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Hall of Justice (Sala della Giustizia)

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In 1412, at the height of the struggle between Guelphs and Ghibellines—the former supporting the pope, the latter the emperor—that took place in the Como and Lugano regions between the 14th and 15th centuries, Carona, Ciona, Morcote and Vico Morcote confirmed their allegiance to the Guelphs. Duke Filippo Maria Visconti (1392-1447) recognised their loyalty and granted them separation from Lugano and significant privileges. These “privileged municipalities” of the Sottoceneri region were granted greater power to appoint local judges, exemption from contributions, tax agreements, duty privileges and other favours. It is worth remembering that Morcote and Vico Morcote’s destinies were closely intertwined for a long time—on an ecclesiastical level until 1582/1583, and on a political level until 1588—with the two communes forming a vicinia (village cooperative).


This document dated 8 December 1412 confirms that the Duke of Milan Filippo Maria Visconti granted the separation of the municipalities of Morcote and Vico Morcote from the community of Lugano e Valle and the city of Como and provided that the municipality pay an annual tax of one hundred gold florins to the Ducal Chamber. The tax was later doubled by the Sanseverino family in 1450. The sum in question suggests considerable economic and demographic capacity.

When control of the Duchy of Milan passed from the Visconti to the Sforza in 1450, the privileges granted were reaffirmed, although the breakaway municipalities had to constantly strive to maintain their social status. Disagreements with the local authorities, in particular with the captain of Lugano, forced them to strengthen their representative bodies, empowering them to enforce what they had acquired. The disputes intensified, especially in the run-up to accession of the Sottoceneri region to the Federation of twelve Swiss cantons in 1512. However, when the bailiwicks south of the Alps were established, the Federation reaffirmed the statutes, which remained in force uninterruptedly until the Canton of Ticino became part of the Helvetic Republic in 17987. This recognition is of great interest and symbolic significance because although power at the top had changed hands, the privileges not only remained in force but were reaffirmed, demonstrating the degree of autonomy and power acquired by these privileged municipalities. Ruled by their own authorities, they administered simple civil and criminal justice themselves, paid contributions directly to the bailiff and submitted to the Community only for healthcare, currency, militia and the highest levels of justice. In 1591, during the pastoral visit of Bishop Feliciano Ninguarda from Como, the parish priest Bonaventura Barbavara, originally from Castel Merano in the Novara province, declared the following: “The municipality [of Vico Morcote] is small with no more than 33 households, whereby the majority of men work away from home, so that there are about 15, or perhaps 20 men, and 53 women, totalling 120 souls including present and absent. The villages of Murcò and Vico Murcò both enjoy the same privileges, namely each village may elect its own individual podestà [holder of the highest civil office] for a term of twelve months at a time, providing the term is confirmed for a year. The podestà has full authority in civil matters but appeals are brought before the five commissioners, who refer to Saint John the Baptist, and the podestà has the same authority in criminal matters, with the exception of torture, imprisonment and the death penalty; furthermore, our village is obliged, along with that of Murcò, to pay one hundred florins (of 32 soldi each) every year to our holy commissioners of Saint John".

 

It is against this political and social backdrop that the hall known as “Hall of Justice” was established in the former town hall. In accordance with the privileges first granted by the Dukes of Milan and later confirmed by the Swiss Confederates, the residents of Vico Morcote had jurisdiction to try petty civil and criminal cases in the first instance usque ad sanguinem exclusive10. As mentioned earlier, the political autonomy of Vico Morcote from Morcote dates back to 1588, therefore one can assume that Vico Morcote had its own venue for administering justice from that date onwards. Without any documents, it is difficult to establish with certainty whether said venue was the present hall, not least because the decorations in the hall, as we shall see, are typical of the 18th century. That said, the space in question is located in the centre of the village, consisting of dwellings that preserve wall structures of medieval origin, and so it seems reasonable to assume that the hall itself is older than the decorations that we see today.

 

Roughly square in shape, the building is accessed via a door that opens onto a narrow village alley, while on the inside it opens onto a hallway that provides access to the Hall of Justice. The hall has a wooden ceiling along the perimeter of which runs a frescoed frieze with the coats of arms of the 12 cantons that governed the bailiwick of Lugano. The southern wall features those of Schaffhausen, Fribourg, Uri, Lucerne, Basel and, lastly, that of Solothurn, in red and white, which is only partly visible; the opposite wall features the coats of arms of Zug, Schwyz, Zurich, Bern, Unterwalden and Glarus.

 


Hall of Justice: frieze along the top of the south wall. Hall of Justice: frieze along the top of the north wall.

Between these two walls are representations of Lady Justice and The Virgin Mary either side of a shield featuring a double-headed eagle—the ultimate symbol of power—surmounted by a tiara, which may refer to a local tradition according to which Pope Anicetus was originally from Vico Morcote.


Hall of Justice: centre wall featuring a double-headed eagle in the middle and representations of Lady Justice and the Virgin Mary either side.


Hall of Justice: shield featuring a double-headed eagle.

To the left of the double-headed eagle we can see a representation of temporal power through the allegory of Justice, based on an identical image featured on the front of Carona Town Hall (loggia), which was built between 1591 and 1592 and is surrounded by the coats of arms of the sovereign cantons. Inside the building is the hall in which petty civil and criminal cases were brought to trial.


Hall of Justice: allegory of justice.

A female figure wearing a white robe and white cloak—the colour symbolising purity—is seated wearing a crown on her head. Her posture, alluding to an invisible throne, and her crown are more than just generic symbols of the honour bestowed on her: they indicate a specific relationship between justice and sovereignty. Her lowered eyelids, which, in this case, replace the blindfolded eyes, remind us of her impartiality as she “looks no one in the face”. In one hand she holds a pair of weighing scales and in the other a sword, symbols typically associated with justice: The scales represent the notions of deliberation, balance and fairness, which the justice system is meant to preserve or restore; the upward-pointing sword, pointing towards God, symbolises strength, namely the power needed to impose and enforce the established rules. At the foot of the allegory is a phrase in Latin summarising her role “IN IUSTITIA ET AEQUITATE”.


Hall of Justice: The Virgin Mary.

To the right of the double-headed eagle is an image of the Virgin Mary, symbolising spiritual power: she is depicted in a lower position and therefore subordinate to Justice, the symbol of temporal power, almost as if to emphasise the essentially secular nature of the hall. Depicted in a half-length portrait, Mary stands alone and isolated against a neutral background, draped in a large flowing cloak—with puffed folds that produce different shades of blue, creating an almost sculptural appearance—donned over an orange robe. Her face is tilted slightly to the right and framed by blonde hair parted in the middle. Her gaze is lowered and slightly turned towards the viewer, her large cloak clutched to her chest. The form and style of the image suggest an affinity with the artwork of the famous painter Giuseppe Antonio Petrini (1677-before 1759)15 from Carona, a notion reinforced by a work that has recently appeared on the Ticino antiques market depicting the same subject with a very similar composition, which in turn can be found in a similar painting at the Giovanni Züst Cantonal Art Gallery in Rancate. The way in which the Virgin Mary holds her head in the portrait in the Hall of Justice in Vico Morcote is also very similar to that of Our Lady of the Rosary and Child and a Devotee in the altarpiece of the Oratory of the Rosary in Delebio, Valtellina, which Petrini painted before 170618.

 

However, the state of preservation of the fresco painting and the restoration work that it has undergone over the years do not allow us to confirm with certainty whether or not it is an authentic work by Giuseppe Antonio Petrini himself or rather a production modelled after his work by an anonymous artist working alongside him for we know that he worked with a number of artists. However, we can almost certainly confirm that Lady Justice is a product of Petrini's workshop, not least because the figure, which has been considerably reworked and retouched, appears weaker and clumsier in terms of form and style.

 

 

 

Salorino, 1 June 2022

Edoardo Agustoni


Questo documento datato 8 dicembre 1412, attesta che Filippo Maria Visconti, duca di Milano, concede la separazione del comune di Morcote e di Vico Morcote dalla comunità di Lugano e Valle e dalla città di Como, disponendo che lo stesso comune versi ogni anno un censo di cento fiorini d’oro alla camera ducale, che furono raddoppiati nel 1450 dai Sanseverino. Tale somma indica una capacità economica-demografica non indifferente.
Questo documento datato 8 dicembre 1412, attesta che Filippo Maria Visconti, duca di Milano, concede la separazione del comune di Morcote e di Vico Morcote dalla comunità di Lugano e Valle e dalla città di Como, disponendo che lo stesso comune versi ogni anno un censo di cento fiorini d’oro alla camera ducale, che furono raddoppiati nel 1450 dai Sanseverino. Tale somma indica una capacità economica-demografica non indifferente.
Fregio perimetrale della parete meridionale e di quella settentrionale.
Fregio perimetrale della parete meridionale e di quella settentrionale.
Sala della Giustizia, parete centrale con nel mezzo l’aquila bicefala e ai lati, La Giustizia e La Vergine.
Sala della Giustizia, parete centrale con nel mezzo l’aquila bicefala e ai lati, La Giustizia e La Vergine.
Sala della Giustizia, allegoria de La Giustizia.
Sala della Giustizia, allegoria de La Giustizia.
Sala della Giustizia, La Vergine.
Sala della Giustizia, La Vergine.
Sala della Giustizia, scudo con l’aquila bicefala.
Sala della Giustizia, scudo con l’aquila bicefala.
Municipio di Vico Morcote
Strada al Castell 8
CH-6921 Vico Morcote

Centralino
Tel. +41 91 996 13 52

Fax +41 91 996 35 04

Lu - Ve: 08:30 - 11:30 / 14:00 - 16:00

 

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