The city and the territory of Viterbo are known especially for its Etruscan roots and for the splendor of the medieval period. However, also during the Renaissance, between the 1400s and 1500s, Tuscia went through a time of great prosperity, enriched with majestic churches, sumptuous palaces, elegant avenues and superb gardens that still bear witness to the importance of that period.
Recently, various associations and local entities are committed to the discovery and enhancement of the Renaissance in Viterbo, marked by a remarkable cultural and intellectual ferment, thanks to the presence, for example, of the so-called Spiritual Circle whose engine was general of the Augustinians, Egidio Antonini, and of which Michelangelo, Vittoria Colonna and Cardinal Reginald Pole were part.
The role of these characters was important in an age shaken by the Lutheran Reformation and the subsequent Roman Counter Reformation, when they were looking for a settlement to avoid what would become the Inquisition period. However, the local Renaissance was also that of great families such as the Farnese and the Orsini, who were very active patrons of the great architects and artists in Tuscia such as Vignola, Bramante and Sangallo.
The Renaissance and his testimonies
Two main testimonies of this time in Viterbo are Villa Lante, located in Bagnaia, and Sanctuary of the Madonna della Quercia. The opening of today’s Viale Trieste, which connects the city to the basilica, dates back to that period. Villa Lante is one of the major Italian creations of the 1500s. Of special importance are the Fountain of the Giambologna Mori, the magnificent Italian garden, the Gambara and Montalto buildings and a spectacular system of fountains and water features, plus a lovely wooded park, with a total area of 22 hectares .
The history of the Sanctuary of the Madonna della Quercia (the Madonna of the Oak Tree) began in 1417 when Master Battista Juzzante had a painter named Monetto paint the miraculous image of the Virgin on the flat tile, which he then hung to an oak tree. The building has an ashlar facade with white and blue ceramic portal crescents by Andrea Della Robbia, flanked by the massive bell tower by Ambrogio da Milano. The three-nave interior is covered by a ceiling decorated with gold coming from the Americas and the Marian image is preserved in a beautiful marble temple by Andrea Bregno. The former convent also has two elegant cloisters.
Numerous testimonies from the Renaissance period are also present in the old town of Viterbo, where, during that period, the straight roads of Via Cavour (with the beautiful Palazzo Brugiotti) and Via Roma opened, which currently stand out in the medieval urban fabric that characterizes much of the ancient city. The bulk of Palazzo dei Priori, Viterbo’s town hall, also dates back to the Renaissance. Especially, the Council Room with frescoes by Teodoro Siciliano and the Regia Room painted by Baldassare Croce: both cycles of paintings are inspired by the fanciful theories about the origin of the mythical city invented by the monk, Annio da Viterbo. The reconstruction of the soaring 45 meters high Clock tower, overlooking Piazza del Plebiscito, dates back to 1487.
Even the monuments of Colle del Duomo, although an expression of the Middle Ages, boasts several testimonies of the Renaissance age: the facade of the San Lorenzo Cathedral, the reconstruction of which was commissioned by Cardinal De Gambara, or the white marbel baptismal font created in 1470 by Francesco d’Ancona, and even Michelangelo’s Crucifixion preserved in the Colle del Duomo Museum, the subject of numerous studies and discussions. Palazzo Farnese, residence of the powerful family from which Pope Paul III originated, is located a few meters from Piazza San Lorenzo and, the sixteenth-century building, Dragon Palaceis found opposite to this.
Another important Renaissance center is Piazza della Rocca, especially for the presence of Rocca Albornoz, which in its present form it dates back to the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, with its loggia opened by Julius II and Bramante’s courtyard. A few meters away, the Papal stables, designed by Bramante are undergoing significant restoration. The imposing Vignola Fountain stands across from the Rocca.
Masterpieces by Sebastiano del Piombo, a Venetian artists from the early 1500s active in Rome and very close to Michelangelo, the Pietà and the Flagellation of Christ are located in the Civic Museum of Viterbo, in Piazza Crispi. However, the most important local expression of the Renaissance is located nearby, in the Mazzatosta Chapel of St. Mary of Truth: the frescoes are by Lorenzo da Viterbo, an artist who died young but in time to leave paintings fundamental the reconstruction of Viterbo in that era.
Notable portraits of Viterbo in Renaissance costume can especially be seen in his fresco of the Marriage of the Virgin. After the damages suffered by the bombings of World War II, the frescoes in the Mazzatosta Chapel were restored with advanced techniques under the guidance of Cesare Brandi.