Poggio alla Regina

Accademia di Belle Arti, Firenze
May 2017

The top of the mountain above Reggello is called Poggio alla Regina because there is a local legend concerning a castle in a position dominating the valley below. Several versions of the legend exist, one telling the story of a Countess of the Guidi family, who the local people called Regina. They say that she caught the plague and was shut up in the castle where she died. In another version the name Regina comes from the word Ruina, meaning ruin, since the castle became a ruin.

An archeologist in the 1980s decided to excavate to see whether the legend was true and he found the remains of a castle. It dated back to the time of the Etruscans in 600-500 BCE and probably became one of the Guidi family’s twenty seven castles, which they used to control the whole Val d’Arno, until the 1300s when they abandoned them during the plague. The castle gradually disappeared back into the earth, leaving only the legend, until the remains of it reappeared after the archeologist’s excavations. But no one was interested so it was gradually covered by vegetation and soil, vanishing once more.

Robert Pettena was fascinated by this castle appearing and disappearing like a mirage, along with its queen, who may or may not have existed. So he recreated a fantasmagorical queen, dressed in white paper, who appears in the snow, then vanishes, like Kurosawa’s dream.

When the public entered the Academy library during the exhibition the first thing that caught their eyes was an enormous photo of a snowy mountain with the black trace of something burnt. Then as they approached a table in the library, they saw an open book with a photo printed on archival paper, of the queen in the snow. The photo filled a space left by a missing page in an original eighteenth century book of etchings by Piranesi. This book contains many regal elements: royal racing chariots, obelisks, amphorae, vases, all representing the prestigious language of the ancient Romans. Pettena wanted to put the queen In a regal environment so he placed his photo beside Piranesi’s racing chariot.

The castle and queen who appear and disappear like the missing pages in the book: stories that repeat and reiterate, just as we commit errors, forget about them and repeat them.

© Robert Pettena 2022