Key to Umbria: Perugia

Palazzo Donini (1716-24)

and Palazzo Donini Nuovo (1780-6)

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Filippo Donini, a textiles magnate originally from Tuscany, built this palace on the corner of what are now Corso Vannucci and Piazza Italia. 

History of the Site

In 1717, during the work on the foundations, a collection of precious objects was discovered that dated to the 7th century.  This included:

  1. a silver disc engraved with an image of a man on horseback attacking another who was fleeing from him;

  2. gold coins from the time of the Emperors Justin (518 - 27) and Justinian (527 - 65);

  3. items of female jewellery; and

  4. buckles and other objects that would have been worn by a man. 

Burial within the walls of cities was becoming acceptable at this time, and it is likely that this treasure had been buried in a family grave.  Unfortunately, it was later dispersed.

This was subsequently the site of the church of Santa Lucia di Colle Landone, which was first documented in 1022 as a possession of the Abbazia di San Pietro.  It was listed as a parish church in 1285.  The church was demolished in ca. 1540 to make way for Rocca Paolina:

  1. its parish was absorbed by that of Santa Maria della Misericordia; and

  2. its dedication subsequently passed to a new church of Santa Lucia in nearby Via Baglioni.

History of the Palaces

The Donini family, which made its money in textiles and banking, arrived in Perugia from Tuscany in the late 16th century.  It acquired greater social standing when Filippo di Stefano Donini married Eleonora Monaldeschi in the early 18th century.  Filippo and his brother Pietro commissioned the first Palazzo Donini (illustrated above) on its prestigious site, then directly opposite the main facade of Rocca Paolina, shortly thereafter.  The family was formally raised to the nobility in 1751. 

Costanza Baldeschi, the widow of Luigi Donini, built a new palace, Palazzo Donini Nuovo, behind the original palace in Corso Vannucci.  It  abutted the church of Sant’ Isidoro, and its construction required the demolition of its campanile.   The project gave rise to strenuous objections, not only from the parish priest of Sant’ Isidoro and the Sapienza Nuova (to whom the church then belonged), but also from those who opposed the destruction of a well that had been available for public use.
The new palace also incorporated the small church of Santa Maria del Riscotto, which was next to but separate from the original palace. 

Another Filippo Donini, the son of of Luigi Donini and Costanza Baldeschi, married Piera Ferretti in 1792.  The coat of arms of the Donini-Ferretti family can be seen above the portal in Corso Vannucci.

The Austrian Chancellor, Prince Clemens von Metternich and his officials took over the palace for three weeks in 1819 when they attended on the Emperor Francis I in Perugia.  (The Emperor's  unscheduled sojourn, during which he and his family took over Palazzo Conestabile della Staffa in PiazzaDanti, was caused by the illness of his daughter Carolina.  For this short period, Perugia was the centre of the Austrian Empire.)  It was during this stay (on June 17, 1819) that Metternich wrote a famous letter to his personal secretary, Friedrich Gentz that set out his political philosophy.

(Laura Donini Montesperelli was the daughter of Luigi Donini and Costanza Baldeschi.  Her marriage to Scipone Montesperelli ended in separation in 1799, and she became a tertiary under the protection of the Convento di Monteripido.  She died in 1854, and endowed what became known as the Opera Pia Donini in her will.)

The Donini family became extinct later in the 19th century and the palace passed to the Commune.  It now houses Giunta Regionale (Regional Council).  It hosts an exhibition of works by the Sicilian artist Salvatore Fiume (died 1997).


A number of frescoes from the original programme of decoration of the new palace survive.  These are mainly allegorical scenes set in fictive perspectival architecture in the ceilings.

  1. Those in three rooms on the ground floor (immediately on the left after entering from Piazza d’ Italia) probably date to ca. 1737:

  2. those in the first room are attributed to Sebastiano Ceccarini of Urbino; and

  3. those in the other rooms are attributed to the Bolognese workshop of Francesco Bibiena.

  4. those in the 14 rooms on the piano nobile (including the Salone d’ Onore and the chapel) were probably executed in 1745-50 and are mostly attributed to:

  5. Pietro Carattoli (fictive architecture);

  6. Nicolò Giuli (decorative elements); and

  7. Francesco Appiani (figurative scenes). 

  8. However, the figurative scene in the sala del caminetto (the room of the fireplace), which depicts Apollo driving his chariot of fiery horses across the sky to give light to the world, is attributed to Giacinto Boccanera.  Since he died in 1746, this was presumably the first room on this floor to be decorated.  The framing of the fresco (presumably by Pietro Carattoli) makes the most daring use of fictive perspectival architecture in the palace. 

Read more:

F. Mancini (Ed), “Il Palazzo Donini di Perugia”, (2010) Perugia

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