The Hall of Roman Glory: The Triumph of Religion

The central part of the southern wall of the Hall of Roman Glory presents an allegory of the Christian Religion. In the foreground and seated in the centre of the scene, is a young woman dressed in white, holding a scepter in her right hand, while her left hand is stroking an eagle crouching at her feet. This image, symbolising the Church, is accompanied by a series of little angels in flight: two are leaning with their shoulders against a cope with a golden edge; one is set above the papal tiara adorned with gems; and another is flying away with a golden laurel wreath on its head.

Of the last two angels, the one on the right of the composition is lifting with both hands, a rod surmounted by the symbol of the patriarchal cross, while the last is walking, bringing away a bag of money from the Church. Above the image of the adolescent girl is a another winged figure playing a dual trumpet: she represents the Glory that, with her immortality, drives away Time, an old winged figure, who is shown escaping and covering his ears with his hands. Lastly, in the background is an abandoned temple covered with vegetation, connected through a wooden plank to a grandiose but unfinished basilica, to testify how the modern Church is simultaneously an heir (since it is connected by a passageway) and at the same time stands for the overcoming of the decline of the classic world.
The painting’s symbolical meaning is very complex and is laid out on several expressive frames. The Church, in fact, as the commissioner of the work suggests that eternal fame can be reached only by abandoning war (the laurel crown that is taken away from her) and seduction offered by earthly power (the wealth being taken away), by commanding (as shown by the sceptre) the completion of the unfinished ecclesial structures with the help of trusted friends, represented by the angels and the two cardinal caps set at the feet of the young woman, probably alluding to the cardinals of the Borromeo and Omodei families. This portrayal results to be, however, apparently incongruous with the series of Roman stories painted on the walls of the room, in which the image of Religion is connected only through the aspect of historical continuity with the classical world, represented by the temple and the basilica in the background. In reality, critiques interpreted this piece as an ulterior facet of the personality of Bartolomeo III Arese, whose desire to reform the Church relates here to the other grand themes dealt with in the internal wall decorations of the entire villa (pain for the premature death of his son Giulio II, the obsession for the dynasty’s succession, the works achieved by the counselor of the Hapsburgs, love for ancient culture, etc.). The scene thus seems to suggest that the Church is in peace because it is supported by the politics of friendly families, and at the same time, warns that this state of things must not be interpreted as an incapacity to respond to offences, so that the Church is holding with its left hand and left foot the zeus eagle, ready to strike with the bolts of lightning, lit up and well in view.
Critiques agree in attributing the episode painted to Giovanni Stefano Doneda, so-called Montalto (1612-1690), due to the analogy with other works the Bergamasco master achieved in the Villa. Here the artist must have had the collaboration of the famed panel painter, Giovanni Ghisolfi, author of the architectonic panel surrounding the episode and with the Milanese painter, Antonio Busca, who is attributed with the two lateral scenes set above the entrance door, depicting episodes of the history of the founding of Rome.