The Castelfranco Veneto fortress was constructed by the Trevisans in the 12th century as four towers facing the four roads that crossed there. The role of the fort was an outpost of Treviso in its on-going battle with Padova.
Castelfranco Veneto was a fortress for free people, a free port to encourage people to populate the area. It is one of the several castellated towns of this area of Veneto. The square fortress is not large and is still surrounded by a moat. From the top of the Civic Tower the countryside can be viewed in four directions for long distances. This tower can be climbed by about 100 steps and each of the 4 levels show different aspects of the historical role of the tower, while also acting as an art gallery for local artists.
Castefranco Veneto has a grand tradition of art with one favourite son, Zorzon of Castelfranco otherwise known as Giorgio Barabarelli, or Giorgione, the ‘enigmatic renaissance portraitist’ whose most famous surviving work is the altarpiece in the Cathedral just inside the walls from the Civic Tower. It has the imposing title of ‘Enthroned Madonna and Child with St. Francis and St. Nicosia’ and was completed in about 1505.
Near this cathedral in Castelfranco Veneto is Casa Giorgione that is famous for the frieze ‘Il Fregio delle Arti liberali e meccaniche’ decorating the main room, possibly influenced by the doom-saying astrologer and astronomer Giovan Battista Abioso.
The house is well documented with plaques, telling of the history of Giorgione. One particular reference to Caterina Cornaro we found especially interesting, as this elegant lady had been the queen of Cyprus for 15 years before the birth of Giorgione. Apparently the queen appreciated the art of Giorgione and provided him with patronage.
The story of Caterina is well documented. She was the daughter of a well established family from Venice with strong trading links to Cyprus. She was married by proxy at 14 years to ’James the Bastard’ king of Cyprus and later travelled there to become his bride. Unfortunately he died and she was left as the queen. Eventually the noble interests of Venice negotiated for her to hand over control of Cyprus and to return to Italy where she received the area of Asolo as her domain, and still as queen. And it was here that Giorgione or his pupil Titian may have painted the half portrait of the queen early in the 16th century.
Asolo is not far north of Castelfranco Veneto, so a short visit to the queen’s castle can help fill the picture. Sadly, on the Sunday of our visit, when all museums and castles in this part of Veneto are open, the gods of Asolo seemed to have taken a vacation (to scare away tourists?) and we could only espy the views that the queen would have had from her parapets of a beautiful verdant landscape and the plains below drifting away towards Venice. A wonderful peace and maybe the queen had the better half of the deal.
In 1510 Giorgione succumbed to a plague in Venice (a legacy of being a merchant power?) without leaving a body of work, and leaving historians with the conundrum of his definitive role in the renaissance in Veneto – one of several founders or the founding force – from Castelfranco Veneto.
Start your own search in Castelfranco Veneto and follow the light and the shadows of this free man.