The sculptures of antiquity

Mantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

The history of the outstanding collection of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures - housed at the City Museum - is a complex one. Most of the objects come from the collections of Vespasiano Gonzaga, the nobleman of Sabbioneta who is believed by some to have been the first Italian to design a museum. This bequest, later distributed in various places, was incompletely added to at the time by the Empress Maria Theresa, forming one of the essential collections of the Patrio Museum.  But what is more significant is the relationship between the Renaissance and a taste for antiquity. This was so great that Isabella d'Este and her descendants, driven by an insatiable desire for works of art, looked high and wide for artefacts both from the ancient world and from more recent times. Thus, in the halls of today's museum, that spirit that brought about priceless masterpieces by drawing on the models of antiquity, lives on.

Theatre seat
Made from Bardiglio marble with traces of polychrome from a Greek prototype from the 4th century B.C., this seat of honour is from the first row of a Greek theatre in the area of Colophon near Smyrna in Asia Minor. It was renovated in the Middle Ages, probably to be used in a church as a bishop's throne. This is a work of extraordinary craftsmanship and great emotional quality, which local tradition identified as the Throne of Virgil, as if to reserve for the great poet the role of prince and patron of the city.
Statue of Venus Anadyomene
With lavish and rather ancient forms, the naked torso of this Venus rested on her right leg, while her left arm, now completely missing, was probably raised. With a soft and delicate structure, the rendering of the nude makes this a good quality sculpture. The diminutive size of the statue can be attributed to the fact that it was intended to be an ornament. The nudity and overall rhythm of the figure hark back to the series of chaste Venuses, most notably the Aphrodite of Knidos, one of the most celebrated works of antiquity produced by the Greek sculptor Praxiteles between 364-361 B.C. for the city of Knidos in Asia Minor.

A Greek prototype from the 4th or 3rd century BC, this statue is made from Italic marble. The torso is noticeable for a nebris, or doe hide, fixed to the right shoulder, filled with fruit and held taut by the left hand. The torso is square on the back.

Male statue
From a prototype from the 5th or 4th century B.C., this small sculpture in Greek marble stands out for the refinement of the shape and the harmony of the male anatomy, as can be clearly seen from the light arching of the chest that accentuates the elastic qualities of the carefully-sculpted musculature. Documentary evidence has revealed that this statue belonged to Vespasiano Gonzaga's collection of antiquities.
High relief with Bacchus
Made from Greek pentelic marble from the 2nd century B.C., the nude figure of Bacchus in high relief rests on a high base. Now missing, the right arm was originally contorted around the head, while the left arm now rests on a log enveloped by a snake. The left hand is touching a bunch of grapes, the traditional symbol of this deity. The sculpture was formerly kept at the Gonzaga villa of La Favorita, situated on the outskirts of Mantua. It was then purchased by Duke Charles of Gonzaga-Nevers, probably at the antiquarian market of Venice around 1670.
Statue of Ephebos
Sculpted in Greek marble from a Greek prototype from the 4th century B.C., this statue is a copy of either a Narcissus or, as other theories have it, an Adonis. With short, curly hair, the head rests on the left shoulder. Although it is less elegant than other copies, this sculpture boasts a certain melancholic grace. It is nevertheless outstanding for the harmony of the anatomical form and the refinement of the shaping.
Sphinx with non-attached man's head
Much like its companion piece, which has a female head attached, this sphinx originates from the Ducal Palace of Sabbioneta. It is sculpted from Greek marble and comes from a Greek prototype from the 5th century B.C. The particular type of these two mythological figures, to be viewed as a pair, refers to the tradition that depicted sphinxes as winged monsters with the head of a human and body of a lion in a seated position. Both were most probably used in funeral proceedings. Indeed, in the Greek and Roman worlds, sphinxes were common as dotage for sarcophagi and tombs. It was only from the age of Augustus onwards that they were used as mere decorative motifs.
The tomb of Settimia Spica
The delicate Roman portrait of a woman who died when she was young is carved onto a cippus (Roman gravestone), and stands out above the inscription and a figure of a rabbit, an animal that may have been close to her heart. As if to escort the deceased on her last journey with a touch of tenderness, everything is sculpted with considerable elegance. The inscription reads: SEPTVMIA C (F) / SPICA ANNO/ ET MENSE / TERTIO. 

Two interesting jugglers are depicted in bas-relief on either side of the cippus. Here is the one on the left, who deftly juggles seven balls: two in his hands, two above his feet and three in mid air. Encapsulating the gymnast's prowess and an elegance of style, the image has a certain energy to it.

Funeral shrine with three 
This beautiful Roman sculpture shows depictions of three figures, whose faces dominate the rest of the body thanks to the superior depth of the relief. The sculpture is somewhat coarse in places, but this also serves to lend character to the figures - one man in the centre and two women on the sides. The entire sculpture is framed by a pediment with lion-headed acroteria. 
Funerary relief
Originating from Sabbioneta, this finding shows a Roman soldier performing his military duties as a tibicine, flautist, and cornicine, horn player. In his right hand he is carrying a Tibia (organ pipe) and in his left a horn. The inscription reads: "Cneo Coponio Felicio, born in Tivoli, was seized by fate to Aquileia. His brother wished to enshrine the deceased with a tomb".
Credits: Story

Ideato e promosso da / Founded and Promoted by:
Mattia Palazzi (Sindaco del Comune di Mantova) con Lorenza Baroncelli (Assessore alla rigenerazione urbana e del territorio, marketing urbano, progetti e relazioni internazionali del Comune di Mantova )

Coordinamento Scientifico / Scientific Coordinator:
Sebastiano Sali

Curatore testi e immagini / Superintendent texts and images:
Giovanni Pasetti

In collaborazione con / In cooperation with:
Stefano Benetti (Palazzo Te e Musei Civici)
Foto di / Photo by:
Gian Maria Pontiroli

Redazione /Editors:
Erica Beccalossi
Sara Crimella
Carlotta Depalmas
Veronica Zirelli

Un ringraziamento speciale a / A special thanks to:
Chiara Pisani
Lo staff di Palazzo Te che ha fatto il turno dalle 19 all’1 del mattino per la gigapixel per tre giorni di fila
Paola Somenzi

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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