Key to Umbria: Foligno

Portrait (18th century) of Giuseppe Piermarini

by Martin Knoller

Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Milan

Giuseppe Piermarini was born in Foligno in a house in what is now Via Pignatura. He moved to Rome in 1752 to study architecture under Carlo Murena

He moved to Caserta in 1765 to work under Luigi Vanvitelli on the Royal Palace of King Charles VII of Naples, and the two men began an association that lasted until Vanvitelli’s death (in 1773).  Thus, when the Emperor Joseph II commissioned Vanvitelli to remodel the Palazzo Reale in Milan in 1769, Piermarini took day-to day charge of the project and was appointed as the “Imperial Regio Architetto” of Milan.   The importance of the project increased in 1771, when the Archduke Ferdinand, the brother of Joseph II and Governor of Lombardy, married Maria Beatrice d’ Este; the young couple intended to make the palace their principal residence.  Piermarini and Vanvitelli found time to advise on the remodelling of the Duomo of Foligno (see below) during their trips between Naples and Milan in  1771-3.  However, by the time that work on the palace in Milan actually began under Piermarini in 1773, Vanvitelli was dead. 

Piermarini’s most important work in Milan was the construction of the Teatro alla Scala (1776-8).  He also restored the Palazzo Brera and was appointed a professor of the Accademia di Brera, which was established there in 1776.  He remained in the city until 1796, when it fell to Napoleon’s army.  He then moved back to Foligno, where he spent the last 12 years of his life.



In 1751, the Cathedral Chapter turned to Luigi Vanvitelli (who was working at that time in Foligno) to remodel the interior of the Duomo.  He provided a design in 1754, but he was too busy with other work to execute it.  He visited Foligno in 1771 while en route from Naples to Milan to visit Giuseppe Piermarini.  Giuseppe Piermarini agreed to take over the project in his native city, which he would supervise from Milan.  He visited Foligno in 1772, en route for Naples, where he consulted Vanvitelli on changes that were needed to the original plan, which had been based on inaccurate drawings by Filippo Barigioni.

Giuseppe Piermarini continued in overall charge of the project after Vanvitelli’s death in 1773.  The remodelling of the nave was finally completed in 1790, the year after Piermarini’s return to live in Foligno, when the main facade took on a neo-classical appearance.   This study for it by Giuseppe Piermarini survives in the Biblioteca Comunale.  (This facade was rebuilt in 1904 to recapture as much as possible of its original appearance).

Work began on the restoration of the left transept in 1819, eleven years after his death but essentially to his designs (although advice was also sought from the Roman architect, Clemente Folchi).


Cappella del Sacramento (1793)

Filippo Neri da Foligno built the this chapel in San Lorenzo to a design by Giuseppe Piermarini. 

Read more:

M. Fagiolo and M. Tabarrini (Eds), “Giuseppe Piermarini tra Barocco e Neoclassicismo” (2010) Perugia

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Giuseppe Piermarini (1734 - 1808)

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