BEMBO, Benedetto
(active 1462-1489 in Cremona)

View of the southeast window wall

c. 1460
Golden Room, Castello di Torrechiara, Torrechiara

The Castello di Torrechiara (Emilia-Romagna) is one of the most beautiful examples of feudal, secular architecture from the fifteenth century in northern Italy. It was erected between 1448 and 1460 on the ruins of an earlier fort. The castle is most famous for the poetic love story that was played out here and is immortalized in the paintings in its Sala d'Oro (Golden Room).

The Golden Room is one of the few secular rooms dating from the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance still preserved relatively intact. The subject matter of its paintings is based on an actual love affair, that of Pier Maria Rossi and Bianca Pellegrini.

Pier Maria Rossi (1413-1482) was one of the most powerful feudal lords in the region of Parma. Although he was highly experienced in warfare, he received a humanistic education and had a certain gift for poetry. He had an imposing number of castles, but he was unable to defend his domain against the ruler of Milan, Ludovico il Moro in 1480. He died in 1482 in Torrechiara.

Bianca Pellegrini was the mistress of Rossi who spent most of his time with Bianca in Torrechiara. Bianca appears to have died a few years before her lover and was buried, like him, in the chapel at Torrechiara.

The walls of the Golden Room are covered, up to a height of roughly 3 m to the springing of the vaulting ribs, with terracotta tiles. The pictorial program of the Golden Room is a monument to a love affair. The four encounters between Bianca Pellegrini and her lover depicted in the lunettes represent four different stages in their relationship.

The first picture in the sequence is the one of Amor shooting arrows on the southeast wall. Pier Maria Rossi has been shot in the breast, and clasps the arrow with both hands. Again drawing his bow, Amor has turned toward Bianca, and in fact she too has been struck with an arrow, but does not appear to notice it.

The second scene, on the southwest fireplace wall, shows Bianca handing a sword to Pier Maria who kneels before her. As a proper knight, he has vowed to be her protector, and clearly she has accepted him.

The third scene, on the northwest wall, again shows the couple inside a shrinelike aedicula. Again he kneels before her, but this time she is placing a laurel wreath on his head, crowning him as a poet.

In the fourth and last scene, on the northeast wall, the two lovers are seen for the first time from the front, standing in the side niches of a structure reminiscent of a triptych. The two castles in the background of the scene allude to the couple's actual situation: on the left is San Secondo, the chief residence of Pier Maria Rossi, and on the right is Roccabianca, the castle he built for Bianca Pellegrini.

The paintings in the four compartments of the cross-ribbed vaulting supplement the subject matter of the walls but are subordinate to it. Here we see Bianca Pellegrini's progress through the realm of her beloved.

The paintings in the Golden Room are attributed to Benedetto Bembo. However, due to the similarities in style between Benedetto and his brother Bonifazio Bembo, the possible authorship of the latter cannot be excluded.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.