From collecting to the Museum
Towards the end of the 19th century, following a long period of decadence, the Castle of Bracciano flourished and found new life under the guidance of Prince Baldassarre III Odescalchi (1844- 1909), first-born to Livio III and Polish Countess Zofia Katarzyna Branicka. Giovanni Torlonia acquired the castle in the beginning of the 19th century, wih the Odescalchi family recovering it in 1848. However, it was only thanks to Baldassare’s commitment and passion that the manor could rise once more to its previous splendour and glory.
Baldassarre, who was definitely not a typical Roman aristocrat, left Rome after graduating from university. He embarked on a political career, taking part in the movement of post-unity liberals The public image of a senator-prince from the Kingdom of Italy is visible in various portraits, some of which appeared on the covers of his writings (such as Lettere Sociali, Rome, 1892). A marble bust dating from the cusp of the 19th century can be found in the private apartment of the Castle. The bust portrays a stern public image of the Roman aristocrat.
Another work of art guarded in the west wing of the Bracciano residence shows him in an entirely different light. It is a unique painting, signed by the Roman painter Attilio Simonetti, who was a disciple of Spanish artist Mariano Fortuny. It depicts the Prince’s face on an embossed canvas. The painting is an intimate and introspective image dominated by the subject’s cerulean eyes and his long reddish beard interspersed with lighter touches of colour, which represent the inexorable passage of time.
Baldassarre, along with his interest in politics, was a great lover of art and had an innate passion for collecting. The Bracciano Castle, his ancient family home, offered the Prince an ideal background to cultivate ancient art, particularly the late Middle Ages, which at that time was just beginning to undergo renewed appreciation.
The birth of national museums, hosted within historical residences – coupled with the need to restore the Castle to its former glory – inspired the Prince to begin restoration works under the architect Raffaele Ojetti. The lengthy and complex refurbishing interventions, aimed at restoring the Castle’s original appearance, were completed at the end of the 19th century. Thus, the Castle’s original lustre, only apparently tarnished by the passing of time, was revived.
The Castle - through the creation of a veritable museum - became an ideal setting to exhibit the antiques and vintage furniture that Odescalchi so appreciated. This process started with the Prince’s visit in 1874 to the South Kensington Museum of London, subsequently transformed into the prestigious Victoria and Albert Museum. The next step was the creation of the Museo Artistico
Industriale of Rome, which Baldassarre supported and promoted. It was therefore only natural that the family residence be transformed into a Museum.
Once the restoration was completed, Baldassarre concentrated on setting up the various rooms, making good use of anything that had survived the manor’s vicissitudes, above all enriching them with furniture, precious furnishings and pieces of art. Part of this project was the commission of a neogothic bedroom from a Roman workshop.
Baldassarre’s collecting passion is at the heart of the Castle’s extraordinary collection of antique ceramics: albarellos, apothecary jars and decorative plates, enhanced by leaf decorations, stems and mythological figures, created in the worskhops of Faenza, Montelupo Fiorentino, Caltagirone and Albissola between the 15th and 18th centuries.
Baldassarre was not the only one with a passion for collecting; his younger brother Ladislao was also a passionate art conosseur. The splendid collection of ancient weapons, a major highlight of the Museum, was Ladislao’s project.
The weapons collection began to take shape at the end of the 19th century, following a meeting between collectors Giuseppe Fantappiè and Vincenzo Ciampoli, followed by contacts with leading European antiques dealers. The lavish collection, initially meant for the Roman palazzo of Santi Apostoli, is currently housed between the Bracciano Castle and the Museum of Palazzo Venezia. The Museum in Bracciano features white weapons, firearms, and jousting weapons produced in the most famous forges in Europe between the 15th and 18th centuries.
Baldassare’s dream finally came to life in 1954 with the official opening to the public of the Castle-Museum, promoted by his nephew Livio IV. The Museum flourishes today thanks to the dedication with which Maria Pace Odescalchi pursues the goals of protection, conservation and enhancement of the Castle as a cultural hub.
virtual exhibition by Eleonora Chinappi
photo by Claudia Primangeli