The palazzo Grimaldi in Vico San Luca in Genoa was built in the “Alessian Style” – probably around the end of the Sixteenth Century – by the Lombard architect Andrea Vannone (working between 1575 and 1619) on the commission of Marchese Giovanni Battista Grimaldi.
The project consisted of building the residence by amalgamating four existing terraced houses to form a new building. These houses had constituted a commercial arcade, known as vulte grimaldorum, ever since the 13th Century.
Palazzo Grimaldi is illustrated in the I Palazzi Moderni of Rubens (1652) and again, amongst old printed sources, is mentioned by Ratti (1780) and Alizeri (1846) who attribute it to the Perugian architect Galeazzo Alessi, due to the style of its appearance.
However, in the 1875 edition of the Guide the same Alizeri would change the attribution to Vannone, anticipating the position of the modern critic. In 1865 Marchese Niccolò Brignole purchased the building for 256 thousand lire, and then in 1904 the house passed to the Rovereto sisters and then to Cattaneo della Volta di Belforte family.
This monumental and prestigious residence was entered in the Rolli of public lodgings on six occasions: in 1576, 1588, 1599, 1614 and 1664.
The palazzo features a number of specific design characteristics in the style of Galeazzo Alessi, recognisable in the layout of the atrium and staircase: a spacious entrance with vaulted ceiling and small webs, from which a wide monumental flight of stairs, concealed from the scene, leads off. The distribution solutions used for the rooms and the division of the broad elevation, original elements that are even today virtually unchanged, are also inspired by Alessio. The original façade, which is very similar to the existing facade apart from the roof which underwent alterations at the beginning of the 19th Century, and then suffered the effects of the events of the second world war, has a single doorway and a high ground floor, which has always been used for commercial purposes and for storing goods. The building then develops over two raised piano nobile levels, subdivided by three mezzanine stages and decorated by a balustrade balcony opening on each window.
The original roof, with a pronounced pitch and – at the base – a decorative motif of filled and empty reliefs, featured an enclosed hanging loggia located in the middle of the roofline: the roof terrace, similar to a tower with a row of wide windows and a row of smaller ones, is embellished with pilasters.
Recent architectural restoration works have revealed how the current façade is very similar to the representation given by Rubens in 1652 and that documented by a drawing in 1872 which shows the condition of the building at the time of repair works.
Particularly worthy of note in purely historical-artistic terms are the baroque frescoes painted on the vaulted ceilings and walls of the salons on the first and second piano nobile by the painter Lorenzo De Ferrari after the Roman trip of 1734. The paintings, certain details of which bring to mind those of Domenichino seen in the “Eternal City”, represent the Myth of Diana, Justice holding the insignia of power, Justice rewarding the Arts and also pagan scenes such as the Sleeping Nymphs.
They are one of the most representative examples of Genoa’s baroque culture which, in spite of the austere appearance of the exterior of the palazzi, delegated responsibility to the magnificent and imaginative decoration of the interiors to give the private quarters their extremely sumptuous aspect, with scenes covering whole walls and creating the illusion of an infinity of wide expanses of heavens and forests inhabited by pagan divinities and symbolic figures.
In 1866 when the Brignole family moved into the former Grimaldi palazzo in vico San Luca, they decided to modernise some parts of it, starting a complex and well-documented scheme of works involving the designated use of some of the rooms, the architectural structures, fixtures and fittings and decorative aspects.
In 1871, Marchese Niccolò Brignole recorded the costs of moving to and furnishing the new residence … in his palazzo located in vico San Luca n. 4 on the Estratto del libro di cassa, a document essential if one is to understand the physiognomy of the building and appreciate the 19th Century innovations made to the original structure.
The detailed description of the works covers the period between November 1871 and December 1874 and is therefore pertinent to the years immediately following the purchase of the palazzo from the Grimaldi.
The Brignole family commissioned, carried out and paid for several different types of works: from simple gilding of antique frames to the production of modern frames for new decorative landscapes or portraits of family members of the time. For example, in 1871 the artist P. Sassi was asked to paint 4 round picture scenes of views and landscapes and G. Queirolo was commissioned to produce the oil portrait of the late Marchese Gio. Carlo Brignole.
Numerous furniture makers and engravers worked on making frames for mirrors, consolles, doors and gableboards, gilded structures, in the neo-baroque style and often identified by the Brignole family’s coat of arms. Iron seats and tables, plants, fine iron corbeilles and brass wire woven screens were ordered for the new terrace above the roof, which was modernised between 1866 and 1871 and named il Belvedere.
In 1871 the artist Giacomo Varese was engaged to fresco a drawing room on the second piano nobile with medals and ornamental designs. The watercolour preliminary sketch is as well-known as the actual final rendition, providing a wonderful illustration of fauna and flora, birds surrounded by greenery and ferns interspersed with flower vases.
In the same year this artist produced the lost paintings of the room that led from the belvedere onto the palazzo terrace, as well as the drawing of the terrace fountain and the coat of arms to be applied to the doorway in the stairs painted on copper.