The Parliament Hall (26 x 13 m) is the heart of Udine Castle. Representatives of the aristocracy, clergy and urban communities of the Patria del Friuli, the feudal state led by the Patriarch of Aquileia until the 1420 invasion by troops of the Venetian Republic, which dominated Udine and much of Friuli until 1797, met here periodically.
The origins of the Parliament of Friuli date back to the first half of the 13th century. The assembly took place in various locations in the region and had a consultative function, which it maintained after the arrival of the Venetians. The Parliament continued to meet in Udine until 1805, when it was dissolved by Napoleon. To the power of the Parliament the Venetians countered both their direct and indirect military and political control (through the Lieutenants) and the Contadinanza, i.e. the assembly of representatives of the Friulian peasants, whose House stood between via Vittorio Veneto and via Rauscedo and was demolished and rebuilt in 1931 on Piazzale del Castello.
The Hall was built during the rebuilding of the Castle following the devastating earthquake that struck Friuli in 1511. The building was initially designed by the Venetian architect Giovanni Fontana (c.1470 - before 1528). Subsequently, the painter and architect Giovanni da Udine (1487 - 1561), a pupil of Giorgione (c.1478 - 1510) and Raphael (1483 - 1520) famous for the 'grotesque' decoration of vaults and ceilings, took over from Fontana and designed the grand staircase on the north side of the building.
Between the second half of the 16th century and the end of the 18th century, the walls of the Hall were decorated by various artists belonging mainly to the Friulian school. The figurative programme of the cycle is the result of a unified design, the creator of which is unknown. Moreover, the fact that the decoration of the Hall lasted for more than a century and a half has resulted in frequent alterations that have prevented it from being fully understood.
With a mixture of religious and secular themes, ancient history (of republican and imperial Rome) and modern history (the struggle between Venice and the Ottoman Empire), the decorations are developed on the walls and ceiling of the Hall, dialoguing with each other with a rather strict symmetry. Scholars have speculated that the decorative programme was designed to extol the peace and prosperity enjoyed by Friuli under Venetian rule.
On display in the Hall are Ottoman spears and parade pikes, which tradition says were spoils of war from the Christian victory over the Turks at Lepanto (7 October 1571), donated to the Civic Museums of Udine by Giuliano Mauroner (1846-1919).
Inspired by the 'Venetian ceilings' (like those in the Doge's Palace in the lagoon city). Dated between 1566 and 1625. The cycle consists of 21 canvases, 15 of which have an allegorical theme and 6 decorated with coats of arms or inscriptions. The decorative design was once attributed to Giovanni Battista Grassi (c. 1525 - c. 1578), while it is now attributed to another Friulian painter: Francesco Floreani (c. 1515 - c. 1595). The allegorical symbols include Justice, War and Peace, as well as Faith and Religion. In the Justice scene in the central octagon, the hand of the Udine painter Giacomo Secante (1510 - 1585) has been recognised.
The ceiling was damaged several times by water infiltration and heavily restored in 1788 by the Friulian Giovanni Battista de Rubeis (1743 - 1819) and in 1818 by the Udine art expert and painter Leopoldo Zuccolo (c.1760 - 1833), a pupil of de Rubeis.
UPPER AND LOWER FRIEZE
Under the ceiling are friezes painted with the coats of arms of the Lieutenants to whom the Serenissima Republic entrusted the administrative, legal and fiscal control of the Piccola Patria between the Venetian invasion of Friuli in 1420 and the Napoleonic invasion of 1797.
The four walls of the Hall are also embellished with a monochrome frieze, in ochre tones, depicting the Triumph over the Turks at Lepanto. The work has been attributed to Francesco Floreani. Its state of preservation, however, does not allow the frieze to be assigned with certainty. It was in poor condition as early as the early 18th century, when the portion on the south wall was repainted.
TIEPOLO IN THE PARLIAMENT HALL
In his biography (1732) of the Venetian painter Gregorio Lazzarini (1655-1730), Vincenzo da Canal reported that Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696 - 1770), one of the most famous artists of the 18th century, was called upon to restore some frescoes in the Parliament Hall of Udine Castle.
Today, one can recognise Tiepolo's intervention on the figures of four pairs of Putti, two on the north wall and two on the south wall of the Hall. The Putti have been dated around 1726 as they show strong stylistic similarities to the figures painted by Tiepolo in the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament in Udine Cathedral.
In the same period, Tiepolo also made some interventions on the 16th century frieze attributed to Floreani. On the south wall of the Hall, he painted Men in Arms.
Tiepolo was not the only Venetian artist to work in the Hall in the 18th century. On the north wall, above the door leading to the Giovanni da Udine staircase, there is in fact a monochrome with a military scene, which scholars assume was painted around 1795 by the painter Giovanni Battista Canal (1745-1825).
Divided into historical scenes interspersed with paintings of religious themes and allegorical figures (Revenge and Victory), the wall was initially frescoed by the Friulian painter Pomponio Amalteo (1505 - 1588), son-in-law of Pordenone (c.1483 - 1539). The decoration followed a programme outlined in 1567 by Lieutenant Filippo Bragadin (1509 - 1572), who had taken part in the Venetians' land and sea struggle against the Turkish Empire and the Moorish pirates.
In the Battle of Malgariti Amalteo reworked inventions by Raphael and his workshop (such as the famous Battle of Ponte Milvio in the Hall of Constantine) and the style and compositions of the Venetian Jacopo Tintoretto (1518 - 1594). Other scenes, such as Marcus Curtius throwing himself into the abyss and the Death of Cato Uticense, were painted by Giovanni Battista Grassi.
The wall was repainted and heavily restored at the end of the 18th century by Giovanni Battista de Rubeis and later by G. U. Valentinis, Giovanni Masutti (1842 - 1904) and Antonio Milanopulo (1842 -1920).
The east wall is also divided into scenes interspersed with sacred representations. The Siege of Aquileia by Maximinus the Thracian in 238 A.D. by Pomponius Amalteus evokes the vision of Udine (but even more so of Venice) as the 'new Aquileia'.
The other two scenes, commissioned in 1569 by Lieutenant Francesco Venier (1505 - 1581), were painted by Giovanni Battista Grassi. They represent Justice and Wisdom dragging Injustice in chains and The Homeland of Friuli paying homage on its knees, assisted by Venus and Cupid, to Venice enthroned.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Giuseppe Bergamini, Il Salone del Parlamento, in Giuseppe Bergamini, Tiziana Ribezzi (ed.), La Galleria d'Arte Antica dei Civici Musei di Udine, Volume 1, Dipinti dal XIV alla metà del XVII secolo (Vicenza; Terra Ferma Edizioni, 2002), p. 188-204.