Vulcan Hall or “Trick Game” Hall or Cardinals’ Hall

The hall was given this name because of the presence, around the mid-18th century, of a particular game called “trick,” very similar to billiard. Such rooms were very widespread in the homes of the Italian nobility. The room was previously called “Cardinals’ Hall,” since the lunettes of the vault were originally decorated with a series of octagonal canvases bearing the portraits of prelates, kept today in the Borromeo Mansion of Isola Madre. The internal paintings of the damaged lunettes that can be admired today represent landscapes, achieved together with the 18th-century decorations with geometric motifs, floral inserts and Borromaic emblems dated to1743, on the occasion of the wedding of Renato III Arese Borromeo to Mariana Erba Odescalchi.

The name, “Vulcan Hall,” derives instead from the fresco produced probably by Federico Bianchi (1635-1719) in the centre of the vault, depicting the “Fall of Vulcan.” The work shows the god, Vulcan who is hurled from heaven by the god, Jupiter standing on the right, dressed with the emblems of war, with armour, helmet, shield and lance. On the opposite side of the scene, is the lawful consort, Venus, accompanied by little Eros crowned with an olive branch, who seems to be interceding for him before Jupiter, portrayed seated on the higher cloud and riding an eagle, with the crown on his head and tied bolts in his hand. Greek mythology contains many tales of the fall of the god of fire from Olympus. In fact, when he was thrown from the sky by his mother, Hera who was ashamed of his deformity, he survived only because he fell into the ocean where he was found and taken care of by the nymphs, Thetis and Eurynome. After many years he forgave his mother for this deed, but because he dared to take Hera’s side during a quarrel with Jupiter, he was once again hurled down to earth by his father. His fall lasted an entire day, after which Vulcan landed on the isle of Lemnos, where he was cured by the inhabitants of the place, who welcomed him with kindness.
In the Cesanes painting, Vulcan-Hephaestus seems to be made to plunge by Mars, the lover of his wife Venus. However, Mars seems only to carry out the will of Jupiter. The episode thus can be traced to Vulcan’s discovery of his wife’s betrayal. He trapped her together with her lover in an invisible net, calling all the gods of Olympus to bear witness to his dishonour. The gods mocked Vulcan for this and Jupiter accused the god of fire for his foolishness in having made known to the public, the failure of his marriage.
The facts regarding the father of all the gods have been interpreted by critiques as those regarding the King of Spain, Philip IV, with the precise aim of overlapping, as in other halls of the mansion, classical mythology with contemporary political history, suggesting a moderate use of force and power. Precisely this theme on punishment mitigated by compassion, was associated by critiques also to another possible interpretation of some Milanese events that took place between 1659 and 1661, involving the doctor and alchemist Francesco Giuseppe Borri. After escaping several times and processed for heresy, he was protected by the Arese family that did all in their power so that his trial in the Roman Holy Office would not have dramatic consequences. Thus the connection with the theme of punishment due for faults, dealt with in the painting, is mitigation in the exercise of justice. The Arese family would, in this case, be concealed under the figure of the benevolent Venus interceding before Jupiter. According to this iconographic interpretation, the identification of Vulcan with Borri would symbolise the importance of scientific progress, since like the fall of Vulcan to the earth, it was the source of civilisation for the men who learned to work on metals, like the intellectual freedom of Borri who advocated a secular diffusion of his knowledge in Europe. It is not without reason, however, that this arduous, presumed, iconographic interpretation is not universally fully accepted, and would call for further historiographic and documentation studies.