Villa Imperiale of the Sforzas'
The Imperiale of the
Della Rovere family
The most surprising part of the Villa Imperiale in Pesaro is without doubt the wing designed by Urbino architect Girolamo Genga (1476-1551) in 1523 for Duke and Duchess of Urbino, Francesco Maria Della Rovere and Leonora Gonzaga.
Francesco Maria (1490-1538), the son of Giovanni Della Rovere and Giovanna da Montefeltro was adopted by his uncle Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, duke of Urbino. Since 1508, the Della Rovere family lived many a splendour, interrupted only in 1514 by troubling political events.
After being sent into exile by Pope Leo X in 1517, the duke returned to his duchy in 1522, and moved the capital from Urbino to Pesaro where he made a series of important changes including the expansion of Villa Imperiale.
Construction began in 1529: Girolamo Genga restored the original Sforza villa and provided for a cycle of frescos – realized by Francesco Menzocchi, Raffaellino del Colle, Camillo Mantovano and the Dossi brothers – and a new wing. In those years, Genga became the trusted interlocutor of the Duchess, who oversaw the work in her husband’s absence, who was otherwise engaged as capitano generale for the Republic of Venice.
As stated in the Bembo inscription, the Villa Imperiale of Pesaro was a gift from Leonora to the duke who would have gone there to rest after the difficulties of battle. The sixteenth-century wing is perched on the hill owing to a terracing system and has a large number of open spaces: loggias, gardens, and courtyards, ideal places for the leisurely activities of dukes and their guests.
from the Medici to the Albani
In 1631, the state of Urbino passed into the hands of the church, but the Della Rovere possessions, including Villa Imperiale, went to the Medici family. After years of abandonment, Spanish and Portuguese Jesuits found refuge in the villa after their exile. Their changes greatly marred the villa: many decorations disappeared; halls and loggias became storage rooms and oratories; covered roof terraces were walled up and a new floor on the terrace was built.
In 1777, Prince Orazio Albani attained the villa in permanent emphyteusis by Pope Pius VI, but the Jesuits stayed until the end of the century. The Castelbarco Albani family began restorations in the late nineteenth century: the frescoed halls were largely repainted by painter Giuseppe Gennari.
In the early twentieth century, work began to restore the original structure, removing all the superstructures created by the Jesuits and repairing the parts that were ruined, such as the inscription along the avant-corps of the new wing.
During World War II, the fifteenth-century building was damaged, but fortunately, it was a part that was not frescoed. Damages to the new construction were less severe. In 1945, at the request of Archinta and Guglielmo Castelbarco Albani, new restorations began ending only in the 1970s, which brought the paintings back to their original state, eliminating the nineteenth-century work of Gennari, where possible.
Villa Imperiale owes its name to something that happened in 1452: in January, Emperor Federico III stayed in Pesaro and Alessandro Sforza, who commissioned the villa to be built, invited him to see the site he intended to be his residence. The emperor placed the first stone and from them on, the villa became known as Imperiale.
Construction was completed in 1469, as noted in the inscription at the entrance, next to the coat of arms with the imperial eagles:
ALEXANDER SFORTIA MCCCCLXVIIII.
The Sforza palace, the oldest, also features a high tower; it has all the characteristics of a fifteenth-century country residence, akin to Medici architecture. Once through the vestibule, there is a porticoed courtyard, which is the heart of the fifteenth-century villa, with a real decorative well. Before the sixteen-century modifications, the ground floor of the original construction of the courtyard envisaged a porticoed side facing the valley; while on the upper floor, there were three open sides in the form of loggias.
Alessandro Sforza’s apartments included three large rooms on the ground floor, facing the mountains, surmounted by decorated wooden ceilings with heraldic motifs of the Sforza family. The smaller rooms, which included the bedrooms, were on the upper floor.