The Building

The former San Giovanni Battista Hospital

The Regional Museum of Natural Sciences of Turin is located in the former San Giovanni Battista Hospital, a Baroque building designed by Amedeo di Castellamonte at the end of the 17th century. On August 5th 1680 the Regent, Giovanna Battista, laid the (double) foundation stone: two slabs, a San Martino white Carrara marble and a Serizzo stone.

The plan

The main body of the building is a Greek-cross type structure, with a central mass and four arms of equal length, inscribed in a rectangular perimeter.

The layout draws inspiration from the fifteenth-sixteenth century hospitals plans such as Ca' Granda in Milan, San Matteo in Pavia, and Sant'Anna in Como.

The cross arms are intended for infirmaries. The cutting-edge elements are the two-floor overlapped infirmaries, built in such a way to increase their capacity.

The intersection of the arms, with two altars in between, is linked with the lower floor by a cross vault (men's infirmary) and with the upper one by a domed vault (women's infirmary).

A central-plan church, with women’s gallery, was erected along the longitudinal axis of the main building between 1763 and 1767.

La pianta del palazzo in cui è ospitato il Museo, di Enrico Arakel tratta dal catalogo “Il Museo a Palazzo”
The plant. Enrico Arakel, Reconstructive axonometry of the primitive project by Amedeo di Castellamonte. Image taken from the “Il Museo a Palazzo” catalog

The façades

The façades were designed by Amedeo di Castellamonte and Gian Francesco Baroncelli.

The one overlooking Giolitti Street differs from the others, as the infirmary pavilions in the centre and on the sides stand out clearly, whereas the ones overlooking San Massimo Street and Accademia Albertina Street have two superposed orders of windows, crowned with a tympanum and the sill resting on corbels. In the large empty space between them, two decorative elements follow one another rhythmically.

Le facciate del Museo Regionale di Scienze Naturali, progettate da Amedeo di Castellamonte e Gian Francesco Baroncelli

The monumental staircase | 1720 – 1721

Designed by Giovanni Antonio Sevalle, the staircase has four straight flights; the central pillar is made up of eight square pillars in Gassino stone. The large pavilion vault dates back to 1721.

The astonishing stucco and decorative plasterworks of the staircase are by Carlo Papa from Lugano, who had worked together with Filippo Juvarra at the Superga construction site.

Lo scalone monumentale del museo, progettato da Giovanni Antonio Sevalle
Giovanni Antonio Sevalle, monumental staircase of the former Maggiore Hospital of San Giovanni Battista and the City of Turin. Photography by Dario Lanzardo.

The atrium and the entrance gate | 1690 – 1698

The rectangular atrium is divided into three naves by four columns the cross vaults lie on. The floor plan creator was the renowned architect Gian Francesco Baroncelli. The flooring was replaced over the course of time.

The Gassino stone columns, pilasters, cornice and portal mask are of unknown authorship, since the execution of the project deviates from Baroncelli’s original design.

After Baroncelli's passing, the work was directed by Sebastiano Taricco.

L'atrio e il portale di ingresso del Museo Regionale di Scienze Naturali di Torino
The executive drawings of the atrium floor (now replaced) are by Gian Francesco Baroncelli. Photography by Dario Lanzardo.

The pharmacy

The apothecary pharmacy, with its enchanting eighteenth-century furnishings, is located on the right side of the atrium.

It was intended as a hospital facility until 1732, when it was opened to the public through a door bisecting one of the antique windows overlooking Giolitti Street.

The coat of arms of the former hospital stands out clearly on the frescoed vault.

La farmacia speziaria del Museo, arricchita da arredi settecenteschi.
The pharmacy is located on the right of the atrium. The hospital coat of arms is frescoed on the vault. Image taken from the “Il Museo a Palazzo” catalogue.

The church | 1763

Designed by Filippo Castelli, the church interiors are set around a sacred space. The altar, surrounded by a row of sixteen Ionic columns in green Susa marble, is open to easy view from the upper women's gallery, brightly lit by windows pierced in the drum of the dome.

An ambulatory separates the columns from the wall, whose stucco pilasters are embellished with faux marble.

Veduta della Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista. Progetto di Filippo Castelli
Church of San Giovanni Battista. Project by Filippo Castelli. Photography by Michele D'Ottavio, 2010. © MuseoTorino

How many things can one learn about the natural world? Find it all out at the Regional Museum of Natural Sciences!