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From 1600 to 1900

From the Cardinals to the prefectures



>>  The castle under the cardinals

>>  17th and 18th centuries

>>  19th century


Alfonso II died in 1597 without a direct heir and the prestigious Dukedom of Ferrara was deeply marked by this event that saw it transformed into an outlying province of the Papal States.
The pope, Clement VIII, took advantage of the dynastic situation to revoke the Estense investiture and so they were forced to leave the city and move to their seat in Modena, which, through imperial investiture, had been made available to them.
The event had a crucial impact on the history of the city and of the Castello Estense, now seat of the Cardinal Legates and it also meant the beginning of a process of dispersion of the important art collections that the Este family had until that moment accumulated, most of which had been in this grandiose and special building.
In fact, from that moment on, the castle remained completely stripped of all its furnishings and pictorial, sculptural and in general decorative works of art that had previously filled so many rooms, the apartments, the private studies, the smaller studies and the galleries of the princely residence. Almost all the works of art would be moved to the Ducal Palace of Modena where they made up the main nucleus of a further collection of art belonging to the Este family they never abandoned, while many other were dispersed during the plight and turned up a little later mostly as part of important Roman collections.
The castle passing under the direct control of the Papal States and of the Cardinal Legates did not only mean the loss for the monument of works of art that today are the pride of many museums throughout the world.
There is no doubt that just as Ferrara was reduced from being the capital of a court of European level to a minor outlying town on the northern frontier of a large state, as was that held by the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, the castle too became just one more of the palaces that belonged to the Apostolic Chamber.
The magnificent, grand and well-protected building was however, used as the principal political and administrative seat in the Ferrarese territory for the Papal ambassadors and as the residence of the Cardinals who were in charge of the city for over two hundred and fifty years.
Certainly, this did not lead to grand new architectural and decorative embellishments but it guaranteed a good state of maintenance as is the case of the thoughtful re-building of the low wall of their hanging garden known as the Giardino degli Aranci, part of which had tumbled into the moat after a violent storm in 1740.
However, during this long period, in some parts of the castle, there were limited but long-lasting and significant modifications and decoration work carried out.


At the beginning, during the course of the 1600s and 1700s, there are records of a very limited amount of work done, almost exclusively redecorating, without any great architecturally or artistically important changes taking place.
There are no longer any traces of these works apart from the records handed down to us along with the names of the artists, some of which are very well known, who were called in to execute these works: Domenico Mona, lo Scarsellino, Francesco and Antonio Ferrari and Giuseppe Travagli.
In some cases, these works were carried out immediately after the devolution to give a tangible sign of the new political situation. This is understandable in the rooms used for running the town which were more open to the public or in the case of the Cardinal's residence: the palace wing of the Via Coperta, the wings between the Marchesana Tower and San Paolo Tower and between San Paolo Tower and Santa Caterina Tower up until the Appartamento della Pazienza (Patience Apartment).
In some other cases, there were interventions that were even more ephemeral linked to special events such as particular anniversaries, important visits or grand receptions and ceremonies.
On the other hand, some important decorations and frescoes were lost, following two fires which occurred in 1634 and in 1718; this is the case with some of those attributed to Dosso and Battista Dossi, in the famous wing of the Via Coperta.
There are not many traces on the outside dating back to that that period. The most evident however, is the wooden balcony surmounted by a stone medallion, which around the year 1773 Cardinal Scipione Borghese had built to realise a beautiful focal point. From that small command post it was once possible, and it is easy to imagine today, to see three important gateways of the city: the gate known as the Porta degli Angeli to the north at the end of Corso Ercole I d'Este, the eastern gate at the end of Corso Giovecca and the western gate at the end of the Panfilio Canal, now Viale Cavour.


The apparent political calm that Ferrara enjoyed was shaken in 1796 when Napoleon's French troops invaded the city and occupied the castle.
There are no signs to be seen of that brief period which also saw some portions of the monuments rented to private residents, except for a small room on the first mezzanine floor of the South wing, which is reached from the Via Coperta. Here there is a piece of graffiti, probably done by a political prisoner, in which a religious procession, and a formation of troops and an execution are depicted under the revolutionary insignia of the Tree of Liberty.
After the French, the Austrians occupied the castle in 1813 and watched over the Restoration and the return of the political representatives of the Papal States.
The castle returned to the former use the Cardinal Legates had made of it, but now it also had a small military garrison and several dungeons that held political prisoners.
In any case, it was at this time and until 1860, the year in which Ferrara was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy, that several painters, Francesco Saraceni, Gaetano Domenichini, Francesco Migliari among others, were commissioned to leave testimony of their nineteenth century artistic taste within the castle and especially in those parts of the piano nobile that during those decades had been chosen as a private and representational residence, namely the spiral staircase, the Marchesana Tower, the wing of the Via Coperta and San Paolo Tower.
The rooms in those areas of the castle for the most part still managed to conserve the same decoration, but it wasn't like that in the wing over the Via Coperta, which was used as a private dwelling. This was the living quarters and the representational offices of the Prefectures and it meant a succession of changes and some serious demolition as they continued to inhabit the castle until 2001.
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