Although its origins are tied to a 15th-century castle that had been built by Borso d’Este, Marquis of Ferrara, the Ducal Palace of Sassuolo took its current form with the renovation ordered by Duke Francesco I d’Este, who decided to transform the ancient fortress into a delightful residence. At the time, the Italian term “Delizia” (“delight”) was used to describe aristocratic estates dedicated to pleasant activities and relaxation; today, it evokes legendary stories, hunting scenes, tournaments and the delicate love stories that have filled so many books. In fact, the House of Este considered these sumptuous palaces like decentralized seats of the government, where power could be exercised through a network of relationships and double-dealings.
The palace was designed by architect Bartolomeo Avanzini and represents one of the most important examples of Baroque style in Northern Italy. Its interiors are decorated and frescoes by the court’s official painter, the French Jean Boulanger, helped by the most important artists and craftsmen of the time, including Guercino. The paintings hung in these elegant halls were signed by some of the leading quadraturist painters from Bologna, like Agostino Mitelli and Angelo Michele Colonna.
To highlight the House of Este’s “good government”, allegorical paintings inspired by the artists’ patrons mixed classic literature and the stories of mythological heroes. These works of art were inserted into “quadrature”, where optical illusions make spaces appear larger thanks to well-designed perspectives, in order to overcome and alter the limits of reality with a technique that was particularly popular at the time.
Outside the palace, the amazing fishpond and majestic park – which extends for some twelve kilometers, all the way to the hills – are a feast for the eyes… and a delight for any visitor, aristocratic or not, today.