Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Castle

When we think of castles we hardly think of them as viable homes. We imagine drafty, torchlit, lofty halls, and beyond these, armories and musty cellars with the buried remains of eliminated usurpers. But this, above, is the castle of Montemagno in Piemonte, home of the counts Calvi di Bergolo. It stands at the ancient center of this tiny town, upon on a hill (Monte-magno), and it's built around its first, ancient fortification, which was once the fief of the Marchesi di Monferrato.

The castle was heavily reworked in the 14th century, but its final transformation took place in the 18th century, when part of it was converted into an elegant country home surrounded by a multi-level park. Today's warm and homey rooms date from that period.

The medieval moats and drawbridges are still here. Extending from the first fortification, which later became this imposing castle crowned with Ghibelline battlements, are twelve alleys lined by the remains of an "old enclosure." The structure was enlarged and reworked over the years, but this is how it looks today, endlessly evocative from every viewpoint!

What's of particular interest is that this is the family home of painter Gregorio Calvi di Bergolo. Perhaps the artist's best work celebrates the beauty of his much loved Piedmont countryside, its farm houses in a context of yellow grain and vineyards and pale blue, placid skies, but he was also adept at cityscapes, the regal architecture of his home town, Torino, with its harmoniously laid out streets and neoclassical palaces. And he was a great chronicler/illustrator of his own family life—something of an Italian Fairfield Porter. In this family sitting room shown above, little is changed from the era in which Calvi di Bergolo lived and worked here. A selection of his portraits of family and friends hang informally and unframed on the far wall just as they might have done in his studio long ago.

How beautiful the detail of this simple, 18th century door with its original hinges and lock, just a sample of the fascinating visuals a castle such as this proposes.

And Montemagno remains well looked-after even now, a view into the past, to an era in which the worry of invasion had long since passed, an era of peace and elegance replacing that of misrule and uncertainty. Below is a view to the lands of the Montelera, with its modern winery, home of Martini and Rossi Vermouth, without which the Martini would never have been invented!

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