Ràcani Arroni Palace

Palazzo Racani (which in time took on the following names: Brancaleoni, Vari, Arroni) overlooks Via dell’Arringo and still bears large parts of the sgraffito decorations that once covered the entire façade (fig. 3). The illustration published here shows a reconstruction of the façade’s iconography and tries to reproduce, albeit partially, the image of the entire one, which unfortunately is no longer there (fig. 4). Real architecture is overlapped by an illusive architecture featuring isolated figures and scenes. The iconography of façade no. 2, as we can reconstruct it today, seems to bear no reference to the names of the owners, nor does it specifically allude to the family; rather, through representations of Virtù (virtues) and other episodes of mythology and Roman history, it seems to simply celebrate the moral traits and qualities the family was looking to.

Ground floor: starting from the bottom, on the line of the arched windows, fake rectangular openings seen in perspective, screened by flat-tile and diamond pattern glass walls (here, the sgraffito decoration used red clay – traces of which have remained); the portal sides are decorated by scrolls; a double meander is above the portal architrave; friezes bearing putti and historical and mythological scenes: the story of Psyche, a non-identified scene with four characters, one of whom sitting on a throne, Hercules slaying the Nemean lion, Samson held captive, Apollo and Daphne, Lucretia’s suicide, Phaethon and Helios sleeping, the Continence of Scipio. The frieze originally had five more scenes and other putti, which are no longer there and whose subject cannot be reconstructed based on what can be read in a photograph taken in the early 20th century.
First floor: the rectangular spaces between the windows were framed by cornices and decorated with scenes and figures, all of which have disappeared, except a fragment of the figure between the sixth and seventh windows. Thanks to Cavalcaselle’s description and to the part of it that can still be seen in the old photograph, it is now possible to say that this female figure was turning towards a fire tripod. The old photograph allows us to make out the battle scene depicted between the fourth and fifth windows and the isolated figure of man riding a horse, facing left (perhaps in connection with the previous scene) in the following rectangle.

(3) Cfr. G.B. Cavalcaselle J. A. Crowe, Storia della pittura in Italia, firenze 1908, X, p. 114-115.

Figura 4.

The overarching frieze consisted of two strips: one was immediately above the windows’ architraves, broken down into several ‘frames’, and now hardly visible; the other strip features the larger frieze, the best preserved one of the entire façade, also entirely documented in a 19th century drawing (available at Spoleto’s municipal gallery). The subject is Neptune and his court of Nereids, Tritons and sea monsters.

Second floor: fake openings, whose shapes were probably not homogeneous, were made between the real windows; the old photograph shows that architrave between the sixth and seventh windows was notched by an arch at the centre, with a tympanum above it. A high frieze towered above the windows, alternating decorations, large scrolls and marine deities; this frieze has now completely disappeared – only a few fragments of the scroll decorations carved on the plaster, to the far right, remain.

Third floor: Lady Justice is between the first and second window, in perspective, in a niche on a red brick wall; a Caryatid and a supporting statute are on the two areas of the façade on the sides of the loggia; the Moderation is between the last two windows, again in a red brick niche.

Very little remains of these figures, which we can see the old photograph. The decoration ended at the top with a balustrade motif consisting of small, moulded pillars and columns, attached to the monumental eaves made in engraved, golden and multicoloured wood, decorated with rosettes and zodiac signs, removed around 1850.
The painter who did the sgraffito decoration was clearly influenced (aside from Raphael’s school) by the Roman artistic culture of the third decade of the 16th century.

He was probably Giovanni da Spoleto, as I have suggested in a recent study.

G. Sapori, Per un catalogo delle facciate graffite in Umbria: Spoleto, in “Spoletium” n. 24 (XXI, 1979), pages 65-66-67.

The right side of the street is dominated by the grey façade of Palazzo Ràcani (then Arroni, currently owned by the University of Perugia). It is a building whose clear distribution of architectural elements matches the large sgraffito parts, most of which are ruined, to create a sophisticated composure: notice how the meticulous, regular spacing out of the beautiful Renaissance-style windows suddenly lightens up with the motif of the long, third floor loggia, which no longer features the monumental, engraved edge (removed around 1850).

This renowned palazzo was built during the first quarter of the 16th century by the Ràcani family, one of the most illustrious ancient families of Spoleto. The initiative was apparently taken up by Bartolomeo Ràcani, who used carry out important tasks for the municipality at the time. Over time, the building was owned by other prestigious families of the cities: the Brancaleoni family took over probably some time in the 17th century and held possession until they died out in 1725, when the ownership passed to the Vari family. The Arroni family took possession of it in the mid-18th century.

The palazzo was recently purchased by the University of Perugia to make it the headquarters of Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo, previously located at Palazzo Ancaiani. Such an acquisition has further enriched the array of properties owned by the University of Perugia, which owns other important buildings in several Umbrian cities […].

A beautiful portal, flanked by Corinthian columns and decorated with elegant reliefs leads you to the ground floor inside. The façade’s sgraffito decoration continues.
Ground floor, the most damaged one: between the windows, fake rectangular openings seen in perspective are screened by metal grills; a double meander decoration tower above; a frieze below the string course is partially ruined: cherubs cling on to a fake balustrade, with (ruined) decorations along the spaced-out strips and transennas depicting mythological scenes, perhaps love and gods – in fact, the fifth scene, starting from the left, shows Apollo and Daphne.
First floor: the spaces between the windows were decorated with great, isolated figures, all of which have disappeared, except for the one between the sixth and seventh windows; a large frieze along the string course, the most important and best preserved one; a 19th century copy (available at Spoleto’s municipal gallery) helps us understands that the figure was Poseidon, god of the sea, sitting on his carriage, at the centre, surrounded by his court of Nereids, Tritons and sea monsters along the side.
Secondo piano: the sgraffito decorations are almost entirely ruined; very little, indecipherable traces remain.
Third floor: the spaces between the windows were all decorated with large figures, the best preserved one is a Caryatid between the second window from the left and the loggia; the overarching wall features an elegant, fake balustrade.
Sgraffito decorations are subject to quick deterioration and these ones also suffered further damage, being exposed to weather when the ancient eaves was removed. In 1889 G. Moscatelli refurbished them, with the State funding the work. In 1977, the owners had the eaves restored, making it exactly as the original one. General renovation works are currently underway, set up by the Cooperativa Beni Culturali alongside the Corso Regionale di Restauro and the Superintendence, for the consolidation and cleaning of the sgraffito plasters. The restoration of the architectural elements is yet to be agreed upon.

Inside, the nice courtyard stands out: a small, narrow space embellished by architrave or arched stone doors, decorated by the diamond-shaped bossage, by double and triple-arched windows separated by Corinthian columns (on the side where the staircase opens up and above the nymphaeum, some of which have been walled, unfortunately) and, above all, by the artistic nymphaeum, which occupies the back wall.

The main basin is flanked by two small truncated obelisks, decorated with stuccos and resting a tall, rock-like base, it too decorated with stuccos (the two iron wedges jutting out of the obelisks surely used to support two terminal elements, no longer there); the deep niche above the basin includes three large stucco figures: Artemis of Ephesus and a deity on each sides, a male and a female one, possibly alluding – just like the main statue – to fertility and abundance; the lunette is shaped somewhat like a seashell, with ochre and green valves dotted with real seashells; the arch and archivolt above are decorated with stucco framings, which housed frescos that are now ruined. On the sides of the entrance arch the coats of arms of the Brancaleoni and Lauri families have been walled. They must have been put up when a Brancaleoni, spouse of a Lauri, took possession of the building.

The apartments have been almost completely renovated, starting from the 18th century; some elements of the building’s construction years still remain, testifying that the Ràcani family were the first owners: in a small room overlooking the courtyard on the second floor, a frieze surely dating back to the 16th century depicts putti riding lions, sphynxes, etc. as well as the Ràcani coat of arms, which is also to be found on the upper floor, on some of the painted wooden boards on the ceiling, again dating back the early decades of the 16th century.

Ancient sources make no mention of the artists who designed the architecture and decorations this noble building. Observing the style it is necessary to make a distinction between the architecture of the façade and courtyard and the design of the nymphaeum and sgraffito decorations.
Regarding the architecture, the presence in Spoleto – between the 15th and 16th centuries – of artists such as Ambrogio Barocci and Pippo di Antonio da Firenze (who had used Lombard, Tuscan and Lauran elements) surely played a key role in the creation, here, of a culture deeply permeated with Renaissance techniques, and Palazzo Ràcani is a clear example of this. A comparison between the works of the those stonecutters and architects and the reliefs of the portal (or the ones on the front of the altar of the family chapel and on a fireplace that used to be in the building are now in the Antonelli chapel in the cemetery and at the civic museum, respectively) is enlightening.
Regarding the sgraffito decorations and nymphaeum, which both reveal that the purchaser had a penchant for contemporary Roman works, they both were probably made subsequently to the architecture, but no later than the first quarter of the 16th century. The sgraffito decorations have been generally attributed, conflictingly, to Jacopo Siciliano and Giulio Romano. The former theory must be considered wrong, because Jacopo’s known works show that he never fully mastered the Roman proto-mannerism, as the author of the sgraffito did. The latter theory, on the other hand, is worth considering more than has been done so far and should be extended – in the light of other contributions of the Roman culture – to the fascinating nymphaeum, which matches quite well the complex and intellectual taste of the grotto at Palazzo del Te in Mantua.

During the demolition, in 1978, of some parts of false plaster from the façade, fragments belonging to buildings that stood here before Palazzo Ràcani was constructed emerged. Since they surely dated back to the late Middle Ages, like other elements that surfaced on the opposite side in 1952 – when Via dell’Arringo was made narrower following the demolition of a wing of the Bishop’s Palace – and since there is no evidence, on either side, of more ancient elements, it is possible to deduce that Via dell’Arringo was designed relatively late (13th–14th century).

L. GENTILI, L.GIACCHE’, B.RAGNI, B.TOSCANO, L’Umbria, Manuali per il territorio, 2, Spoleto, Rome, 1978, pages 316-319

In 1967 professor Giuseppe Ermini, founder and president of CISAM and rector of the University of Perugia, bought the Palace from the Anderson Arroni family.
Nel corso degli anni Palazzo Arroni è stato oggetto di molti interventi di consolidamento strutturale e di restauro alle parti di pregio dell’edificio (affreschi, soffitti lignei e ninfeo).

Throughout the years, Palazzo Arroni underwent several structural consolidation works, and the most valuable parts of the palace (frescos, wooden ceilings and the nymphaeum) were refurbished.
The most relevant works involved the façade of the building, which overlooks Via dell’Arringo and makes it one of the most beautiful historical buildings of the city. In 1997 CISAM took part – alongside Italian and foreign partners – in a European project named “Raphael Programme”: its purpose was the renovation of the façades of seventeenth-century buildings with sgraffito decorations. The funds obtained allowed CISAM to start a thorough refurbishment of the façade and of the eaves.
The details of this delicate and complex intervention are available both on video (here) and in the book Le facciate a sgraffito in Europa e il restauro della facciata del palazzo Racani-Arroni in Spoleto. Study Day Documents (Spoleto, September 23, 2000), Spoleto: CISAM, 2000, pages XII-66, offset table 102.