Entrance Hall dedicated to Victor Emmanuel II

The Hall is dedicated to the celebration of Victor Emmanuel II. The texts of that day describe it as a real “Hall of Remembrance”. It is designed as a smaller version of the Pantheon in Rome, a burial place for a king. In fact, the architecture has a structure with a central layout, with open lateral windows enclosed by gates giving it a sense of movement and with a vault culminating in an ocular decorated with an elegant star made in wrought iron.

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The same star shape alluding to a legendary phrase said by the king at his moment of victory, «havvi infine una stella anche per l’Italia» (“there is finally a star for Italy also), is also found at the entrance of the hall and in the inlaid marble stone that surrounds the base of the bronze image. This towering statue in the centre of the hall is a masterpiece by the Venetian expert Antonio Dal Zotto. The statue portrays Victor Emmanuel in his uniform as a high official in the Carabinieri police, his proud and resolute bearing with his sword drawn in his right hand. We see here highly elegant skill, especially notable in the naturalism in the details and vigour expressed by the model. It is surrounded by a series of eight busts, all in bronze, placed beside the four scenes painted on the walls and created by the able if less expert hands of Salvatore Pisani from Catanzaro. The busts show the faces and breasts of eight Generals gloriously covered in medals who fell in battle, set as if grouped together in a meeting of chiefs of staff around their General. The generals are Alessandro Guidotti (died 1848, at Castrette), Giuseppe Passalaqua and Ettore Perrone from San Martino (died 1849 at Novara), Giorgio Ansaldi, Rodolfo Gabrielli from Montevecchio and Alessandro La Marmora (fell in the Crimea, in 1855), Annibale Arnaldi (died 1859 at San Martino) and Onorato Rey di Villarey (fell in 1866 at Mongabia di Verona). On the walls, on the other hand, another Venetian, Vittorio Emanuele Bressanin, started painting from 1891 a series of episodes taken from the glorious life of the first King of Italy:

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Il Convegno di Vignale (The Meeting at Vignale), shows the meeting which took place in a country cottage on 2nd March 1849 between Victor Emmanuel and Marshal Radetsky following the final, devastating defeat of the Piedmont army by the Austrians at Novara. It is the first official entry on the scene for the young king, having just taken succession from his father Carlo Alberto onto the throne of Sardinia. Though defeated, the sovereign refuses the shameful conditions of surrender with contempt, showing the character and pride worthy of his position. Bressanin chooses to relive the scene at the moment when Victor Emmanuel, springing up from his chair, seems to throw a challenge to his older companion. In fact, one of his gloves is on the ground. To underline even further the greatness of the man and the soldier and what is already quite clear will be his glorious future, the painter reconstructs the episode in such a way that the white of Radetsky’s uniform, cold and contemptuous, combined with the red of the trousers and the green of the tablecloth in front of him, form the Italian tricolour.
In the next scene Vittorio Emanuele al ponte di Palestro (Victor Emmanuel at Palestro Bridge) is represented. During the battle that was carried out between 30th and 31st May for the conquest of a small village of Pavia province on the road to Milan, Victor Emmanuel stood out so much for his capabilities and heroism that he received the public applause of the allied forces and was awarded the title “Caporale d’Onore” (Honourable Corporal) of the 3rd regiment of the French Zouave army. In fact, Bressanin portrays him while welcoming, with a surly annoyed manner typical of a man of action, the celebrating group of Zouaves that throw their caps in the air and raise their guns as a sign of jubilation. Next to them, more sober and contained, an Italian soldier shows his respect by taking off his hat. In the background, we can faintly see the countryside of Pavia under a white cloudy sky.

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The third painting shows the L'entrata a Milano di Vittorio Emanuele II e Napoleone III dopo la vittoria di Magenta (The entry into Milan of Victor Emmanuel II and Napoleon III after the victory at Magenta), which happened on 8th May 1859. The two sovereigns advance side by side, the horses keeping to a marching pace, among a crowd of celebrating Milanese people, whose faces we can vaguely see and we can imagine them looking out of the window, ready to throw the roses that brighten the air and street with their soft, happy colours. Victor Emmanuel and Napoleon III advance solemnly through the flags of the two countries that flutter side by side. If the latter seems to give some response to the crowd by waving his hat, the former remains serious, austere and composed, showing fully his personal recognition of the extraordinary moment they are experiencing.
Finally, the last painting portrays a second and even more triumphal entry, that of Vittorio Emanuele in Campidoglio, whose perfect, solemn tone represents the most direct visual connection with the allegory that covers the starry vault. This painting celebrates the final conquest of the capital by the representation of the king on his horse that advances into the Imperial Forum, announced and accompanied by the personification of the War (on his right, with chlamys and helmet, wrapped in the tricolour) and of Victor, on the left, his head decorated with a star, his arm raised to show the shining torch. In the background, skilfully and concisely sketched out, we see the remains of ancient Rome.
This first celebratory moment concludes with the decoration of the vault where, on an intensely blue starry background, a series of female figures are sitting solemnly in a circle of marble thrones, looking downwards. These represent an allegory of seven Italian cities, a court in assembly around Italy which is portrayed in armour, with turreted headwear and a sword in hand. They likely refer to the cities of Venice, Milan, Rome, Palermo, Turin, Naples (or Brescia) and Florence. They bring to our mind the banner of the cities that decorate the lower base of the hall: Sassari, Florence, Mantua, Brescia, Milan, Turin, Genoa, Naples, Rome, Alessandria (or Varese), Palermo, Venice.
The first part of the route ends with the vault, made by Vittorio Emanuele Bressanin with great skill in his use of composition and colour. The artist, an expert decorator, is a master of an exquisite New-Venetian style which is rich in light and colour and drawn with a quick and precise brushstrokes. He seems to tone the entrance in well with the artistic harmony that follows on the walls of the Tower. This is achieved by using a modern adaptation of the ancient technique of encausting that used hot wax to fix on the colour, at the same time giving it an original, soft brilliance. This same skill we find in the series of military episodes that accompany the visitor on their ascent; this series, while showing a diversity of styles also shows a harmonious concord of the technique and a stylistic research of a well thought-out balance between descriptive and celebratory realism.

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