Postcard from Castello di Rivoli, Turin, Italy: History with a horse hanging overhead

Mankind will discover objects in space sent to us by the watchers….

Michel de Nostradamus (1503-1566)

With prophecies such as that, it seems amazing contemporaries of Nostradamus placed much stock in his words. Yet he was a favorite of the French royals.

Nostradamus was dispatched to Castello di Rivoli, outside of and perched above Turin, at the end of 1561 to assist Margaret (1523-1574), the Duchess of Savoy, as she approached time to give birth. Well, not merely to assist as much as to bear witness to confirm the newborn truly emerged from the birth canal of the 35-year-old duchess.

Margaret’s brother, King Henry II (1519-1559) of France, hoped this would be impossible. If the Duke of Savoy, Emanuele Filiberto (1553-1580), failed to produce an heir, the Savoy holdings would be transferred to France. Nostradamus, however, predicted a son would be born and, lo and behold, was proven correct.

Despite her advanced age, Margaret saved the House of Savoy by producing the requisite heir, Carlo Emanuele I (1580-1630). A brilliant flash in the sky above the castle served as a sign to Emanuele Filiberto of the significance of this miraculous occurrence.

While the court moved down from the Castello di Rivoli into Turin, the palace on the hilltop always remained important to the Savoys. Carlo Emanuele I commissioned architects to transform his medieval birthplace into a palatial retreat, with towers added to link the main residence to the adjacent Manica Lunga housing some of his art collection.

After the French destroyed much of the compound during their invasion, Vittorio Amadeo II (1666-1732) determined to resurrect the castle as a grand symbol of the power of the new Kingdom of Sardinia. Much of the work was undertaken under the direction of architect Filippo Juvarra (1678-1736).

In 1883, the Savoy family sold the castle to the city of Turin which, to the detriment of the buildings and their interiors, rented it to the army. Then there was the damage caused by German occupation and bombings associated with World War II.

There was new hope for Rivoli, however. Funding began to arrive and the architect Andrea Bruno, whose name is tied to the complex’s rebirth, provided the first projects. Almost all the exterior doors and windows had disappeared, stucco work and paintings had been damaged through rain and dampness, tapestries were destroyed, woodwork had rotted. The first collapses took place in 1978, with the large vault crumbling to pieces in the grand hall on the second floor…. Coming to the aid of Rivoli was Marquis Panza di Biumo, an important contemporary art collector, in search of a venue where he could install a part of his collection.

In August 1979, restoration work on the Castello alone began, and would last until 1984, when it opened its doors as the Museum of Contemporary Art. This work took into account its entire past, respecting its architecture, but with modern additions like the elevator, the suspended staircase, the platform on the late 1700s vault, and the panoramic area on the third floor.

From 1984 to 1986, Andrea Bruno began working on the Manica Lunga, but unfortunately a lack of funds closed down the site, which reopened only in 1996. It was in February 2000 that the building, first born to host Carlo Emanuele I’s picture gallery, refound its age-old splendor. The structure was maintained with the inclusion of the vault’s overturned hull-shaped steel cover and the steel and glass stairs joining the 17th-century structure.

History of Castello Di Rivoli

When we visited Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, a major Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) exhibition was featured (sorry, no  photos allowed). But you probably want to know about the horse. Of course.

The medium for this 1997 installation piece, “Novecento,” by Maurizio Cattelan is obvious. An embalmed taxidermy horse, unavailable at most artists’ supply stores.

A different allusion to an existential condition, where the subject is deprived of any possibility of action, is elaborated in “Novecento” (1900), 1997…. A new take on the concept of natura morta (“still life,” literally “dead nature”), the final image is one of frustrated tension, of energy destined to find no outlet. By the artist’s own admission, insecurity is a defining aspect of his approach, and the idea of failure is a theme that recurs in many of his works.

While waiting for the regular bus running back and forth from Turin, we passed up on the handsome museum’s café for a spot a flight of stairs down the hill. Nothing fancy. Plastic chairs. But the private bocce club welcomed us.

Bocce competition was fierce on the court adjacent to the patio. Regular local foursomes also were engaged in serious, to the point spectators would pull up chairs to observe, games of scopa (sweep). The regional card game is played with large, unfamiliar decks of cards.

For us, the most unexpected aspect of the bocce and scopa games was the participants’ choice of beverages. While we sipped our beers, everyone else was drinking water.