The history of the building is inextricably linked to that of the Bufalini family, which boasted figures established in the ecclesiastical, literary and legal fields. From the thirties of the sixteenth century, the fortress was transformed into a noble residence responding to specific artistic, social and cultural needs, according to the will of Julius I and his brother, Abbot Ventura Bufalini. Although it was the interior that underwent major changes, with the creation of large halls distributed around a courtyard with two porticoed sides, dates back to that period the inclusion in the facade of the loggia and the monumental entrance in a central position. From the outside the original military structure of the building remained clearly visible. The design of the palace was the work of the Florentine architect of the circle of Sangallo Giovanni di Alesso, called Nanni Unghero, but the work was completed with the intervention of Vignola around 1560. During the last decade of the seventeenth century and the first years of the eighteenth, the palace was renovated according to the project of the architect-painter tifernate Giovanni Ventura Borghesi, as a pleasant country villa with Italian garden. The building was enriched in the eighteenth century with valuable works of art of late Baroque taste, including pictorial and decorative cycles on fresco and canvas, also aimed at celebrating the Buffalo become marquises.
In July 1989 Castello Bufalini was acquired by the State Property, a rare example of almost intact historic mansion, which retains much of its furnishings formed from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. Currently the entire complex preserves paintings, furniture, tapestries, majolica and various busts of Roman times, according to the taste of the noble residence. In the tour you can admire: the Hall of the Pagan Gods and Hall of Prometheus with frescoes by Cristofano Gherardi; the Loggia; the Hall of the Cupboard, with the windows that hold the precious ceramic tableware and the glassware; the Dining Room; the Living Room: the Throne Room with canvases depicting scenes from the Old Testament and Orlando Furioso dell’Ariosto; the Gallery of Portraits; the Sala degli Stucchi; the Room of Cardinal Giovanni Ottavio Bufalini, with the beautiful cradle. The Garden is a typical example of an Italian garden that is now in the shape desired in the eighteenth century: the rose garden, the plant gallery called voltabotte, the so-called “paradise” and the labyrinth stand out for particular beauty.
It is located to the left of the castle facade. It was so nicknamed because it was the most private part of the garden, dedicated to the exclusive use of the family who lived in the building a place in cul they could take refuge to rest, read, play, converse or flirt.
Over the centuries the garden has undergone numerous transformations both in the general layout and in the layout of the flower beds. Almost certainly, in the past, the square space with the fountain in the center was divided into four regular flowerbeds of boxwood that contained heraldic symbols depicting buffalo heads and noble crowns, (typical custom of the Renaissance imprint on the flowerbeds special shapes). At the edges there were pedestals on which were probably placed the citrus vases, cultivation very common in the Italian gardens. In the eighteenth century was created the large oval basin (probably used as a fish pond) with four flower beds, surrounded by vases containing lemon trees, oranges and mandarins (which during the winter period were kept in a lemon-house which stood in the south corner of the complex). This was supported by the nymphaeum, still visible today, decorated and characterized by materials and colors that evoke the theme of the “cave”.
The nineteenth century is the construction of a new lemon house on the side of the entrance, now transformed into the ticket office and public services area. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the four magnolias were added to the center of the flower beds. Boxwood hedges trimmed into garlands, have now been recreated along the paths that surround the perimeter of the castle.
Continuing along the avenues outlined by boxwood hedges with garlands, you arrive in a part of the garden still characterized by two basins with stone edges and mosaic bottom. The irregular space is divided by flower beds that contain different species of fruit trees (apricots, peaches, persimmons, cornioli…) and flowers (tulips, iris. lilies..). Along the outer fence, on the side that runs along the state road, runs the long green corridor covered with viburno, which connects the old lemon house with a viewpoint that is located at the corner of the fence to the west, also the result of work of the eighteenth century.
Next to the rose garden, in the east corner of the garden, you can still admire the labyrinth. The evidence that indicates that it already existed at the end of the seventeenth century underlines the fact that this is one of the areas that retains the oldest characteristics of the park. Here there were the oldest trees in the garden, namely a holm oak and the two cypresses at the entrance to the labyrinth, planted in 1694.
Trapezoidal in shape, the labyrinth consists of high boxwood hedges that form a geometric grid of paths in which only one leads to the exit.
The labyrinth was a theme widely used in many pictorial and graphic sources, used to decorate floors and gardens, had at first the religious symbolic function of “the only way of purification from sin”, at a later time assumed the profane and playful meaning of “virtue that wins the fortune” or even “enterprise to get to the conquest of love”.
In the gardens it was widely used not only for decorative and symbolic purposes but because it was one of the courtiers games par excellence.
Going up the first flight of the noble staircase, you enter the first room of the keep, whose name comes from the theme of the frescoes of Gherardi represented in the vault. Ennobled by the precious paintings, in the sixteenth century it was also embellished with golden choruses. These elements indicate that this was probably the bedroom of an important family member.
Today the room is illuminated by a single window accompanied by stone side seats, which opens externally in the facade of the castle, and is characterized by mondanature and shelves that support the sill of the same workmanship as the window of the noble staircase. Perhaps in the Renaissance, at the time of the renovation works, another window was to be built in the space carved into the wall that today can be seen to the left of the entrance door, but probably there was a rethinking of the designer and the space was reshaped and the window never built. After the restoration carried out in 2006 by the Superintendence of Umbria, in this space corresponding to the casamatta, were brought to light dated writings, made by brush, in which you can easily read on the wall to the left “MA(ST)RO GH(ERARD)O II G(IU GN)O FE(CI)T” and to the right “1544”, that is the signature of Gherardi and the date (2 June 1544). This allowed to identify the period of realization of the frescoes on the return of the artist from the trip to Rome made in 1543 with Vasari. From Vasari: “he made so beautiful figures in a room on a whim, that he seemed to have studied it twenty years”.
The influence of Michelangelo and Raphael was clear in the representation of the naked bodies, while the use of the grotesque on a white background was influenced by the classical techniques that the painter had certainly been able to admire and learn in Rome.
The decoration enhances the members of the twelve times and lunettes. To delimit the frescoed area, Gherardi paints tassels that are raised in parallel to the openings to give the impression that they are moved by the wind. The stories depicted are inspired by those narrated in the Metamorphosis of Ovid.
Compositional diagram: in the oval at the center of the ceiling figure Jupiter (father of the gods) while on the four sides there are the squares with the figures of the Gods corresponding to the four elements of the universe: Giuno ne-Aria; Volcano-Fire; Neptune-Water; Cerere-Terra. In the plumes figures of different gods: Saturn and Filira, Diana, Mars, Venus, Apollo, Minerva, Mercury, Proserpine.
On the lunettes are depicted scenes of love or stories of ancient gods while under the plumes are arranged winged cherubs.
This large space was, during the Renaissance period, the only common environment for the inhabitants of the castle, the place where people ate, welcomed guests and where banquets were organized. Even in the following centuries he maintained this function and intended use.
This majestic hall, located in the west corner of the complex, occupies about one hundred and fifty square meters of the ground floor and rises up to the floor of the roofs. From the light color with which they are painted the walls and the great barrel vault with lunettes, emerge the moldings of the frames of the doors and the peducci of the vaults in pietra serena, and the great fresco that celebrates the Gloria dei Bufalini, painting commissioned by Filippo I Bufalini and his wife Anna Maria di Sorbello, designed by Giovanni Ventura Borghesi.
The plan of redevelopment of the castle of the sixteenth century was to raise the floor to create the floor below the space for a barn and define a large noble environment surrounded by a floating walkway , which was to dominate all roofs.
Since none of the characteristics described can be found today, it can be assumed that the renovation work was never carried out and the salon retained its current appearance.
The hall is now illuminated by the kneeling window that faces the cotile and by the windows towards the ditches that although they were planned, among the works to be done in the Renaissance, were only carried out during the restoration of the eighteenth century by the stonemason Bernardino Paciotti Sansepolcro.
This room is part of a series of three rooms in succession, delimited on one side by the living room and on the other by the room which was later nicknamed “the cardinal’s room”.
This room, with the other two belonging to the south-west wing of the castle, constituted in the sixteenth century the second private apartment on the ground floor.
The stuccoes that characterize the room were made at the beginning of the eighteenth century, in the period in which the palace was affected by real restoration works and were commissioned by the Marquis Niccolò Il Bufalini (brother of Philip I) and made by the plasterer tifernate Antonio.
The white stucco decorations in late Baroque style, shape leaves, garlands, weapons, female figures and putti, highlight the ribs of the vaults and frame a series of paintings on canvas that have as their theme the “history of strong women”.
The third of the three rooms in succession was used in the 18th century by Cardinal Giovanni Ottavio Bufalini, a collector of works of art, as his bedroom. The walls are almost completely filled with family paintings dating back to the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
Interesting inside the room is the passage that leads from this to the upper floor, characterized by a stone spiral staircase. This staircase is located right inside the south tower of the castle, and forms one of the private vertical links that joined the ground floor to the remaining upper floors. The staircase is accessible through a door on the south-east side of the cardinal’s room and develops in a circular room of about two meters illuminated by two loopholes that, as the designer himself says, were to serve to illuminate the narrow and dark environment. Going up the narrow staircase you get to a mezzanine floor, decorated with beautiful grotesque frescoes that takes light from a small window and finally the first floor of the castle in the area adjacent to the chapel. Most likely it was used by the cardinal himself to privately reach the place of prayer.
This room is the only one (or perhaps the only one to date) frescoed by the Doceno on the ground floor of the building. The walls of this room, in the Renaissance, decorated with golden choruses, have been embellished by paintings on canvas depicting landscapes and battles, part of the collection of the Cardinal Giovanni Ottavio Bufalini.
Given the artistic maturity reached by the artist of Sansepolcro, it can be assumed that the pictorial cycle was realized in the last period in which Gherardi lived the castle, between 1546 and 1552. It denotes the artistic maturity of Doceno and the influence of the painting of Mannerism of Michelangelo and Raphael. Apart from the five main scenes, what really stands out are the colors and in particular the green decorative elements that frame the main scene in the center of the vault and that go down to the stalks of the vaults highlighting the corners of the room. To create these green garlands adorned with fruit and vegetables, it is suggested that Gherardi found inspiration from the lush and well-kept gardens that he could admire in the castle.
Compositional scheme: In the middle of the ceiling a balcony made with the technique of perspective below and above, frames the scene of Prometheus who steals fire from the chariot of the sun, helped by Pallas Athena. In the plumes, bounded by painted frames and decorated with green branches and masks, are represented. Prometheus creates man and soul with celestial fire, Mercury and Pandora, Pandora opening the box, the Torment of Prometheus. In the sails they find oval spaces with putti inside.
Simona Dindelli, “Castello Bufalini: a wonderful stop between Colle Plinio and Cospaia” – San Giustino : Bluprint, print 2016