality of Piacenza), ‘Provincia’ ( Province) and ‘Camera di Commercio’ (Chamber of Commerce). The appointed chairman was sen. Alberto Spigaroli, who stayed in charge until his death in August 2014.
The first works were dedicated to the plastering of the interiors and the cleaning of the beautiful stuccoes of the three floors of the eastern side rooms. Besides, the floors of these rooms were restored or remade.
At the beginning of the 90ies the rooms on the first floor were finally suitable to gather and display the collections of the art gallery, and the following parts of the palace were also restored: the ducal chapel, the basement, the building leaning on the yard, the outer façades of the palace; what is more, the valuable paving of the great yard was also remade.
The palace is similar to other buildings by Vignola, such as Palazzo Farnese in Caprarola. It is also possible to compare it to another contemporary project, the Louvre Palace, by the architect from Bologna Sebastiano Serlio (475-1554), who had a great influence on Vignola.
The large diagonal niches, as large as the arcades in the loggia, make the inner ward look larger, and may be compared to Bramante’s works in Cortile del Belvedere, or those by Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane in ‘Porta Santo Spirito’, and the vaulted ceiling in San Pietro Basilica, which had been designed by Michelangelo and had supplied a further development, as well as a stimulus to the following generations. The many windows suggest a great number of rooms and the magnificence of the interiors: functionality goes along with elegance. In the yard, opposite the entrance, there would have to be the outdoor theatre, which was going to entertain the dukes and their court.
The wooden model
The wooden 3D model of Palazzo Farnese is displayed in the second room of the museum ground floor, where there are some panels describing the story of the project, the clients and the architect. The 1:50 scale model, carried out by the architect Enrico Bergonzoni, shows what the palace would have been like if it had been completed according to Vignola’s project. The reconstruction was based on 8 drawings carried out by Giacinto Vignola to illustrate his father’s project and were sent in 1561 to the Duchess for approval; they are currently kept in Parma State Archives.
The ducal chapel
On the first floor, next to the grandiose stairway, you may find the ducal chapel, also known as Caramosino’s, after the name of its presumed builder. The chapel was not included in Vignola’s project, since the architect had thought about smaller and more modest oratories and places of worship.
The design of this chapel is not to be attributed to Bernardino Panizzari, also known as Caramosino, but to Lattanzio Papio, approximately in the years 1597-1601.
Octagonal in shape, with double volume dimensions magnifying the final effect, the place is characterised by the succession of flat and concave surfaces. During the half of the 17th century official or private ceremonies were celebrated here. It is an elegant and sophisticated place, majestic and austere in its lines, hidden and protected by the imposing structure of the Palace.