Graziella Viglione has been a volunteer with Italian Touring Club Torino for 3 years now. She got involved quite by chance one day when she was walking through Piazza San Giovanni. Palazzo Chiablese is demurely situated at number 2. Graziella keeps her eyes open but many people may miss the entrance to the Palazzo since they will probably be looking in the general direction of the Duomo and Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace) opposite.
Palazzo Chiablese by K. Weise
Graziella told me that when she inquired about volunteering that day, Palazzo Chiablese had recently reopened its doors after a long period of restoration. It must have seen its fair share of restorations over the centuries with the changing tastes and fashions at Savoy court life. Palazzo Chiablese was built in the 1300s, Graziella says, and perhaps surprisingly, preceded the Duomo which was built around a century later.
We hovered around at the top of the sweeping marble staircase on the first floor, waiting a couple of minutes for another group to move on before we started our tour. While we waited we took the opportunity for a bit of a catch up…
Italian Touring Club volunteers. Photo from Comune Torino
I already know Graziella because we are both members of English Theater Torino (ett). But I told her that I hadn’t known that she worked as a tour guide at Palazzo Chiablese. She informed me that she conducts the tours in both Italian and English.
The part of Palazzo Chiablese most visitors go to is via an entrance in Piazzetta Reale and it is used for exhibitions. At the time of writing an exhibition of Tamara de Lempicka’s Art Deco works is on until 30th August 2015 – last chance to see it!
The part where we were is where the local Cultural Heritage offices are. In fact, you can’t go inside the rooms where the offices are but you can still see some of them as many of the doors are kept open.
The other tour had now moved on, so it was time to start…
Graziella explained that when Emanuele Filiberto, Duke of Savoy moved into Palazzo Reale he used Palazzo Chiablese to house overnight guests and his lovers including his favourite Beatrice di Langosco (Marchioness of Pianezza).
Portrait of Regina Margherita of Savoy. Photo from Compagnia di San Paolo
To put this into perspective, Emanuele Filiberto is one of the most important of the Savoy’s since he was the man who transferred their power base from Chambéry – just the other side of the Alps in France - to Turin in Piedmont in 1563. You can see his bronze statue (Caval ‘d Brons) in Piazza San Carlo.
Many esteemed guests have passed through Palazzo Chiablese’s doors including Cardinal Aldobrandini, whose uncle was Pope Clement VIII and Napolean’s sister Pauline Bonaparte also lived here when her husband was the governor of the area on behalf of her brother. One of the palace’s most distinguished and influential owners was Cardinal Maurizio of Savoy, son of Carlo Emanuele I. You can read up about him and his life at court on boards at the top of the marble staircase.
Dining room of Palazzo Chiablese. Photo from Compagnia di San Paolo
Graziella explained that later in 1753, Carlo Emanuele III gave Palazzo Chiablese to his son Vittorio Amedeo as a wedding gift. It was during the reign of Carlo Emanuele III that local architect Benedetto Alfieri was commissioned to design the white marble Baroque staircase that leads to the entrance hall. Many of the decorative arts you see around you are from that period onwards up to the 18th century.
The palace was popular with the Savoy’s and when Carlo Felice became King in 1821 he chose to actually live here and not in Palazzo Reale as tradition dictated. His majestic portrait where he is depicted in full on ‘power pose’ was, however, unfortunately, a bit outmoded even in those days. You can see it in one of the rooms during the tour.
Portrai of Carlo Felice. Photo from Nicola Monari
“He might have misjudged the artistic trends of the day but he had a good pair of legs!” I quipped and Graziella laughed in agreement.
During the tour you will see rooms dedicated to the royal bodyguards, fireplaces with marble surrounds quarried from the Alps in the Cuneo region of Piedmont – one with a rotating chimney! You can also admire the elegant gilded bronze and crystal chandeliers thought to be by royal artist Pelagio Palagi. Gilded bronze palm leaves are a signature of his and you can see them clearly in these ornate fixtures. So, the conclusion is that they are either by Palagi or they are very good imitations. More examples of, definitely, the real thing light up the ballroom floor in Palazzo Reale.
As you proceed around the palace you will come across a corridor lined with landscape paintings by royal painter Angelo Cignaroli who worked at the time of Carlo Felice. For fans of Turin and Piedmont, it is fascinating to see the oil paintings of Castello di Rivoli, Castello di Moncalieri, Santuario di Vicoforte and scenes from along the river Po.
In the Tapestry room you can see the rich tapestries that were commissioned by Carlo Emanuele I for his son Vittorio Amedeo I who married Maria Cristina of France in 1606. The tapestries, designed by Flemish artists, were woven in wool and silk by Parisian weavers. They depict scenes from the life of Artemisia from the 4th century BC. Originally the tapestries hung in Castello di Rivoli (Rivoli Castle) but were ordered to be moved to Palazzo Chiablese in 1753.
At which point they were CUT to fit their new walls!!!! Enter through the door and turn around. Check out the tapestry on the right where a poor hunting dog has lost the front part of his body. See if you can jigsaw it together…It’s there in another corner of the room…
Tapestry room. Photo by Museo Torino
The Italian Touring Club Torino initiative, called Open for You, offers the tours for free. You can go along on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays (2-6pm). It is closed in August but from September tours will recommence. There are a number of volunteers doing the tours as well as Graziella.
If you want to catch Graziella, she also does tours at the Church of Santo Spirito. The church, at no. 9 via Porta Palatina, is open in August and she’ll be there on Saturday August 29th, from 11.00 a.m. to 2.30 p.m.
The theme for the Blogging Piemonte Group this August was Royalty in Piemonte. Find out more with hashtag #BlogPiemonte!
Below find links to more Blogging Piemonte posts about Royalty in Piemonte.
Lara Statham was born in the UK. She has lived in Greece, Hungary, Jordan and Egypt but has called Turin, Piedmont home for the past 17 years. A fan of Piedmontese cuisine and wines, with a penchant for Langhe’s reds, she writes for various publications online about Turin and Piedmont. Find her on facebook, instagram, and twitter @larastatham.