Tomb of Ilaria del Carretto

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Tomb of Ilaria del Carretto


No funerary monument, reads in the books of art history, equals the wonderful serenity, the intense and restrained lyricism of the funeral monument of Ilaria del Carretto, a true symbol of the city of Lucca. He still seems to hear that damn rhythm, stunning the soul between ancient seigniories and graceful maidens. "Now women now are the white cornflower | closed or clothed, spread out on the lid | of the beautiful tomb; and you had it in mirror | perhaps, thy shore had its vestiges. | But today Ilaria of the Carretto | does not lord the earth that you bathe, | or Serchio[...]" (Gabriele D' Annunzio, Elettra)

Of Lucca the writer and poet, Gabriele D'Annunzio reminds those who in life had smiles and romantic remains to give them smiles in death. She was Ilaria del Carretto, born in Savona and dead "Lucchese", second wife of Paolo Guinigi, lord of the city. Daughter of the Marquis of Western Liguria, his marriage with Guinigi, perhaps the richest man in Europe at the time, was agreed by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, lord of Milan, to strengthen the alliance against the Seignory of Florence. She was said to be beautiful, well educated and gifted. He was only 26 years old when he died in 1405, giving birth to a daughter also called Ilaria.

Monumento a Ilaria del CarrettoA few years later, Jacopo della Quercia dedicated that famous funeral monument, one of the most beautiful' artistic gestures' in the history of Italian art. From that sculptural face, which today everyone can admire in the Cathedral of San Martino, it seems almost possible to read the small daily deeds of a young lady of other times, such is the perpetual charm that the Sienese artist has assured posterity.

The sculptural masterpiece allows us to get to know the historical events related to Ilaria del Carretto. The sculpture was commissioned from Della Quercia by Paolo Guinigi himself, husband of the young man, in order to eternalize the memory of his wife. Remember Vasari in 1568:.

"In Lucca and here to Paolo Guinigi, who was lord of Lucca, he made it for his wife who had died a short while, in the church of San Martino, a burial; in the basement of which he led some marble cherubs that hold a festoon so neatly, that they seemed to be of flesh: and in the crate placed above the said basement he made with infinite diligence the image of Paulo Guinigi's wife inside..."

Monumento a Ilaria del CarrettoRecent studies have established that Ilaria del Carretto in that magnificent tomb has never been buried and that its remains were in fact preserved in the church of Santa Lucia, in the complex of the Franciscan monastery recently beautifully restored in Lucca. At the centre of the studies is the Guinigi Chapel, in which various members of the noble family of Lucca were buried. Still in the chapel, but separated from the rest, there are other tombs, remains of individual burials belonging according to the studies of the wives of Guinigi. In fact, he had four wives: Maria Caterina degli Anterminelli, the first very young wife (he was only 12 years old when she died in 1400 from an epidemic of plague), Ilaria del Carretto, then Piacentina da Varano and finally Jacopa Trinci, last wife (married in 1420 and died in 1422). One of these burials houses a skeleton between 20 and 27 years old, which is attributed to Ilaria del Carretto.

Monumento a Ilaria del CarrettoWhether or not a body is now gone, it matters little. In the historical memory remains the splendid work of art. Still today, after six centuries, the funeral monument carved with great skill is still moving, able to move, to observe that small dog at the feet of the young man, who looks upon her, begging new caresses. It does not accept the event, it is not able to interpret it. We do not have any information to understand if the dog has existed or not; it seems to represent a symbol of conjugal fidelity, as it was used at the time, especially in the courts of northern Europe, with which the Tuscan seigniories were in contact. From an artistic point of view, its position takes the viewer to a broader and deeper perspective towards the young person's face.

Ilaria arrived in Lucca in the middle of winter, on February 2,1403. It was little more than twenty-four years old when outside the Walls of Lucca, in Ponte San Pietro, she met her future husband, six years older, and already a widower of the young Antelminelli (the latter, let's remember, was in turn a descendant of Castruccio Castracani). Ilaria and Paolo married the following day in the Church of San Romano, with magnificence and in the presence of the greater nobility of Lucca. The city, however, had the opportunity to meet the young woman for only two years, the time of two pregnancies: the first, completed with the birth of Ladislao, the second with the birth of a little girl who bears his own name (Ilaria Minor) and whose birth was fatal. A few years later, Jacopo della Quercia created the famous funeral monument, which was originally located in the southern part of the transept (near Domenico Bertini's funeral monument).

Paolo Guinigi was a man of power and culture, he understood art and recognized its value. For this reason he wanted to continue to show his love and power with a tomb uncommon in Italy, and in a position, that inside the Cathedral of his city, which had to remind the people of Lucca of the power of the Guinigi family. In fact, a stately chapel was created in the transept of the church.

For the great Victorian art critic John Ruskin, Jacopo della Quercia's sculpture dedicated to Ilaria del Carretto was the most beautiful Renaissance sculpture. Ruskin loved Lucca very much, perhaps more than Venice or Florence, and over the course of 30 years, he stayed here many times; he took his place in a room with views of Piazza Napoleone at the Hotel Universo (which is always there). Read also about his appreciation for Santa Maria Forisportam, a forgotten treasure, which still preserves two precious paintings by Guercino. Ruskin did not fail to return to Lucca to visit his "Ilaria", of which he painted four beautiful watercolours. So he wrote after the first time in front of the sculpture:

"Ella giace su un semplice cuscino, con un cagnolino ai piedi. La veste di foggia medievale è assai modesta, attillata alle maniche  e chiusa al collo, le ricade sul petto a fitte larghe. Il capo è cinto da una fascia con tre fiori a forma di stella e i capelli sono acconciati e i capelli sono acconciati alla maniera di Maddalena, con una ondulazione che si nota appena là dove sfiorano le guance. Le braccia sono adagiate dolcemente sul corpo e le mani si congiungono nell'atto di abbassarsi. Il morbido drappeggio scende fino ai piedi, quasi celando il cane."

Da lì in poi Ilaria sarebbe sempre rimasta nel cuore del grande critico, quasi un innamoramento durato tutta la vita. 30 anni dopo scrisse: "Devo fermarmi un attimo con il pensiero alla tomba di Ilaria del Carretto e a quanto precocemente, allora, ebbi la certezza che da quel momento sarebbe stata per me il modello supremo."

"She lies on a simple pillow, with a little dog at her feet. The dress of medieval shape is very modest, attached to the sleeves and closed at the neck, falls on the chest thick wide. The head is surrounded by a band with three star-shaped flowers and the hair is hairstyle and hair is hairstyle in Maddalena's way, with a ripple that is noticeable just where the cheeks touch. The arms are gently resting on the body and the hands come together in the act of lowering. The soft draping descends down to the feet, almost concealing the dog".

From there onwards Ilaria would always remain in the heart of the great critic, almost a lifetime fall in love. 30 years later he wrote:"I have to stop for a moment with my thoughts at the tomb of Ilaria del Carretto and how early, then, I had the certainty that from that moment it would be for me the supreme model".

Ilaria wounds

On 4 May 1987, all the newspapers of Italy and Europe titled: "Vandals rubbed the sarcophagus of Ilaria del Carretto's greatest damage in the cathedral". The sarcophagus of Ilaria del Carretto was scarred by some members of a group of students visiting the city. The greatest damage was caused to the rosettes and cherubs carved in the left part of the cenotaph, which were discarded by some blunt object. This gesture, unfortunately recurring to the detriment of Italian masterpieces of art, produced a damage that was restored, with much controversy among experts for the excessive final polishing. The sculpture also carries wounds to the nose, caused by a local belief: it brought luck to kiss her nose, said the popular tradition, "and the children who make it get married soon".


The young Ilaria seems asleep, dormant in the centuries of unreal sleep. How many have been in history those who have come to contemplate this marvel of art? How many people have felt that mixed feeling between frustration, peace and poetic charge? No suffering has remained on the face, because it is not a death that is represented, but a serene sleep. Here lies the greatness of an artist like Jacopo della Quercia, capable of creating not the monument celebrating a deceased, but the portrait of a living person, who defies the transience of matter and the inexorable passage of time.


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