Living environments

Second Floor

The rooms you are in constitute the second floor of the residential area.

The first room still retains traces of a large fireplace, but there is no certainty of its primary function.

Also visible is a fresco of a Madonna and Child with Saint Anthony Abbot, which suggests that this was Caetani’s private chapel. It can be assumed that the adjoining room was a bedroom.

Inside the latter is the story of the assassination of Ippolito dé Medici, killed in 1535 inside the castle.

Audio guide


The Castle has witnessed stories of love and betrayal. The figure of Countess Giulia Gonzaga, Countess of Fondi, considered one of the most beautiful women of her time and one of the most celebrated of the Renaissance, fits into this context. Ludovico Ariosto made its beauty eternal in the 46th canto of the FURIOUS HORSE with these verses: Julia Gonzaga, who wherever her foot Turns, and wherever her serene eyes turn, Not every other of her beauty yields to her, But, as if descended from heaven, a goddess admires her. The sister-in-law is with her, who of her faith Never moved, that she might have it in anger Fortune, who made her a long contrast…” (Ludovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso, XLVI, 8) Ariosto in his verses refers to Giulia’s contrasts with Isabella Colonna. Let us see the reason for these words. Giulia Gonzaga married at only 14 years old to the more mature Count Vespasiano Colonna in 1527. Vespasiano was 46 years old, described as ‘in poor health, lame and crippled’, and a widower with a daughter, Isabella. During a battle, Vespasian was seriously wounded and died, leaving a will. In his will, he named his wife Giulia as his universal heir, provided she continued to maintain her status as a widow and left 30,000 ducats of land to his daughter Isabella, who was to have married Ippolito de’ Medici. Instead, Isabella married Luigi Gonzaga, Giulia’s brother and lieutenant of Charles V. It seems to have been the king’s intercession that authorised Isabella’s marriage, annulling Vespasiano’s will in favour of his nephew Ippolito. The resentment between the sisters-in-law is aggravated by the fact that Isabella soon became the widow of Luigi who, on his deathbed, entrusted his sister Giulia with their young son. Deprived of her dearest ties (her husband dead, her son estranged, and without her father’s inheritance), Isabella embarks on a long battle – including a legal one – with her stepmother Giulia. The figure of Ippolito de’ Medici fits into this scenario. Ippolito lived in Rome, raised by his uncle, Pope Leo X, in 1516. At the age of 18, Ippolito de’ Medici was appointed cardinal by the new Pope Clement VII, who was also a member of the de’ Medici family. Ippolito is portrayed as a young, scatter-brained, ambitious, and power-hungry person with ‘lightness of mind’, leading a lavish life full of distractions. In reality, he is a charming and cultured man, who surrounds himself with artists and men of letters and contemplates his great love, Giulia Gonzaga, with whom he exchanges close correspondence. There is concrete evidence of this passion. Ippolito presented Giulia with an Italian translation in blank verse of the second book of the Aeneid. The gift is accompanied by a letter in which he assimilates his love pains to what had happened with the burning of Troy: “…not finding any other remedy for my pain, I turned my mind to the burning of Troy and measured my own pain against it … so I send it to you, so that it may show you by true likeness my afflictions, since neither sighs nor tears, nor my pain could ever show it to you”. In 1532 Ippolito commissioned Sebastiano dal Monte to portray Donna Giulia and Vasari judged the portrait to be ‘a divine painting’. Unfortunately, this painting has not survived and it seems that none of the many portraits of Giulia Gonzaga are true. It is to Giulia that all those who wish to receive graces and favours from the cardinal turn. The bond between the two, however, will never be sealed. Ippolito’s position as cardinal did not obligate him to take vows of chastity, but prohibited marriage. If, on the one hand, the appointment guarantees considerable income, on the other, it prevents the cardinal from binding himself to Giulia, who could never agree to an unofficial relationship. It is likely that this choice of the countess, in addition to her strict adherence to Catholic principles, was also conditioned by the obligations of widowhood in her will, which prevented her from yielding to Ippolito’s flattery. Giulia, in fact, always maintains a platonic relationship, based on a shared passion for poetry and literature. An affection that lasts until Ippolito’s death. Cardinal de’ Medici was in Itri and visiting Giulia when in August 1535, aged just 24, she died mysteriously. The Cardinal was passing through Itri on his way to Tunis to meet Emperor Charles V and denounce the serious abuses of his cousin, Duke Alessandro de’ Medici, in Florence and obtain his replacement. On 2nd August Ippolito fell ill, perhaps because of the lifestyle he was leading, or probably because of malaria that was infesting the area at that time of year. A few days later, on 6th August, the servant Giovanni Andrea de Francisci from Borgo San Sepolcro poisoned him. An antidote was requested from Pope Paul III, who did not respond to the request. Moreover, the death of the cardinal would have favoured his nephews in inheriting the cardinal’s ecclesiastical benefices. Strange also that the poisoner is taken to Castel Sant’Angelo where he denies all his previous statements and nothing is known of any interrogation or trial. Giovanni Andrea is released free without any punishment. Giulia Gonzaga immediately arrived at Ippolito’s residence at the convent of San Francesco di Itri to look after him and witnessed his death from ‘a very small and slow fever’ on 10th August. Those present testify that ‘his death was less difficult for him because he was close to Donna Giulia, who showed him many virtuous courtesies’. It is suspected that the servant was bribed by Alessandro himself, who hatched the plan to assassinate Ippolito de’ Medici. The poisoning takes place by means of a soup in chicken broth and it is the cardinal himself who accuses his servant of poisoning, although there are alternative hypotheses. Giovanni Andrea was immediately arrested and locked up in the castle of Itri, where he was tortured. Some minutes record the deposition thus extracted. Four months after the death of Cardinal Ippolito, Giulia Gonzaga left her feud to go to Naples, where she died on 16 April 1566.

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