Two jewels of the Baroque, the Ducal Palaces of Modena and Sassuolo

Two masterpieces of Baroque architecture to be found among the beautiful sites of the city and province of Modena

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Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997, Modena is a thriving city dating back to Ancient Rome, located on the Via Emilia, just 45 km from Bologna.

The homeland of the bel canto operatic style thanks to tenor Luciano Pavarotti, it is known all over the world for its wine and cheese delicacies (Balsamic Vinegar, Lambrusco and traditional salami) and for its motorsports tradition, linked to the great sports car brands, such as Ferrari and Lamborghini. Within its historic city centre, visitors will find a very interesting artistic heritage linked to the Este family dynasty, who ruled here for two and a half centuries.

Elected the capital of the Duchy in 1598, Modena, at the time, did not have residences worthy of a sumptuous court like that of the Este family. For this reason, Francesco the First d'Este commissioned the architects Bartolomeo Avanzini and Gian Lorenzo Bernini to design the grand Ducal Palace and, at the same time, to restore the Ducal Palace at Sassuolo.

Ducal Palace of Modena

Today the headquarters of the Military Academy, the Ducal Palace of Modena is considered by many to be the first true Baroque palace in Europe, in which the seventeenth-century canons of art were fully achieved. It is a solemn, elegant building that is considered one of the most prestigious mansions in Europe.

The design of the elegant façade is solid and harmonious, with a central entrance section, flanked by wings with rows of windows on three storeys, crowned by balustrades and statues. The courtyard, with its elegant two-storey loggia, is considered a true masterpiece of Baroque architecture. This area provides access to the monumental staircase that leads to the numerous rooms of the residence, including the Throne Room, the Golden Salon, the Stringa Room [named after Francesco Stringa who painted the ceiling fresco] and the Hall of Honour. The latter, in particular, contains a marvellous ceiling, frescoed by Marcantonio Franceschini, representing Jupiter crowning Bradamante, from whom the Este lineage is descended.

Every year this palace is visited by thousands of tourists who, by reservation only, have the opportunity to take part in guided tours to discover its artistic and cultural treasures.

Ducal Palace of Sassuolo

Not far from Modena, the small town of Sassuolo is home to one of the Delizie Estensi, the Ducal Palace of Sassuolo, considered a veritable jewel of the Baroque tradition of northern Italy.

The building had already been used in the sixteenth century as a summer residence by the Pio family, but starting from 1634 – at the request of the Duke of Modena Francesco the First d'Este – the architect Bartolomeo Avanzini, assisted by the set designer and engineer Gaspare Vigarani, was given the responsibility of transforming this property into a summer palace for the court.

This was how the “palace of enchantments” came into being. It was embellished with fountains and surrounded by gardens and parks, and it beauty was more than capable of bewitching both Diego Velázquez, painter to the King of Spain, and Queen Christina of Sweden.

Its rooms were completely frescoed with wonderful paintings by different artists, including the French Jean Boulanger, official painter of the Este court. Allegorical themes and episodes of family history, mythological heroes and classical and chivalric literature were depicted.

With dramatic visual works of art and theatrical architectural effects, a visit to the Ducal Palace at Sassuolo is an incredible journey into the art of the Baroque that still impresses and fascinates visitors today, just as it once did guests at the court of Duke Francesco the First d'Este.

Last update 11/02/2020