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Orvieto Art and monuments -
The Palazzo Comunale
Between 1270 and 1276 a series of restoration works were carried out on the Palazzo Comunale, with the insertion of thin gothic archways (still visible on the second floor) to support the roof of the building.
The painted decorations in the Salone of the Palazzo Comunale were carried out between 1345 and 1347, when a popular uprising placed Matteo Orsini in control of the city.
Some traces of this decoration still remain, in a restored room on the second floor, which today houses the Archivio Storico.
The eagle of the Comune and the Orsini coat of arms appear alternately in the decorations of the capitols. Portraits representing some magistrates of the Comune, such as "dominus Nicolaus Zarfaldus", "dominus Tudinus Judex" and "dominus Egidius de Montefranco" appear above the figures of two duelling shieldbearers, and coats of arms with a faun lion in a white background.
By1485 the Palazzo del Comune was in such a precarious condition that the Consiglio held its meetings in the Palazzo Vescovile, later the residence of the city’s papal governors in spite of it still being nominally occupied by the bishop.
The entrance into the main hall of the Palazzo Comunale is in late 15th, early 16th century style. Rusticated work is enclosed within an exterior gothic arch and a round arch within.
When the tower of the Comune collapsed into the Piazza Maggiore in 1515, leaving the square strewn with debris from April to September, the following year it was decided that the time had come to carry out restoration works on the Palazzo. In 1532 Sangallo was commissioned to provide a model for the design of the restoration works, for which the architect received the houses that belonged to the church near the Torre del Moro on the condition that he constructed a palazzo of his own in the area. In the event of his dying without heirs, the building was to revert to the Comune.
Also in 1532 designs by Lorenzo da Viterbo in an antique style for the basalt doorway into the main hall were being carried out by Leonardo da Todi and Antonio Scalpellini. This work may be the doorway we see today at the top of the stairs.
Under the supervision of Ippolito Scalza, the arches and windows of the Palazzo Comunale were adorned with stone work, according to the original designs completed by Sangallo. Scalza was responsible for the slightly heavy additions to the windows, as well as for the design of the gate into the Monte di Pietà under the central archway. Scalza’s complete designs for the entire façade are kept in the Museo dell'Opera.
It would appear, however, the works started in 1573 were abandoned in 1581, so that still by the 19th century the building was incomplete. Many of the windows on the first and second floors were in fact completed much more recently. Today the building is still missing four arches of the western loggia, along with the construction above them.
As from 1597, Ippolito Scalza oversaw the works on the well, with its basalt opening and columns, that stands on the terrace of the Palazzo Comunale. The sculpture work is by Curzio Testasecca, who also completed the ribbed staircase of the palazzo.
In the 18th century it was customary for the townsfolk to swarm the loggia of the Palazzo Comunale in order to watch organised boar-chases on festival days. It is said that the whole of Piazza Maggiore would ring with the screams of the animal being slaughtered. The gilded leather panels that originally lined the walls of the Sala dell’Udienza, a remnant of the city’s past glories, were said to still be in place in 1791 and in such poor condition that a number of complaints were lodged. The tattered damask that still hangs in the room was intended to substitute the rotting parts of the original leather panelling.
The decorations of the Cancelleria del Comune are fairly open in style, with four symbolic figures in chiaroscuro at the centre, an angel holding a trumpet with the quartered arms of the Comune and the four corners occupied by the arms of the four institutions that depend from the Comune itself: the Opera del Duomo, the Ospedale di S.ta Maria, the Monte Pio and the Collegio Cappelletti.
The painted decorations that adorn the council chamber of the Palazzo del Comune are also worthy of note, with the city’s arms and views of those castles controlled by the city in the mid-17th century: Civitella d'Agliano, Monteleone, Montegabbione, San Venanzo, Ripalvella, Palazzo Bovarino, Collelongo, Poggiovalle and Bandita del Monte, San Vito, Benano.
The wall of the main hall of the Palazzo Comunale is inlaid with the finest example of Roman art to have remained in Orvieto – a fragment of a sarcophagus with a nuptial scene carved in relief.
The 16th century alterations carried out by Scalza on the palazzo still reveal the original vaulting and some of the cross arches of the great upper hall that existed in the 13th century.
Although Scalza’s modifications on the palazzo remained incomplete, their mark on the square was so strong that the 19th century alterations followed naturally in his style. When Pope Pius IX visited the city in 1857, Virginio Vespignani was commissioned to design a neoclassical archway in travertine stone for the southern façade of the building, as an entrance into the piazza from Porta Romana.