Following his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor at Bologna in 1530, Charles V travelled throughout Italy and was received with lavish festivities. This drawing depicts a temporary arch which Perino del Vaga produced for the Emperor’s entry into Genoa in 1533. It celebrates Charles V as a virtuous Christian prince in the hope that he will aid Genoa and its self-proclaimed ruler Andrea Doria, admiral of the imperial navy. The allegorical friezes recall conventions of imperial triumphal entries in ancient Rome.
This double-sided drawing records designs for the two ephemeral arches which Perino del Vaga created for the triumphal the entry of Charles V into Genoa on 28 March 1533. Charles V’s entry to Genoa was the culmination of an extensive journey through Italy following his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor at Bologna by pope Clement VII in 1530. That event solidified a new alliance between the Papacy and the Hapsburg cause and strengthened the Emperor’s position in Italy.
In contrast to an earlier visit on 12 August 1529, when Charles had entered by sea and was greeted by an arch at the harbour, also designed by Perino and recorded in a drawing in Berlin, the Emperor now arrived by land. Yet, the two new arches were not placed in the core of the medieval city as they had been for land entries since medieval times. Rather, they were strategically positioned extra muros, en route to the Borgo Fassolo, the site of the spectacular new palazzo of Andrea Doria, admiral of the Imperial Hapsburg Navy. Perino himself had been brought from Rome to decorate that villa – later damaged by fire – with a cycle of frescoes, tapestries, and carved reliefs celebrating Doria as Neptune, god of the sea.
In a bold, all’antica idiom, the two arches depicted on this sheet projected a Roman via sacra, or imperial processional route, for the Emperor to follow. Concurrently, they articulated an important shift in the balance of the city’s political centre of power, away from the medieval core, closely associated as it was with rival old families of the local nobility whose palazzi were still to be found there, and toward the new seat of Doria, a self-proclaimed ‘first citizen’, who used his alliance with the Hapsburgs to consolidate his domestic power base. Whereas the city divided had once shown loyalty to France, now, united through Doria, it would serve the Hapsburg cause, resulting in mutual victory for the Emperor and Doria which would herald a new pax romana, or Roman peace, for city and empire.
The design on the verso (Inscribed: s. Lazzaro) represents the first structure Charles and his retinue encountered: a stage and display façade placed at the Church of San Lazzaro, which the procession would have passed laterally. The scholar George Gorse has convincingly compared this structure to an altar, set up to present the Emperor with an iconography which set the tone for the triumph. The details are difficult to discern, but it is likely that the attic scene depicted Charles being crowned by a figure of Victoria, flanked by allegorical figures drawn from classical mythology and the Bible.
The second, grander structure, seen on the recto, was positioned in via San Benedetto, just outside Doria’s palace, as noted in an inscription on the drawing: made at San Benedetto at the house of the prince. Reiterating themes from the earlier stage, this massive, three-level structure depicts a figure of victory flanked by allegorical figures and two antique battle reliefs. Above this attic-level frieze, the artist prominently drew the Hapsburg eagle surmounted by a Latin cross, an exceptional addition which calls attention to the Emperor’s recent coronation as well as his ongoing struggle with the Ottoman Turks. If the superimposition of Christian meaning onto pagan form was a precondition for the Renaissance, here the Christian message assumed a more pronounced and immediate appeal: by advertising this hybrid coat-of-arms, the city was also entreating Charles V to maintain his struggle against the Turkish Emperor Suleiman the Magnificent, whose fleet threatened Genoese domination of the Mediterranean and, as these arches would argue, Charles’s own vision of the Imperium, the Christian empire ruled by a single, virtuous prince.
Perino has carefully articulated an unusual feature of this arch: its step. Clearly drawn at the base of the structure, this detail calls attention to the arch’s status as an absolute threshold which cannot be crossed impassively, forcing the prince to divide his file and step up to cross over a physical, psychological, and ideological threshold into a modern state under the control of one family which pledges its loyalty but also exacts favour in return. Those favours constitute the intangible auctoritas of the connection to Empire, as well as the tangible and expensive support to subdue Ottoman advances.
Since antiquity the triumphal entries were staged following battles where the victor entered the city in a ceremony akin to a marriage, penetrating the gates to take possession of his submissive bride. Yet, Charles was not actually allowed to enter Genoa. He remained instead on a prescribed course, set out to honour him, but also to make clear that as much as Doria needed the Emperor, the Emperor in fact depended upon the support of Doria and his loyal fleet. Doria’s ability to harness the seas, expressed through his personal iconography as a heroic Neptune, thus appears as a double metaphor for his own power within the volatile sphere of Genoa and his indispensability in Charles’s heroic battle to save the empire from the perceived existential threat of Islam.