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Palazzo Besta, Ariosto's Cycle (1550)

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Teglio, Valtellina (Sondrio)


The Main Room is at the first floor of the Besta Palace and is the most prestigious room of the building. The walls are decorated with 21 panels representing some scenes from the Orlando Furioso by Ariosto, whose realization covered up previous frescoes with vegetable motifs that can be seen on a portion of the wall near the fireplace, thanks to the last restores. Recent studies found the print of Ariosto's masterpiece where the anonymous painter took inspiration for the decoration of the room: it is a copy of Orlando Furioso printed in Venice in 1542 by Giolito de Ferrari. Because of the cultural activity of the Besta court, it's not hard to think that in their library there was a copy of this volume, a  copy of which, printed in 1547, is now preserved in the Braindese Library of Milan. The existence of other to series of frescoes with the same subject, one by the Valenti in Talamona, the other in Castel Masegra in Sondrio, proves the great interest of the courts for Ariosto's literature and allows us to date Teglio's paintings around 1550.
The Main Room of the Besta Palace, for its completeness and preservation, is a superb example. The scenes show in a quick and dynamic way the histories of some characters of the poem, mainly the heroines, whose experiences are in some panels represented ad allegories of the world and human feelings.

Photo Shoot

Average Size for every single fresco: 771.225.468 pixel (27.052 x 58.509)
Color depth: 16 bit per channel
Shots: June 2008
Number of shots: 2250

CPU: Two Quad Core AMD Opteron processors
16 Gigabyte RAM memory
2 Terabyte hard disk space


Camera: Nikon D2Xs
Lens: AF VR Zoom-Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED
Real time acquisition Software: Nikon Camera Control Pro
Postprocessing and real time verification software: Nikon Capture NX
Pointing Device: Motorized Panoramic
Head: CLAUSS Rodeon VR

Notes: great care has been adopted to illuminate frescoes during shooting. Lighting system has been tested and validated in the Photometric Laboratory of the Istituto Superiore per la Conservazione ed il Restauro not to damage the painting.

In collaboration with MINISTERO PER I BENI E LE ATTIVITĂ€ CULTURALI - Soprintendenza per i Beni Architettonici e Paesaggistici of Milan  

All rights reserved

Historical context

The Besta Palace, one of the most beautiful and better preserved palaces of the renaissance in Valtellina, was made famous by the decoration campaign by the Besta family during the sixteenth century. They became the lords of the valley after  having purchased many lands from the Bishop of Milan, including the Teglio Castle.
In 1508 Azzo Besta died without seeing the birth of his son Azzo II. His wife Ippolita married Andrea Guicciardi from Ponte, a highly trained man whose power gown thanks to his prudent management of the family business. The humanistic education of Andrea Guicciardi, chancellor in Pavia University, influenced the training of the young Azzo II who, with his wife Agnese Quadrio, soon filled his court with artists, intellectuals and scholars.
The Besta Palace, built around the great central court and updated to the latest architectonic language of the time, was decorated with frescoes that testify the culture of the people who lived there.
Beside the series by Ariosto, painted on the walls of the Main Hall, other paintings represent the classics of literature, like the scenes from the Eneide painted in the main court, frequent subject also in other renaissance palaces (Bologna, Sabbioneta, Mantova).
Carlo I, son of Azzo II, wanted the decoration of the Creation Room, with frescoes inspired by the Geesis and with the controversial representation of the Terra Australis on the vault .
There is no doubt that this kind of decoration represents completely and carefully the small and refined renaissance court of the family Besta from Teglio, with the paintings in the Palace, the classic portals, the loggia, the wrought-iron windows.

Artwork Detail

1- In the IV panel, to underline that Gabrina and Filandro moved to Holland, the artist paints a stork nest on the roof of the house.

2- In the XVIII panel the cupidity is represented as an animal with donkey ears, wolf's head, lion's legs and fox's body. Among those who commit this sin are recognizable the powerful kings and the Pope.

3- On the background of the XI panel Dalinda, regretting her nastiness, is welcomed in a convent. Here are noticeable the skills of the painter in outlining the small figures on the background of the panel.

4- In the XXIV panel are represented some of the objects lost by men on the Earth that Astolfo will find on the Moon. Snakes with girls' faces, made by forger and thieves, some golden weapons, symbol of the presents done to
    ingratiate the powerful men, some knocked over bowls representing the charity prescribed in the wills and sacks of coins and broken just symbols of non virtuous actions.

5- In the X panel we can notice the painter skills in representing the horses in different positions, often very shortened.

Panels Description

1- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Panel I (Canto XXI, 17-18)
Gabrina, Argeo's wife, tries to convince Filandro, injured and welcomed in his friend's house, to become her lover.

2- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Panel II (Canto XXI, 20-24 and 28)
Gabrina tells his husband Argeo that Filandro, while he was away, took advantage of her. The young man, who was not guilty, is captured and segregated in a tower.

3- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Panel III (Canto XXI, 20-24 and 28)
Gabrina persuades Filandro, still imprisoned, to kill Morando il Bello, with the excuse that he takes advantage of her while her husband Argeo in away. But Filandro, while he was fulfilling his lover's desire, kills Argeo by mistake, not recognizing him because of his disguise

4- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Panel IV (Canto XXI, 58-59)
After the marriage of Gabrina and Filandro they move to Holland. But Gabrina arranges with a doctor to poison also the second husband.

5- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Panel V (Canto IV, 58; V, 10-11 and 15-17; VI,5)
Dalinda, Ginevra's dame, welcomes in her bedroom her lover Polinesso, who is in love with Ginevra and asks Dalinda to help convincing her of his love.

6- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Panel VI (Canto V, 19-22, 27-35)
Dalinda gives a fake letter of Ginevra to Polinesso, in order to make him show it to Ariodante to make him believe he really was Ginevra's lover.

7- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Panel VII (Canto V, 46-52)
To deceive Ariodante, Dalinda disguises with Ginevra's dress and meets Polinesso. Ariodante, seeing the betrayal of his lover, falls in despair but is held back by his brother Lurcanio.

8- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Panel VIII (Canto V, 53-57; VI, 5-6)
Ariodante, after discovering the betrayal, trues to commit suicide throwing himself into the sea. But regretting it, he goes back to the shore where he meets and heremit.

9- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Panel IX (Canto IV, 59-70; V, 63-65)
Lurcanio denounces the presumed betrayal of Ginevra who is given a death sentence. Here appears also Rinaldo who saves Dalinda from the killers sent by Polinesso.

10- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Panel X (Canto IV, 63;V, 75, 83-86)
The duel between Lurcanio and an unknown knight is interrupted by Rinaldo who, knowing the truth, now supports Ginevra.

11- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Panel XI (Canto V, 86-88; VI, 8-9, 14-16)
Rinaldo kills Polinesso in a duel. The story ends with the marriage of Ginevra and Ariodante and with the forgiveness by the king of Dalinda, who decides to enter a convent.

12- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Landscape
Naturalistic decoration above the window.

13- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Panel XII (Canto X, 107, 112)
Angelica wears the magic ring that makes her invisible and escapes riding a small red dragon.

14- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Panel XIII (Canto X, 114; XI, 2, 6-7)
Ruggero saves Angelica from the Ogress cliff where she was imprisoned and escapes with her riding a Hippogriff.

15- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Landscape
Naturalistic decoration above the window.

16- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Panel XIV
Episodes of women ungrateful in love.

17- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Panel XV (Canto XLII, 64)
Rinaldo, knowing the marriage of Angelica and Medoro, is consumed by Jealousy. Then comes the Disdain to help, represented by a mysterious knight with a torch.

18- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Landscape
Naturalistic decoration above the window.

19- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Panel XVI (Canto XIV, 82-84)
The allegory of the Discord is represented by a woman with colored clothes, with many lawyers, jurists, accusers and accused around.

20- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Panel XVII (Canto XIV, 93)
The personifications of Sleep, Laziness, Sloth, Silence and Oblivion populate the sleep cave.

21- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Panel XVIII (Canto XXVI, 31-33)
The Cupidity, a monster with donkey's ears, wolf's head, lion's legs and fox's body, destroys powerful men, above all inside the Church.

22- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Panel XIX (Canto XXVI, 35-36)
The Cupidity is killed by a knight and three young men who represents the European kings.

23- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Panel XX (Canto VI, 63)
Ruggero on the Alcina island meets strange characters, among which also an old men sitting on a tortoise.

24- Series of Ariosto, Besta Palace, Panel XXI (Canto XXXIV, 51-52, 67, 69, 73)
Astolfo, to recover Orlando's sense, goes on the Moon with the inflamed cart of Saint John. Some of the objects that men loose on the Earth are painted under the cart.

Additional Information

Palazzo Besta preserves the most complete and greatest series of painting inspired by Orlando Furioso of the whole Valtellina. The fortune of this masterpiece of literature also in more provincial lands like these, is testified by the presence of other two palaces that have the same decoration.
The first example is Castel Masegra in Sondrio where unluckily the fragmentation and the little dimention of the frescoes don't allow us to imagine the original splendour of the artwork. In Talamona instead, where there is another example of paintings about Ariosto in the house of the Valenti family. This important palace placed in the historical center of the little town of Talamona, has a facade organized on more decorative levels: the highest, just under the roof, is painted with six panels between the windows representing scenes from the Orlando Furioso. The taste characterizing the facade dominates also inside the representation, realized with monochrome, almost like an ancient bass-relief. The damages caused by the time and weather don't prevent visitors to recognise among the protagonists of the painted stories Bradamante, Ruggero and Angelica, already met in the small panels of the Besta Palace in Teglio.