“From this, you could then descend to the enjoyment of the details”. (“Breve ma veridica storia della pittura italiana”, “A brief but true history of Italian painting”).
All our respect and appreciation, then, should be given to what he defines as “the art that mingles with life the most”. Indeed, architecture, by preserving all its historical nuances, can be visually poetic and can give us directions that would guide us on this world.
A lovely walk in the search of the infinite connections between the general and the particular is what we suggest you to do inside Villa Imperiale of Pesaro. In this place, the accuracy of the landscape and the eccentric mannerist taste for the ‘varietas’ blend together.
The architectural site, which is characterised by three terraced gardens that follow the shape of San Bartolo’s hill, is divided in two different but connected parts. The first part, dated back to the second half of 15th century, stands out for the rectangular tower, a heritage of an age that was about end. The part with the tower is the portion of the villa that was built during the reign of Alessandro Sforza from Cotignola (Ravenna). We can find his symbol in the rampant lion that a branch of a quince carries not by chance. The title “Imperiale” derives exactly from this first phase of the construction of the villa. During this phase, the Holy Roman Empire’s Emperor Federico III from Habsburg was invited by Sforza in 1468 to lay the foundation stone of the future noble home. The second part, built in the 16th century, was designed (but never finished for financial reasons) from 1522 by Girolamo Genga, a great architect, set designer and painter in Urbino. In that period, he was at the service of Francesco Maria I della Rovere. His style tastes were linked to those of Luca Signorinelli, Perugino and Raffaello.
The art historian and museologist Anna Maria Petrioli Tofani (who has been mentioned by Pietro Zampetti in the second volume of his “Pittura nelle Marche”) describes Genga’s art as follows: “His preference for the expressive forms of an originality, which sometimes touches the eccentric, already perceptible in his youth’s works, fully adheres to the lexis and syntax norms of Mannerism”. We can experience that in the fine architectural and decorative solutions embraced by the artist, who creates an arched façade with niches that fake an entrance to the villa and a spiral system of narrow intern passages. The main courtyard is also gorgeous. It is decorated with elegant geometric flowerbeds which contribute to give a touch of colour and vibrancy to the brick employed for construction.
The commission intended to create a place suitable for leisure, based on the model of the ancient roman villas: no more a defensive structure with the function of a castle. The two parts of the Imperiale, the one of the 15th century, commissioned by Sforza and the new one, much more spacious, commissioned by Della Rovere, perfectly harmonise despite their distinctive features.
A vital role in the construction of the whole 16th-century-complex – which is connected to the ancient part thanks to an architectural element with an arch in the basis – was played by Eleonora Gonzaga, Francesco Maria I’s wife and humanist from Venise Pietro Bembo, author of the Latin dedicatory script on the min façade of the new wing of the villa, Eleonora’s homage to his husband. She wanted the construction of the New Imperiale and intended to give it as a gift to his husband, whose turbulent life – a life that had always been full of military campaigns through which he wanted keep the dominance of the vast Duckedom safe from the threats of his enemies, among which the most feared was Pope Leone X. A portrait of Francesco Maria I is kept at the Sala della Giunta in Palazzo Comunale of Senigallia.
Once the family Della Rovere was dead in 1631, the villa was assigned to the Medici, then to the Albani, who married into the Castelbarco. Still today the villa is owned by the Castelbarco-Albani of Milan, who open their doors to visitors during the summer period.
The intern rooms of the Imperiale - which have been decorated with frescos probably between 1530 and 32 by a large group of mannerist artists, at the head of whom there was always Genga –are accessible to visitors at the moment (except for some rooms). Moreover, you can admire what the villa provides in terms of landscapes and flowers: the vegetal species that you can find in the visit path include box bushes, myrtle plants, jasmines, climbing roses, pear and apple trees, citron plants – whose cultivation was very flourish at the age of Della Rovere – and further species, such as bamboos, at the meeting spot of visit guides. This rich vegetation during the Covid-19 lockdown took the risk of being mobbed by some herbivores which live in the adjacent areas of the Imperiale’s park.
Every year, many tourists and foreign students come visit this jewel of Marche’s architecture. It appears that the villa is be better known by foreigners than by autochthones. But the remedy is simple: thanks to the Cooperativa Isairon, plans for the summer season guided visits only on reservation every Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning. According to Longhi’s council, it is recommended to take advantage of a visit and a walk through the silent and pleasant spaces of this hidden place in which the aesthetics of gardens and the three-dimensional trompe-l’oeil prevail.