[Paper:] Francesca Tasso, Tosi Luca (Milan, I): Sala dei Moroni in the so called Cortile Ducale (Ducal Courtyard) in Castello Sforzesco

Leonardo da Vinci, Sala delle Asse, Sforza Castle, Milan (via Wikimedia)

1498 Ludovico il Moro, Lord of Milano, Italy, committed to Leonardo da Vinci the painted decoration of one of the rooms of his court palace, the so called Sala delle Asse. Recent researches, connected to the current restoration, let understand that Leonardo celebrated Ludovico with a wide pavilion of 16 trees of mulberries, whose branches were connected in the ceiling. The mulberry was chosen as an original and modern heraldic celebration of Ludovico, as its Latin name is Morus, Ludovico Sforza nickname. In addition mulberry plantations were supported by Sforza, as their economic power was based on the silk commerce. According to the current researches, in Leonardo’s time the room was called Sala dei Moroni (Mulberries Room), Sala delle Asse being the name used probably at the time of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Ludovico’s brother and predecessor.

The Sala dei Moroni is a large square room at the ground level in the so called Cortile Ducale (Ducal Courtyard) in Castello Sforzesco, the palace where the Sforza family lived more or less from 1470 to 1535; in this period the castle was used as headquarters of the court and in the apartments of the Duke and the Duchess they currently lived and met the most eminent families of the city, the narrowest collaborators and foreign ambassadors. Although it is not easy to understand exactly how the life in Castello was organised, it is clear that the Sala dei Moroni was part of the Duke’s apartment and was used both for a personal use and for ceremonies.

Before Leonardo’s painting, under Galeazzo Maria (1466-1476) and his son Gian Galeazzo Maria the room was decorated with heraldic emblems and with wooden panels used to keep the space warmer. The heraldic celebration was quite traditional, as Visconti and Sforza emblems were used all over to remind the family who had the power and their legitimate ancestry from Gian Galeazzo Visconti, first duke of Milano. Apparently, Ludovico and Leonardo’s project was much more sophisticated: instead of coats of arms the painter elaborated an original and completely new composition around the name of the patron, a real trompe-l’oeil, as people were outside, in a garden, already in the style of 16th century. The idea of the garden is very interesting because at the time it was considered as a place where the patron, and especially his wife, the Duchess Beatrice d’Este, could retire herself to listen to music, to speak and discuss with poets and philosophers, according to the neoplatonic interests. As we know, a garden really existed outside the room, we can suppose the room had to be considered not only as a space to celebrate the Duke in a very modern way through heraldry, but even a place to stress the modern philosophical culture of Ludovico il Moro.

biographical notices

Francesca Tasso studied in Milano and Torino Humanities and History of art; she has a Ph. D. in History of Art. In Castello Sforzesco, Milano, she has been curator for Decorative Arts since 2000 and chief curator since 2009. She is vice president of the scientific committee for the restoration of Leonardo’s Sala delle Asse. She taught as visiting professor History of Medieval and Modern Art at the University of Milano. Her studies focus on late gothic sculpture, on Gian Galeazzo Visconti as patron of sculptural monuments, on medieval decorative arts and on the constitution of museums in Milano.

Luca Tosi studied Humanities and History of Art in Parma and Milano; he received his post-graduate diploma at the School of Specialization in History of Art and he is a Ph. D. Candidate in Literature, Arts and Environmental Heritage at the Milano University. He collaborates since 2012 with the Museums of Castello Sforzesco in Milano, working as researcher on the Pietà Rondanini by Michelangelo and supporting the restoration of Leonardo’s Sala delle Asse. His researches focus on the Lombard sculpture and history of collecting in the 19th Century.


his paper will be presented at the international conference:

State-Rooms of Royal and Princely Palaces in Europe (14th-16th c.): Spaces, Images, Rituals – Lisbon/Sintra, 15-17 March 2017 (link)

which aims to put the Sala dos brasões in Sintra in its European context as a royal/princely state-room. It is a follow up to the “Heraldry in Medieval and Early modern State-rooms” held in March 2016 in Münster, which, for its part, focused on the heraldic décor of medieval and early modern state-rooms as such.


Cite the article as: Torsten Hiltmann, "[Paper:] Francesca Tasso, Tosi Luca (Milan, I): Sala dei Moroni in the so called Cortile Ducale (Ducal Courtyard) in Castello Sforzesco", in: Heraldica nova. Medieval Heraldry in social and cultural-historical perspectives (blog on Hypotheses.org), published: 10/03/2017, Internet: http://heraldica.hypotheses.org/5545.

Torsten Hiltmann

Torsten Hiltmann is Juniorprofessor for the High and Late Middle Ages and Auxiliary Sciences at the University of Münster. He is interested in new approaches to late medieval and early modern heraldry, the medieval notion of kingship and the methods and technologies of Digital Humanities. On hypotheses.org, he is maintaining, among others, the blog “Heraldica Nova”.

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