A Temple of Virtue in Cuneo, 1668

Taking the Waters as Court Event in Seicento Piedmont

Duchess Maria Giovanna Battista of Savoy-Nemours took a summer holiday in 1668, leaving the city heat in Turin behind her and heading for the small spa town of Valdieri in a cool mountain valley in southern Piedmont.  The waters in Valdieri had been recommended to her by her doctors for their beneficial effects, particularly as she hoped to have a second child to join her frail son, the heir to the duchy, born in 1666.

Her journey to Valdieri, accompanied by her husband, the duke, proceeded in stages over the course of several days, and on the way, the small town of Savigliano prepared an elaborate entertainment for the duchess (the later Madama Reale) and her entourage on 1 July 1668.  This ephemeral festival was recorded in a lavish illustrated publication, now exceedingly rare, Emanuele Filiberto Panealbo’s Relatione della solenne entrata fatta nella città di Sauigliano… (Turin, 1668).  On the basis of Panealbo’s book and additional sources, several scholars have recounted the details of the Savigliano festival – most recently Francesca Filippi.  The rest of the duchess’s trip, however, has received less attention, and one might assume that the festivities in Savigliano were an isolated highlight of the excursion.  But an early eighteenth-century chronicle tells of a further stop on the journey, in the provincial town of Cuneo, where another festival was staged for the court.

Savigliano 1668The court entourage entering Savigliano on 1 July 1668
Source: E. F. Panealbo, Relatione della solenne entrata… (Turin: Bartolomeo Zavatta, 1668) | Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale Firenze

No visiual evidence survives for the Cuneo festival, but the chronicle Secoli della città di Cuneo gives a fairly thorough description of the ephemeral apparatus constructed, and clearly attributes its design to Guarino Guarini. The chronicle relates that upon learning of the duchess’s intention to visit, the city council immediately began to plan the most dignified reception possible for her:

“Among the other architects…they asked, one was Padre Guarino, Theatine, who had a reputation as an excellent man for designs and machines, who did not fail to serve the city on this occasion: embellishing the square with a Temple of Virtue, which made a magnificent appearance, since it was a construction of graceful and noble invention, which then, filled with fireworks, was to burn in the presence of the Madama Reale.  Orders were given to the militias to parade and to the bombers to set up the artillery.

When the day of the twelfth of July finally arrived, on which they were to receive the Madama Reale, the whole was prepared wtih much expediency, the militias parading inside and outside the city in good order, the most illustrious nobility of the city riding on horseback to meet the sovereign duchess, accompanying her to the city gate, where, once arrived, she received the keys to the city amongst joyous bursts of cannons, and then took to her lodgings in the governor’s palace.  In the evening, the entire city was illuminated, and fireworks were set off in the presence of Her Royal Highness, the court, and a great number of people, some of whom had come from far away to enjoy such noble entertainments.”

Early modern Cuneo in a map of 1753. The governor’s palace where the duchess stayed is no. 1, at the lower right
Source: gallica.bnf.fr | Bibliothèque nationale de France

Since the pace of the duchess’s travel and the length of her stay in Valdieri are uncertain, it is not entirely clear if the stop in Cuneo on 12 July 1668 occurred on the way to or from the spa. Nor does the chronicle expressly mention whether or not the duke was also present – suggesting he did not accompany his wife to Cuneo. The city of Cuneo probably hoped to repeat the success of a previous ephemeral event it had organized in honor of members of the Savoy dynasty twenty-five years earlier: a triumphal entry of the first Madama Reale, Cristina, and her daughter Ludovica. The mother- and sister-in-law, respectively, of Maria Giovanna Battista, they had celebrated Ludovica’s marriage to her uncle Maurizio of Savoy, ending the dynastic civil war. The 1643 triumphal entry had been recorded in a handsome engraving. But how might the 1668 Temple of Virtue have looked, and what was its place in Guarini’s oeuvre?

festival piazza castello GALLICAAmedeo di Castellamonte, Temple of Virtues, Piazza Castello, Turin, 11 April 1678 (later engraving signed with initials P.B.F., c. 1680). Perhaps Guarini’s 1668 Temple of Virtue in Cuneo looked something like this – but more Guarinian.
Source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France. The BNF catalogue record (mis?)identifies the engraving as depicting a later marriage celebration.

The attribution of the Cuneo Temple of Virtue to the Theatine, less than two years after his arrival in Turin from Paris, furnishes a new detail about his early work for the Savoy dynasty. Like most architects connected with Baroque courts, Guarini designed ephemeral structures and other festival apparatuses throughout his career. Specific events are documented in Modena, Messina, and Turin ranging from religious and court festivals to a theatrical production. Unfortunately, as is often the case, we have no visual evidence for any of these designs.

The 1668 festival in Cuneo is perhaps the first recorded use of a “Temple of Virtue” for the Madama Reale, but the iconography seems to have suited her, since ten years later a “Temple of Virtues” formed the centerpiece of her first public festival in Turin as regent, celebrated after completing the period of mourning for her late husband Carlo Emanuele II (died 1675). The occasion was her birthday, on 11 April 1678, and the ephemeral structures were recorded in an engraving (shown above in a later but nearly identical reissued version). Although the architect for the 1678 apparatus was Amedeo di Castellamonte rather than Guarini, the image gives us some idea of what was understood by an ephemeral Temple of Virtue in Baroque Piedmont. Related iconography was used in the gardens at Venaria Reale during the 1670s.

The chronicle passage describing Guarini’s temporary structure in Cuneo serves as a reminder to look beyond the visually appealing drawings and engravings of such festivals to consider the even more abundant textual evidence for early modern court ephemera.

Stations of Maria Giovanna Battista’s itinerary, summer 1668

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Sources and further reading:

Emanuele Filiberto Panealbo, Relatione della solenne entrata fatta nella città di Sauigliano dalle regali altezze Carlo Emanuel II et Maria Giouanna Battista di Nemours, il primo di luglio 1668 (Turin: Per Bartolomeo Zavatta, 1668).

Francesco Domenico Barisano, La piscina salutare in Piemonte ne’ bagni di Valdieri (Turin: Per B. Zapatta, 1674): 15.

Teofilo Partenio, Secoli della città di Cuneo (Mondovì: Vincenzo & Gio. Francesco Rossi, 1710): 240.

Mercedes Viale Ferrero, catalogue entries 89, 96 in Diana trionfatrice: arte di corte nel Piemonte del Seicento, ed. Michela di Macco and Giovanni Romano (Turin: Umberto Allemandi & C., 1989): 84-85, 90.

Elisabeth Blair MacDougall, “Venaria Reale: Ambition and Imitation in a Seventeenth-Century Villa,” Fountains, Statues, and Flowers: Studies in Italian Gardens of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1994): 143-217, here 183-4.

Francesca Filippi, “Archi trionfali nel Piemonte meridionale, 1560-1668,” in G. Romano, G. Spione, eds., Una gloriosa sfida: opere d’arte a Fossano, Saluzzo, Savigliano, 1550-1750 (Caraglio: Edizione Marcovaldo, 2004): 154-180.

Luciana Manzo and Fulvio Peirone, Pubbliche allegrezze: feste e potere a Torino dal Cinquecento all’Ottocento (Turin: Archivio storico della città di Torino, 2007).

Valdieri. Bains. Savoie: dessin / Hubert Clerget, c. 1800
Source: gallica.bnf.fr