immagine Marulli Palace – Headquarters of the Terra di Montenovo Museum Centre

Ostra Vetere

Piazza Beata Suor Maria Crocefissa Satellico 3 Ostra Vetere 60010 Ancona 3
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Marulli Palace – Headquarters of the Terra di Montenovo Museum Centre

Formerly a monastery of the Poor Clare nuns, it passed into the ownership of the Marulli family, who made it the seat of their farm. Purchased by the municipality, Palazzo Marulli is the seat of the ‘Polo Museale Terra di Montenovo’ and houses valuable works of art, finds from the Roman city of Ostra and the Marulli Farm collection.

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The works of art that escaped destruction and dispersal and were collected here cover the broad chronological span from the 15th century to the 18th century. They are sufficient to document the privileged relationship of the faithful with a place that had to recall, along with the memory of the ancient origins of the community, examples of faith, dedication, social stability and, finally, cultural updating.

In 1635, the originally two-nave church of St. Francis underwent a radical renovation that entailed, as the paintings in the museum attest, the replacement of the old sacred images with new altarpieces, thus making it possible to both update the iconography on the most illustrious models of the Baroque and Redeemer schools of art, and to promote and renew the cult of saints belonging to the Franciscan Order.

The oldest evidence of the pictorial cycle in the previous building is most likely linked to the severe plague that plagued the Marca around 1470. In addition to the date given in the Virgin and Saints John the Baptist and Anthony Abbot, the presence of St. Sebastian, for centuries invoked against the plague together with St. Roch, could accredit this hypothesis. The two frescoes are the work of the painter Andrea di Bartolo da Jesi, active in the same period in the nearby church of San Fortunato, near Serra de Conti.

The painting with the Virgin and Saints John the Baptist and Anthony Abbot, a work strongly influenced, in its hieratic and archaic character, by the manner of the better known Giovanni Antonio Bellinzoni of Pesaro, confirms the close relationship between the two artists, recently attested by documentary evidence. Two decades later, the painter from Sant’Angelo in Vado, Dionisio Nardini, took over the decoration of the church with St. Martin giving his cloak to the beggar and a series of Saints, of which St. Anthony of Padua remains. From the workshop of the renowned Urbino master Federico Barocci is the Annunciation.

The Ostra Vetere version can be attributed to a pupil and collaborator of Barocci, confirming the privileged relationship of the monastic community of Ostra Vetere with the Baroque workshop. There is also a painting of the Stigmata of St. Francis, perhaps originally placed in the high altar. It is a copy of the painting executed by Barocci for the church of San Francesco in Urbino. By Cristoforo Roncalli known as Pomarancio is Christ and St. Peter on Lake Tiberias, an altarpiece from the abbey church of Santa Maria. To the cycle of paintings in the Church of the Santissimo Crocifisso belongs the pair of frescoes on display in the museum, depicting a Glory of Angels, a surviving fragment of the Nativity of Christ, and a Pietà with St. Joseph of Arimathea and St. John the Evangelist. The Glory of Angels remains the only evidence of Giovan Battista Lombardelli’s activity in Ostra Vetere. This is where the painter was born around 1537 and the works in question document the start of his fortunate professional career, before his prolonged stay in Rome that saw him take part in some of the most important artistic sites of the time. Also from this same church comes the pair of polychrome terracotta tiles, rare examples of a type of majolica, of a devotional nature.

These plaques depicting the Nativity and the Lamentation are a rare and precious example of late 15th-century ‘maiolica plastic’. They are of undoubted artistic interest, characterised by a “still Gothic flavour, in any case of a suggestive archaism”, distinguished by their rarity and technical quality. The ceramics are part of a corpus of works, produced at the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th century, attributable to the atelier of an anonymous artist who worked in Romagna and the Marche region, on the Adriatic route between Faenza and Ancona.

Most of these works are kept in the world’s most prestigious museums, testifying to the great collector’s attention that such objects, suspended between sculpture and ceramics, have received over time. The size of these types of plaques often indicates their devotional use, hypothesising their placement in shrines or in chapels attached to larger buildings, as well as in small outdoor niches protecting houses, especially those with Marian subjects or saints. Ceramic historiography has always emphasised the rarity of this plastic genre of majolica, connoting it as an isolated and singular expression of craftsmen directly influenced by “Flemish” or in any case “Nordic” stylistic features probably acquired from the cultural temperament of refined and cultured courts such as those of Ferrara and Urbino.

In fact, what most ties one of these works, the Lamentation, to northern Marche figuline art is the presence of the coat of arms of the Montefeltro family, lords of Urbino. Thus for this and other works it is fair to think of a ‘nomadic artist’, trained in a Faenza environment, sensitive to styles from beyond the Alps, wandering between Romagna and northern Marche, where majolica has always connoted the cultural identity of a territory, between art, faith and popular devotion. Only one other work of the same type is preserved in the Marche region, the Lamentation of St. Ciriaco in Ancona. To date, very few works belonging to this typology are known: about forty all over the world, including plaques, capse, sculptures or high reliefs, and of these only 18 are preserved in Italy.

The collection of the Marulli Farm, which preserves equipment, machinery and furnishings that once belonged to the company. Of particular note is the recently reorganised and catalogued business archive of the company itself.

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