The feminine universe in the Castle’s history

Sibyl Eritrea (1550/1600) by unknownCastello Odescalchi

Woman at the fountain, Unknown, 1490/1500, From the collection of: Castello Odescalchi
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Throughout the centuries, the presence of women within the Bracciano Castle walls – in the roles of ladies in waiting, brides and guests – has influenced political and artistic events. The works housed in the Castle provide previously unknown fragments of the private lives of these women, hitherto little known and often elusive.

Fresco of the women's room (1490/1499)Castello Odescalchi


In the year 1496 Bartolomea Orsini, sister of Gentil Virginio and wife of military leader Bartolomeo d’Alviano, displayed her brave temperament in defending the feud of Bracciano from the siege staged by Pope Alessandro VI Borgia’s army.

The serene, almost idyllic atmosphere that enveloped the Castle, the nearby lake and surrounding woods in times of peace is evoked in the fresco cycle in the Sala delle Donne. These frescoes, probably from a transalpine school of painters, illustrate – presumably under the guidance of an anonymous lady client – the feminine universe outside and inside the Castle on the cusp of the Fifteenth Century. They depict salient episodes from courtly life of the period represented with a fresh and occasionally naive style that resembles the famous painting cycles of international gothic style.

Hall of the Armor (1520)Castello Odescalchi

At the start of the XVI century the erudite Felice della Rovere (1483-1536), wife of Giangiordano Orsini – whose relevance to the Castle’s history was recently discovered thanks to Anna Cavallaro’s research – commissioned an elegant pictorial frieze designed for the Main Hall of the Representation Wing. The frieze aimed at glorifying the members of the Orsini family, side by side with illustrious personalities and heroines of ancient history.

Portrait of Maria Felice Orsini (1650/1660) by UnknownCastello Odescalchi

In 1552 12-year-old Felice Orsini (? – 1596), sister of Paolo Giordano I, educated and highly appreciated for her melodious voice, was wed to Marcantonio II Colonna, thus sanctioning a period of peaceful alliance between the two powerful Roman families. A few years later, the Castle, refurbished by order of her uncle Cardinal Sforza of Santa Fiora and young Paolo Giordano, was preparing to receive Noblewoman Isabella dei Medici.

A few years later, the Castle, refurbished by order of her uncle Cardinal Sforza of Santa Fiora and young Paolo Giordano, was preparing to receive Noblewoman Isabella dei Medici. Maria Felice Orsini (1599-1666) was born from the marriage of Virginio II, son of Isabella and Paolo Giordano, with Noblewoman Flavia Peretti Damasceni.

Her portrait as an adult woman is displayed in a large painting found in the Castle’s northern wing.

Margherita Gonzaga d'Este by UnknownCastello Odescalchi

The duchess, following the sudden death of her noble spouse French colonel Duke of Montmorency, retired to a life of solitude in the convent of Notre-Dame di Moulins.

Young Maria Felice had been held at baptism by Duchess Margherita Gonzaga d’Este, whose portrait - long confused with that of Isabella dei Medici – is kept in the Sala Orsini of the Castle, thus reflecting a complex net of relationships between the Orsini and other powerful dynasties of the time.

Portrait of Christine Queen of Sweden (1650/1655) by UnknownCastello Odescalchi

Corelli, La Follia

Among the most illustrious guests in the Castle’s long history Queen Christina of Sweden holds a special place. A painting of large dimensions depicts her in the guise of a young queen, commemorating her visit to the Castle, a guest of Paolo Giordano II Orsini, in December 1655. The Duke of Bracciano, infatuated by the queen’s fame, initiated an intense exchange of letters discussing cultural issues. Thus, the queen’s first visit to Italy was a good opportunity to pay the Duke a visit, repaying him for the gif of his lasting and sincere friendship.

Isabella Appiani (1650) by Guglielmo FiammingoCastello Odescalchi

The golden age of the Orsini ended with the wife of Paolo Giordano II, Duchess Isabella Appiani of Piombino (1577-1661), whom we can see in an intense marble portrait carved in the mid-seventeenth century by the sculptor William the Flemish. Coupled with the bust of the Duke of Bracciano, it was an effective representation of the two Orsini at the height of their power, united by their mutual love for art, which had elevated them to the rank of illustrious patrons of Baroque culture.

Credits: Story

virtual exhibition by Eleonora Chinappi

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