Until 1973 these ninety-eight ceiling panels had replaced the original decoration of the Golden Room, lost during the bombings of 1943–1944.
The custom of decorating ceilings with painted panels took hold in the late 14th century and lasted until the beginning of the 16th. In Lombardy this sort of work, made for both public and private buildings, was highly developed in the areas of Crema and Cremona. From the second half of the 15th century, the most common theme to be found in private residences was the depiction of male and female heads or busts.
The Poldi Pezzoli panels came from the Vimercati family house in Crema and portray half-length portraits alternating with coats of arms. The Vimercati arms (diagonal white and red bands surmounted by a light blue ground) bears the initials “BV” for Bartolomeo Vimercati, almost certainly the person who commissioned the work, who took Francesca Zurla as his second wife. Her family coat of arms (three blackbirds) is present in these panels alongside that of the Caleppio (rampant gilded lion on a red ground), Bartolomeo’s mother’s family.
The other panels show busts of Roman emperors (recognisable by a crown and the name Romulus embroidered on the neck of their garments), knights and ladies in profile, according to Renaissance portrait iconography frequent in this type of decoration. The arch placed to frame the figures, derives from roman funerary sculpture.
In stylistic terms, influences from Mantegna’s circle can be noted in the firm modelling of the profiles and in the classical nature of the arches, and affinities with the style of Bembo, a painter who ran one of the most well-known workshops in Cremona, and who is documented as active on these ‘minor’ works.