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The Room of Saturn in Pitti Palace

  • The Room of Saturn in Pitti Palace

    A history of the arrangements in the Room of Saturn, from the 16th Century to the present day.

    The Room of Saturn in Pitti Palace
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    The original layout of Pitti Palace

    Pitti Palace is the result of no less than three centuries of transformations and expansions, brought together to form the spectacularly stunning facade that welcomes visitors, making them feel as though they were at the centre of an enormous theatrical scene as soon as they enter the square from the side streets or alleys called “sdruccioli” in front of it. But how was Pitti Palace at the start? We can find out by looking at this view by Giusto Utens, painted in the late 16th century and one of a series of 17 canvases that recorded, like a map, the magnificence of the grand duchy’s estates. In this painting, we can see a view of the old 15th-century palace that belonged to the rich Florentine banker, Luca Pitti, its first owner. Wishing to have a new building that would stand out within the Florence’s urban setting, he ordered the building of a monumental facade in rustic ashlar stone, set out on three perfectly equal floors: the bottom floor had three large doors - two of which would then be closed and reduced to the windows we see today- and there were perfectly symmetrical first and second floors, each with seven large windows. The style of Luca Pitti’s palace was thus not unlike those of the typical Florentine models of the 15th century, such as the Medici, Strozzi or Rucellai Palaces.

    Luca Pitti’s brief fortune also led to the suspension of building works, although only the facade and some rooms were left to complete. It was not until 1549, when Eleanor of Toledo, wife of Grand Duke Cosimo I, bought the palace to build a noble residence, surrounding by greenery, and larger and more light and airy than the residence of Palazzo Vecchio, which was now too small to meet the needs of the court.

    The renovations were carried out between 1551 and 1559 by Giorgio Vasari and Bernardo Buontalenti; however, the most consistent transformation of the palace was the work of Bartolomeo Ammannati, and was begun in 1561. This architect and sculptor extended the old 15th-century palace towards the Boboli Hill, adding two large wings at the back to create a building in the shape of a horseshoe and then realizing a monumental courtyard on three levels with open loggias on the central side. This is the image handed down from the lunette by Utens.

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    Pitti Palace today

    From 1618, the needs of the court led Cosimo II to commission architect Giulio Parigi, Ammannati’s nephew, and his son, Alfonso, to enlarge the palace again. The ground and first floors were extended to the right and left, adding eight windows per side, corresponding to the large reception rooms opening onto the square. On the ground floor were the apartments destined for summer use, which today house the Treasury of the Grand Dukes. On the first floor was the group of winter apartments, used by the Grand Duke and his family. The palace was gradually taking on its definitive shape.

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    The Planet Rooms

    At the time of their creation, these rooms were visited in reverse order to the way they are today, starting with the Room of Venus, immediately after the Room of the Niches. Each room had its own precise function within the apartments of Grand Duke Ferdinand II, and the walls, covered with fabrics or hangings, were also home to a select number of paintings and objects.
    As for the frescoes, the main scenes are accompanied by square side panels illustrating episodes from mythology and ancient history, portraits of illustrious personages from the Medici family, allegorical figures that allude to the virtues of the prince and inscriptions that accompany and comment on the general subject.
    Each room, together with its group of pictorial decorations, corresponds to one of the ages in the life of the sovereign prince, from his youth until adulthood: the renunciation of pleasures offered by Venus to take the path of virtue (Room of Venus); the artistic and literary education (Room of Apollo), the acquisition of the heroic virtues of war (Room of Mars); the triumph of the virtues linked to good governance (Room of Jupiter), and lastly, the valour of old age, crowned by the ruler’s fame and glory (Room of Saturn).

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    Ferdinand II de' Medici and the decoration of the new facade rooms (1640-1655)

    Ferdinand II de’ Medici, portrayed in this painting by Suttermans, commissioned Pietro da Cortona to paint frescos in the new reception rooms on the first floor. Each of these rooms was given the name of a planet from the solar system: Venus, Apollo, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

    These rooms were a completely new feature, because the architectural structure of the vaults was modelled by a complex and articulated division that together with the painted sections, served to create the surprising effect of an open, limitless space that had never been seen in Florence before.

    The cycle, painted in various stages between 1640 and 1665, all focused on two main actors: Hercules, mythological figure who was dear to the Medici family, and Prince Ferdinando II. This latter, room by room, was set out to create a path of education and human and spiritual growth under Hercules’ watchful eye, to conquer eternal glory and fame, like gods and heroes, receiving his crown from the hands of Jupiter. The choice of astronomical subjects was also a tribute to Galileo Galilei, who had discovered Jupiter’s satellites and decided to call them “Medicean Stars” in honour of Grand Duke Cosimo II, Ferdinand II’s father.

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    The Saturn Room frescoes

    Known as the Audience Chamber, this room is entirely the work of Ciro Ferri, a pupil of Pietro da Cortona. It is the last in the series of the Planet Rooms and is the first of the Grand Duke’s private apartments.
    The central fresco concludes with the parable of the prince’s earthly life, now close to an end, having completed the journey of identification with the Medici's hero, Hercules, and as an immortal being, he is conducted into the Empyrean, by Prudence and Mars. Here he is awaited by Kronos/Saturn, the divinity who symbolises Time, to be crowned by Fame, while Perfection points him towards the heavens and therefore, to eternity.

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    The 1638 inventory

    In the period in which the Planet cycle was being decorated, the facade rooms did not yet contain the collections of paintings that we admire today. In fact, the paintings were just one of the furnishing elements, together with furniture, ornaments, and fabrics. The 1638 inventory tells us that the room contained tables in semiprecious stones, velvet hangings, secretaries (small cabinets with drawers, fitted with writing tables), and some paintings that are still part of the collections in the Palatine Gallery, including The Calling of St. Peter and St. Andrew by Ludovico Cardi, known as Cigoli, which we can see in this picture.
    Between 1663 and 1664, the room was still being finished, and shortly after this time, six tapestries were added, featuring the Stories of Cosimo by the workshop of Pietro Fèvere from drawings by Giacinto Gimignani, Vincenzo Dandini and others, together with a canopy in red velvet with wide golden fringe.
    In the Habsburg Lorraine period, when the Grand Duke’s apartments were moved to the opposite wing, the quarters by Pietro da Cortona became the home to the Painting Collection, which was soon to be opened to the public. Among other works, the Room of Saturn hosted The Old Rabbi by Rembrandt, the Madonna of the Baldacchino by Raphael, and The Concert by Titian.

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    Inghirami’s guide from 1828

    Southern wall

    The sovereign mercy of Grand Duke Leopold II allows lovers of the Fine Arts to see the Gallery on
    week days from 9 o’clock in the morning until three o’clock in the afternoon

    The image that opened before the eyes of visitors to the Palatine Gallery at the time of its opening in 1828 was quite similar to the one we see today. The paintings were set out in rows, one above the other, following customary way of displaying noble painting collections in the 17th and 18th centuries. The photomontages show a reconstruction of the position of the paintings on the three walls, leaving the facade wall empty.Some techniques put in place by registrar, Antonio Ramirez Montalvo, allowed the works to be enjoyed even more fully. These included the way in which they were secured to the wall using pins set into the sides of the frame, so that they could be turned to show the reverse side or moved to benefit from the light.

    In the photomontage it is possible to see some works that today are on view elsewhere like the Witchcraft by Dosso Dossi, now at the Uffizi, over the door frame, the Nymph and the Satyr by the same artist on the right corner, the Titianesque Portrait of Pope Julius II by Raphael to the left of the door, Mary Magdalene by Domenichino now in the adjacent Room of Iliad and two paintings featuring the Virgin with the Baby by Domenico Puligo.

    Still in the same place are the large canvases of Cain and Abel by Schiavone and the two small paintings by Carlo Dolci.

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    Inghirami’s guide from 1828

    Eastern wall

    On the main wall, large panels alternated with small paintings, set out like altar pieces to create a symmetrical effect.

    The three large altarpieces of the wall have been left in the same position described by Inghirami in his 1828 guide, while other works have been located elsewhere, like Apollo and the Muses by Baldassarre Peruzzi, moved to the Room of Prometheus, and the Scali Annunciation by Andrea del Sarto, now located over the southern wall’s door frame of the Room of Saturn itself.

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    Inghirami’s guide from 1828

    The 1828 guide reports that originally also on this wall have some artworks been hanged to be later moved elsewhere. Among these ones Cleopatra by Guido Reni and the Portrait of Charles I of England and Henrietta Maria of France by Antoon Van Dyck, both ones now on view in the Room of Apollo, The Ten Thousand Martyrs by Pontormo, The Three Ages of Man by Giorgione, moved to the Room of Jupiter, and the Portrait of Cardinal Bibbiena, now on the left corner of the Southern Wall of the Room of Saturn itself.

    The works which have preserved the same locations reported by Inghirami in the 19th century are the Martyr of Saint Agatha by Sebastiano del Piombo over the door frame, the Portrait of Fedra Inghirami by Raphael on the right corner and the large panel with the Disputation on the Trinity by Andrea del Sarto. In the new arrangement the small and precious panel of the Vision of Ezekiel by Raphael has been located on this wall in its original position. By fixing it with the pivots still preserved on the wall from the Habsburg-Lorraine period, these hinges have thus recovered the function they originally had.   

    The Room of Saturn, with the Madonna del Baldacchino, the portraits of Fedra Inghirami, of Cardinale Bibbiena, and the small, extremely precious board depicting Ezekiel's Vision, became from that time on, the room reserved to Raphael.

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    Arrangement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries

    Taken by Alinari between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, this old photograph is a precious document of the way the Room of Saturn was set out in that period. We can note some of the changes compared to the original arrangement, the most obvious being the replacement of the copy of the Portrait of Julius II by Titian with the Madonna della Seggiola by Raphael, moved from the nearby Room of Jupiter, which added to the number of paintings by Raphael displayed here.

    Even infidels would worship”, wrote Thomas Watkins in 1794, about this painting which was to a certain extent the image that symbolised the collections in Pitti Palace.

    Alongside the round painting by Raphael, is a copyist stool and an easel with a copy of the work. The Madonna della Seggiola was in fact one of the most copied paintings by young artists in training, seeking to learn the secrets of drawing and colours; however, it was also a favourite with more expert artists who enjoyed a flourishing trade thanks to the fact that foreign visitors to Florence were eager to take back with them a souvenir of one of the major figures of the Florentine collections.

    Given the large demand for permits, which were not easily obtained, copyists had to comply with strict rules and spend as little time as possible on their job so as not to deprive the public of a view onto one of the museum’s most important masterpieces.

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    Room arrangement in the early 20th century

    The photo from the period shows the aspect of the Room in the period immediately before the Second World War.

    The Room had become home to the majority of the Gallery’s works by Raphael, set out so that the subjects would match one another elegantly: on the right the Madonna della Seggiola, near the door, and on the left the Portrait of Cardinal Bibbiena. In the following picture from the same period also the opposite wall is discernible with the so-called Grand Duke’s Madonna and the Portrait of Fedra Inghirami symmetrically set out so as to build up an interplay among all the works by Raphael, which has been preserved so far.

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    Room arrangement in the early 20th century

    The picture, from the same period of the previous one, gives clear evidence of where the Portraits of Agnolo and Maddalena Doni were: on the main wall, under the Madonna del Baldacchino, where they had been since the century before after they were purchased by Leopold II in 1826 to be initially hung in the Room of Apollo. The two portraits, placed at the sides of Ezekiel’s Vision, were hung “bilicati”, meaning they were hooked to the wall using side pins so that they could be turned to be admired in the best possible light.

    On the right, below the large canvas of Salvator Mundi by Fra’ Bartolomeo, it is possible to recognize Mary Magdalene by Perugino, which has today returned into the Room of Saturn after a long period during which it was hung in the Room of Flora. 

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    Room arrangement until yesterday

    The paintings by Raphael were not moved again until 2018, when the Portraits of Agnolo and Maddalena Doni were placed under the Madonna del Baldacchino together with Ezekiel’s Vision.

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    Moving the Portraits of Agnolo and Maddalena Doni

    On 4 June 2018, the Portraits of Agnolo and Maddalena Doni were moved at the wishes of Director, Eike Schmidt, and are now on display in the Room of Michelangelo and Raphael (Room no. 41) in the Uffizi, alongside the famous Tondo Doni commissioned by the couple from Michelangelo in the early 16th century.

    The two paintings are now inside transparent showcases that allow us to admire the allegories painted on the backs of the two boards, which depict the Flood and the myth of Deucalion and Pyrrha, by an unknown Florentine artist, known as Maestro di Serumido.

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    Transfer of Raphael’s works from the Uffizi

    With this recent transfer, the Room of Saturn now contains nine paintings by Raphael. We can see the new arrangement, with the arrival of the two Portraits of Men by Raphael from the Uffizi, together with the Magdalene by Perugino, which has been returned to the position it had in the early 20th century.

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    Transfer of Raphael’s works from the Uffizi

    The room now also contains the Portrait of Julius II, which has come back to the Palatine Gallery after being moved to the Uffizi in the mid-20th century. Visitors can now admire it and compare it with the illustrious copy by Titian on display in the Room of Venus.

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    The Room of Saturn today

    This panoramic view shows us the Room of Saturn after recent alterations to its arrangement.

    The small panel of the Vision of Ezekiel by Raphael has been located in its original position on the Northern wall thus recovering the ancient hinges from the Habsburg-Lorraine period.

    After completion of the restoration restoration interventions, on the opposite wall to the Portrait of Julius II, another masterpiece by Raphael will be hung here: the Portrait of Pope Leo X with cardinals Giulio de' Medici and Luigi de' Rossi, making its return to the Gallery after being moved to the Uffizi in the 1950s.

The Room of Saturn in Pitti Palace

A history of the arrangements in the Room of Saturn, from the 16th Century to the present day.


Scientific Coordinator: Anna Bisceglia

Texts: Fulvia Andreoni, Anna Bisceglia, Arianna Ingrassia

Photo and Picture processing: Arianna Ingrassia, Omar Nappini


Please note: Each image in this virtual tour may be enlarged for more detailed viewing. 

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