Postcard from Turin, Italy: A royal villa with a Chinese accent

The tastes of the royals of the House of Savoy required numerous elegant residences for retreats and entertaining around the outskirts of Turin. Vigna, a villa and vineyard, was built on a rise on the other side of the River Po for a cardinal who was the brother of Victor Emanuele I (1587-1637).

In 1684, the estate was inherited by Anne Marie d’Orleans (1669-1728), a niece of King Louis XIV (1638-1715) of France. Eager to maintain and strengthen the French influence over the House of Savoy, Louis XIV earlier had arranged for his 14-year-old niece to marry the young duke, Victor Amadeus II (1666-1732). Victor Amadeus II already was struggling to wrench control from the French-born acting regent, his mother, Maria Christina (1606-1663). While the marriage proved lasting, the King of France sometimes found the Duke of Savoy allying himself with the opposing side on the battlefields of Europe.

After Anne Marie and Victor Amadeus II became the Queen and King of Sardinia, the palace became known as Villa della Regina. The royals’ favored architect, Filippo Juvarra (1678-1736), undertook the conversion of the villa into a more palatial retreat for the queen. The Chinoiserie decorations in vogue following King Louis XIV’s incorporation of them in the Trianon at Versailles took over numerous rooms in the palace.

Victor Emanuele II (1820-1878) donated Villa della Regina to the state of Italy in 1868.

Postcard from Turin, Italy: Museum housed in palace transformed by extravagant tastes of royal widows

When the House of Savoy chose a site for a new castle in Turin in the early 14th century, the rulers took advantage of the original protective Palatine gate and towers constructed under the rule of Emperor Augustus (63 BC-14 AD).

In 1637, Regent Maria Christina (1606-1663) chose the castle as her personal residence and remodeled the palace to suit her tastes. Six decades later, the Parisian-born widow of her son, Charles Emanuele II (1634-1675), made the palace her own.

Marie Jeanne Baptiste (1644-1724) ruled as regent for her son, Victor Amadeus II (1666-1732). The young king encountered some difficulties ending his mother’s interference in the kingdom’s affairs, finally wrenching full control from her in 1684).

Like her mother-in-law, Marie Jeanne was known as Madama Reale, and their sumptuous residence was referred to as Palazzo Madama. Among the extensive changes she commissioned were a southern veranda and chinoiserie embellishments fashionable at the time. Architect Filippo Juvarra (1678-1736) began to transform the palace for her by designing an elegant white stone Baroque façade, but construction was halted in 1710 before she could alter more than one side of the palace lording over Piazzo Castello. At the time of her death, Madama Reale was not only the mother of the King of Sardinia but also grandmother of two other royal monarchs – King Louis I (1707-1724) of Spain and King Louis XV (1710-1774) of France.

Later, the palace served as the Royal Art Gallery, as the first home of the Senate of the Kingdom of Italy and, since 1934, as the home of as Turin’s Museum of Ancient Art, Museo Civico d’Arte Antica.