Palazzo Biscari, music and baroque architecture in Sicily
Catania is home to one of the most beautiful baroque buildings in Italy: Palazzo Biscari, which was built over the long period of time between the end of the 17th century and the second half of the 18th. It was the residence of the ancient patrician Paternò Castello family.
A number of dances were held in its grand rococo hall, where concerts are organized today. In a novel of his from a few years ago, Ottavio Castellani wrote:
“At that exact moment, Rosanna Lambertini’s mandolin made its triumphal entrance in Palazzo Biscari, sweeping with one look over the wide entrance (dominated, for no particular reason, by a grand piano). The mandolin twirled in ecstasy, in admiration of the 18th-century paintings representing the Biscari estate and its activities: winemaking and sericulture.”
“Here is a great place to welcome an artist, an intellectual! He could go from the entrance to the picture hall, with the polychrome majolica floors made by Vietri craftsmen in 1711, then to the Pink Hall with its portraits of the owners’ family, and finally to the dance hall – a rococo delirium of three-tier stuccos and decorations, all the way up to the music lodge’s dome – with Vulcan sitting at the center of the Gods’ Council – which musicians accessed via a cloud-shaped ladder” (translated from “Sicilian Tragedi”, Mondadori, Milan 2010).
British art historian and secret agent Anthony Blunt (1907-1983) also described the gorgeous dance hall in Palazzo Biscari:
“The hall is the most free example of rococo decor in Sicily. Its layout is an elongated octagon, ending with an alcove that is said to have originally contained a ‘lit de parade’.”
“The center of the concave ceiling has an oval skylight, through which you can see the outer dome decorated with an allegorical fresco, lit up by windows placed under the inner dome; a gallery goes all around the skylight, and that is where the orchestra sat during balls.”
“You reach the gallery from a spiral staircase that is harmoniously contained in the space between the hall and the windows on the front. The hall’s and staircase’s decor is unparalleled in all of Sicily, and even all of Southern Italy, and features panels of dense rococo stucco, lovingly decorated with a wooden tool…” (translated from “Barocco siciliano”, Rome 1968).
Let’s go on in: the dance is about to begin.