The 16th and 17th centuries were a time of peace and prosperity in Puglia and local landowners converted their castles into elegant palaces. Noble families travelling between Naples and their southern estates brought the Baroque style to Salento.
Baroque was now in vogue and its effect on the artistic and architectural landscape was profound. It was more than a decorative style, however, it encompassed every area of artistic expression and spearheaded a period of rebuilding that transformed the area’s architectural footprint.
When Pietro Giacomo d’Amore acquired Castello di Ugento in 1643, at the height of the Baroque period, artistic patronage had become the way a nobleman displayed his wealth, power and prestige.
The frescoes in the grand salons on the first floor were commissioned by Francesco and Nicola d’Amore in 1694 to celebrate the family history. The style is High Baroque, extremely decorative and born out of the Counter Reformation, which expressed a theatrical vision of man’s passage through life as he prepares for eternity.
The frescoes represent an important chapter of Baroque art in Salento, layered with intricate detail, allusions to the past, literary allusions and mythological symbolism. Images of the local landscape are blended with elements symbolizing spiritual and Christian values – all combining to elevate and celebrate the virtues of the d’Amore family. For as well as revealing the family’s status, the frescoes had another purpose.
It was the self-publicity or propaganda of the day and one that the d’Amore family quickly mastered.
The theme running through the castle’s decorative features plays on a pun on the family name d’Amore (of love) and on the matrimonial legacy established by Pietro Giacomo in order to prevent the dynasty dying out and the fragmentation of the estate. The frescoes’ iconography is based on Ovid’s Metamorphosis as well as Greek and Roman mythology. They are parables illustrating the advantage of making a good marriage and securing the family fortunes.