Once known as the Grand Hall or the Hall above the Door leading to the Painted Theatre, the Hall of Roman Glory is one of the main rooms of the Arese Borromeo Palace, originally intended for music recitals and balls.
It develops planimetrically as a rectangular room decorated with a simple brick floor and a ceiling with false coffers. Its value lies in the prominence and importance of the pictorial cycles on its walls, in magnificent harmony with the architectural elements such as windows, doors and balconies. These form a unique part of the 17th-century Lombard paintings because they lend themselves to multiple interpretations which once aimed to illustrate the prestige achieved by the Arese family and legitimize their political and administrative decisions.
The pictorial cycle of all four walls is based on its division into two leafs articulated with false architectural colonnades supporting a balcony animated by jubilant polychrome figures and colourful musicians. Allegorical scenes linked to the history of Rome from the origins of Augustus are depicted in illusionistic perspective and in the spaces that surround the doors and windows, which develop clockwise starting from the northwest wall. The historical scenario, interrupted by sacred allegories and scrolls in elegiac couplets, narrates about a period covering eight centuries, from the monarchy to the republic and to the empire, inserting many references to important topics the Arese family cherished such as the link between religion and protection of the status quo, priority of public welfare over family ties, central role of the senate (especially in the years when Arese presided over the Milanese), love for culture, transience of military splendour and importance of peace.
Despite the fact that the Hall of Roman Glory has been extensively studied, the date of its creation and to whom it is attributed remain uncertain. Critics have, in fact, accredited some paintings to Ercole Procaccini, the Younger (1596-1676), Giovanni Stefano Doneda, also known as “il Montalto” (1608-1690), and Antonio Busca (1625-1686). Moreover, it is clear that the entire room could not have been the work of a single artist and that it would have needed a long succession of painters to complete the entire endeavour. For example, we see the obvious influence of the painter, Giovanni Ghisolfi (1623-1683), reflected in the “Roman” organization of the architectural spaces, which moves the dating of the paintings to the period 1661, when Ghisolfi returned to Lombardy after his stay in Rome. It is more likely, therefore, that much of the decorations were completed by 1674, the year of the death of Bartolomeo Arese III, to whom the numerous coats of arms and iconographic references are linked. The presence of crests and mottos that refer to the Borromeo family, suggests that these decorations were achieved not only after 1652, the year Renato Arese II married Julia Borromeo, but also after 31 March 1665, the date of the death of Giulio Arese II and the resulting origin of the hereditary axis of the Arese-Borromeo family. It is therefore probable that the entire cycle was completed between 1665 and 1674, which coincides with the period of the artistic development of the palace. This room, in particular, reflects the asceticism of the Arese family that felt the need, in the second half of the 17th century, to possess outside the city wall, a sumptuous palace rivalling in some ways the splendour of the grand palaces of the European nobility.