Palazzo Bonacossi to Reopen

Written by  Anna Maria Visser Travagli
After fifty years of neglect, one of Ferrara's most prestigious monuments has been restored.

Palazzo Bonacossi was occupied by families left homeless after the air raids of 28 January 1944. The rooms and halls were divided up with a view to obtaining the greatest possible number of apartments: chimney flues were cut into the walls: the floors were partially lifted to accommodate waste pipes for toilets and sinks while tiling and paintwork replaced the Baroque and neo-classical decor in tempera and stucco. Finally, the 18th century doors, linen chests, and other furnishings from the entrance hall were broken up for firewood.

By the time the town council, the proprietor of the building, was able to find homes for the evacuees, the palazzo was declared dangerous and was closed for years. The building was devastated and despoiled: there was no trace of the marble fireplaces, the sculptures, or the sculpted parapet around the well in the inner courtyard while the decorations on the walls of the first floor rooms had all but disappeared. But the main stairway and the rooms on the second floor of the west wing were in good order.

The restoration, financed by the city's "Progetto Mura" scheme, has led to the recovery of the vestiges of the building's ancient splendour and now this prestigious monument - hidden for over fifty years - is about to be restored to Ferrara,
The palazzo, built in 1469 for the Florentine exile Diotisalvi Neroni, is simple and austere. It has a central crenellated tower; the two wings at either side were added later, as were the large windows on the façade; the refined main entrance in brick is original.
It seems that the first extensions were the work of Gurone d'Este, who came into possession of the building after 1533. He is also attributed with the creation of the austere and classically simple inner courtyard, perhaps designed by the architect Gerolamo da Carpi. But the creator of the building in its modern configuration was Francesco I d'Este, who purchased it in 1572 to link it up with the Palazzina built on via della Giovecca about twenty years earlier for his daughters Marfisa and Bradamante.

The work he commissioned, the construction of the loggias in the courtyard and of the Loggia del Cenacolo overlooking Marfisa's residence, set the palazzo on a more "modern" footing.
In fact, Francesco I d'Este, who also owned the residence at Schifanoia, had conceived an authentic urban residential "system", occupying two contiguous symmetrical blocks within the city's grid-like street plan.

In the first place he intended to reinforce the rather marginal position occupied by Palazzo Schifanoia by making a new "pleasaunce", the so-called Palazzina di Marfisa d'Este, and using it to duplicate the fulcra of the city's expansion in this sector. The organic nature of this project was enhanced by the purchase in 1572 of Palazzo Neroni, which thus became an ideal link between the two symmetrical establishments.
In fact, this led to the creation of an extraordinary perspectival "telescope" that, from the main door of Palazzo Neroni on via Cisterna del Follo, through the entrance, the monumental atrium, and the inner courtyard emphasized along this directrix by the new loggia, the Loggia del Cenacolo, the copse, and Marfisa's garden, offered a view of the Palazzina through the Loggetta dei Ritratti and the reception room, as far as the marble portals of the construction on corso Giovecca.

An extraordinary complex, built to the purest 16th century architectural canons, but, unhappily, no longer perceptible because of the incongruous incorporation, in the Thirties, of the Tennis Club Marfisa, which occupies the Loggia del Cenacolo and obstructs the door and the windows that communicate with the courtyard of Palazzo Neroni.
The Loggia del Cenacolo, a strategic part of this perspectival plan, has been attributed to the local architect Alberto Schiatti.

In 1643, the palazzo was purchased by the counts Bonacossi, who held the property for over two and a half centuries. The Bonacossi family made the present windows and added the balconies, as well as interior decorations in stucco, among the finest examples of Baroque and neo-classical work the city has to offer.
The town council bought the property from the Bonacossi in 1911, with a view to making it the home of the Lancieri d'Aosta regiment, a few years after the construction, in via Cisterna del Folio, of the Pozzuolo del Friuli barracks, in the gardens of Palazzo Schifanoia and in the area of the monastery of San Vito.
When restoration work was undertaken in 1912, the council called in the artist and restorer Augusto Pagliarini, who managed to "patch up" the decorative apparatus of the palazzo, which was what was expected of a restorer in those days.

The current plan for the restoration of Palazzo Bonacossi, the work of the late architect Romeo Ballardini, was presented in 1987, as part of the "Progetto Mura" scheme, and represents an attempt to offer a "modern" interpretation of the old configuration of the historic gardens within the Schifanoia Bonacossi Marfisa system.

Palazzo Bonacossi will be used as an exhibition area and will also offer the public a variety of museum services, including a photographic library, a library specialized in archaeology and art, and collections of drawings and prints.