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.