in Palazzo dei Capitani
Decorative windows created with the glass factory Giuliani in Rome
Le vetrate del Palazzo dei Capitani della Montagna
Decorative windows created with the glass factory Giuliani in Rome
The large windows in the council chamber of the Vergato town hall are adorned with stained-glass decorations that produce a microcosm of highly evocative and symbolic light and colour. These windows are a modern work of art in their own right, but they also embellish the architectural and cultural prestige of Palazzo dei Capitani della Montagna. The glazing is an accomplished example of high decoration, ornamental applied art, creativity, and originality that is imbued with that ability to amaze that can be found across the globe in the works of Luigi Ontani, Vergato’s greatest artist.
The four windows tell the mythological story of the four Captains of the Mountain (i.e. Capitani della Montagna) both sequentially and interwoven, the four ages and the cycle of human life, the four seasons (with changing flowers, fruit and colours) and the four elements, namely water, fire, earth, and air. Sections of this work are Ontani’s reinterpretations of the coats-of-arms tied to the town hall where the windows rise, recalling the heraldry of the Montovolo stone shields of the historical captains.
Primatys, drawing on spring (Primavera) and Atys (a mythological figure linked to the flowering of violas), is a child inlaid with Water, with one leg replaced by a merman’s tail that ends in an alder leaf. His head is decorated with lilies of the valley and daffodils. An iris, a natural lily, grows out of his belly button, symbol of life that is born and transmitted. A tender green-coloured egg is visible in the background at the base, clearly referring to both Montovolo (literally, Egg Mountain) and life, while higher up, the sun and a clear moon rise. The Vergato banner is at the heart of the image. The background also has heraldic lilies (a flower symbolising purity, innocence, and hope) against the light blue field. On the left side, a branch connects a crocus to a lotus flower, nascent beauty to eternal love. The top section has a reinterpretation of the Bovio coat-of-arms, with a zodiacal bull above. On the right, another branch transforms from an acacia flower into primroses. Above this, the Armi coat-of-arms becomes the sign of Gemini, seen through the ethnic prism of black and white. The upper lunette, on the right, has the Renghiera coat-of-arms embellished with gentians. Opposing this, the Marsili coat-of-arms has had common violets added. In the centre, at the bottom, the Ranuzzi shield with stars, sun, and water, is held up by other twins, once again with an ethnic touch. At the top, a snake is eating its tail, creating a symbol of infinite continuity of life, and is supported by swallows, the stereotypically classic symbol of spring. At the back, a laurel branch alludes to triumph and glory.
Estasio – a combination of Ecstasy (Estasi) and Summer (Estate) – is a young adolescent in a multi-coloured garment. The lion’s tail symbolises the strength of this age and season. The flaming raised finger is an element of fire. His hair is blond, like the ear of wheat beside him, but his ear is garnished with cherries. His body is made of peacock feathers to recall the swaggering vanity, pride, ambition, and prodigality of youth. Montovolo (the egg) is a warm yellow typical of August, enlivened by the poppy in the centre and at the top. The background is adorned with poppies against a light but intense blue field. The sun high in the sky and the full moon both recall summer. The side sections have fruit at the base that becomes a flower: on the left, apricot, and broom; on the right, peach, and hibiscus. Symbolically, this is the interweaving of infancy and maturity. On the left, at the top, the Montecalvi shield doubles as a representation of Virgo and Monoceros (the unicorn constellation). On the right, the Bargellini coat-of-arms uses the pre-eminent summer zodiac sign: a rampant Leo with a mouth of fire. The same symbol is reused with the three figures on the upper central lunette. They are the union of two coats-of-arms of unknown origin, but the palm has been replaced with an alder branch. The same lunette also has, on the left, a shield with stars (Guidotti) and, on the right, a coat-of-arms bearing a fire dragon (Aldrovandi), while the dog days of summer (from canis = dog) is represented by a red greyhound intertwined with corn poppy (Sampieri).
The third captain, Terralnus – from earth (terra) and Alnus (the Latin name for alder, or ontano in Italian) – is a confident adult knight with a sword in front of him with a hilt bearing the symbol of the Infinite. This aspect is repeated in the decoration for the sleeves and the armour. One of his legs ends in a horse or faun hoof, a clear reference to the wood and earth, and to the zodiac sign of Sagittarius. The helmet comes down around his head surrounding it with bunches of grapes. An alder leaf acts as a justaucorps. The setting sun and waning moon end in a manganese blue sky. Montovolo (egg mountain) is the colour of scorched earth and autumn woods, while the cyclamens, the heraldic flower in this image, are also classically autumnal. On the sides, the fruit branches are a symbol of maturity: on the left, apple, and fig; on the right, pear, and chestnut. These are surmounted respectively by the October sign of Libra in the Ghisilieri coat-of-arms and a coat-of-arms with deer/Sagittarius (Calderini). The upper lunette has, on the left, a heraldic tower (Carati or Cattani); in the centre, at the top, an ivory tower on the mountain rises up into three smaller towers, surrounded by the marsh reeds of our rivers (Cattani coat-of-arms); and on the right, a shield, helmet, and white swan (Manzoli) are embraced by oak leaves. In the centre, at the bottom of the lunette, there is a further reinterpretation of the mountain (Paleotti), using the dominant colours for this window, which are the main colours of this season. Mountains and towers repeat in this composition both alluding to the solidity of this age and the material nature of the element earth.
The final captain is Ariorio – from air (Aria) and Gregorio (the artist was inspired by an iconic depiction of St. Gregory). It is a powerful image, but it seems to keep its distance from the struggle of life, as the figure is sitting side on (perhaps looking back on the life he has lived) and has a parietal eye. Such an eye is the eye of the mind, a symbol of wisdom, while the book he is holding represents culture, and his foot or eagle’s talon is a symbol of the soul. The Montovolo egg has transformed into a tiara, imbuing this captain with an even greater sense of authority. The holly sprouting from his hat is a symbol both of foresight and of the hope that life is renewed. The wing recalls the element air, while the weak sun and new moon are clear allusions to winter and waiting for the seasons to repeat again. In the background, acorns, a symbol of antiquity, are placed against a Prussian blue. In the middle is the Vergato coat-of-arms, repeating the first image and reaffirming the continuing cycle of life. In the bottom left, a branch with a pomegranate (magnanimity) and a walnut (innocence and virtue) can be seen. Above this, a chequered egg is the heraldry of the Pepoli family. On the other side, the hellebore (detached from daily reality) becomes mistletoe, a typical plant of good wishes in our tradition. Above this, the Sampieri coat-of-arms is an eagle and a book. In the upper lunette, on the left, the elephants in the Fantuzzi coat-of-arms also represent the eastern divinity Ganesha, protector of culture. At the top, in the centre, there is a Janus eagle with oak leaves (loyalty and perseverance) and alder, from the Malvezzi coat-of-arms. On the right is the sign of Capricorn (Bolognini). The central lunette, at the bottom, has an eagle (Marsili) whose wings become oak leaves in the form of the Infinite, thus creating a connection, through a game of allusions, to the Infinite in the first window, and thus to the infinite renewal of life.