Exhibit of antiquities

Palazzo Te

Egypt, Babylonia, objects belonging to the Gonzaga family, and a magnificent portrait of the creator of Palazzo Te: collections that were destined to come together, illustrating different epochs in the history of humanity. The Gonzaga family, and in particular  Isabella D’Este and her son duke Frederick, were passionate collectors. 

The painter and the architect
Giulio Romano, painted by Tiziano, stands beside the model of his creation, Palace Te. The painting shows the architect turning toward us – the viewer is looking from where his client would be looking - and is showing a large white sheet of paper in which appears a detailed project of a building. Although the restorations have impoverished this painting, it is still magnificent. The hands of the artists are holding a plan for a building, they stand out against a black cloak, which in turn seems to emerge from a background similar in tone. Many hypothesis have been offered concerning the plan the architect is holding, indeed this project was probably never carried out. The round plan brings to mind many places in Mantua and elsewhere. Tiziano's skill here creates a sharp contrast between the dark shades and the explosive white of the paper that seems to illuminate the whole painting. Giulio’s face, serious but calm, is an allusion to the friendly relationship between the two artists.
The ancient Babilonia
Ugo Sissa (Mantua,1913-Mantua,1980) was an architect with a strong passion for photography and painting. During his stay in Baghdad, where he worked from 1953 to 1980, he became interested in archaeology, that in those years was making great progress in the region of ancient Mesopotamia, between the Tigris river and the Euphrates river, in modern Iraq. The pieces that he collected were put on display in an important exhibit and were then donated to the municipal administration and specifically to Palazzo Te, thanks to the efforts of his heirs, his son Paolo and his wife Tudy Sanmartini. The collection comprises more than two-thousands objects: statuettes, amulets, seals, parts of necklaces, small wooden boards, pottery, cones, utensils, bricks. This small fragrance-burner is similar to a box that stands on four legs. The surface is decorated with geometrical shapes. The type of object is characteristic of a period in which the trade of spices between Mesopotamia and Arabia was particularly intense.

One of the seven small wooden boards of the collection. The cuneiform writing on it is a list of several vases, offered, during ceremonies, to the goddess Ninissina, “Lady of Isin”, one of the main divinities of the Sumerian city-state of Isin, in southern Mesopotamia. Also inscribed on the board is the name of the year the list refers to.

The Egypt of Giovanni Acerbi
The Giovanni Acerbi (Castelgoffredo 1773, Castelgoffredo 1846) collection is one of the most important Egyptian collections in Italy. Acerbi was a man of many interests who lived an adventurous life: his political career lead him to become Consul of Austria in Lisbon; his literary career to become director of the periodical “Biblioteca Italiana”. However his main passion was traveling: as a young man he visited the Scandinavian regions, where he reached North Cape. Most of his life was however centered around Egypt: in this ancient land he was appointed Austrian consulate in 1862. He took the opportunity to develop his passion for archaeology and to study the ancient culture of the Pharaohs, by collecting materials and traveling through northern Egypt, journeys he documented in travel journals that are still accessible. Today his finds are kept in various museums, in Milan, Florence, Pavia, Padua.  

The main section of the Giovanni Acerbi collection was donated to the Civic Museum of Mantua in 1840. Already at the end of the eighteenth century this museum possessed two Egyptian statues. The donated works became part of the permanent collection in 1925 and were displayed in the halls of Palazzo Ducale; in more recent times they formed the core of the collection belonging to the Museum in Palazzo Te. This beautiful sculpture of a cat is one of the most important items of the collection for its artistic value. Thirty-six centimetres in height, it was shaped with great attention and realism, giving particular emphasis to the musculature and to the noble pose of the head. The cat was a sacred animal in ancient Egypt, and was linked to the goddess Bastet. The work of art dates to the twenty-fifth dynasty, in the Third Intermediate Period after the New Kingdom, characterized by the rule of Nubian sovereigns, descendants of the priests of Amon who had been driven out of Thebes centuries before.

A beautiful bronze head from the Hellenistic era. According to some experts it is the head of Queen Arsinoe the Third, who married her brother Ptolemy the Fourth. According to others, this is the goddess Aphrodite, and the work dates to the years just before the advent of Christ, a hypothesis that is supported mostly by the shape of the hair. The face is very beautiful, also, the missing eyes – glass pearls or gems once filled the sockets - contribute to the overall intensity of the work.

This coloured statuette was part of a set of funerary object dating to the New Kingdom of Egypt. It was part of the complex Egyptian religion to surround dead people with a rich ensemble of sacred images that would protect the deceased during their afterlife voyage. The falcon symbolizes the Egyptian god Horus, associated to the sun, son of of Isis and Osiris. Here the eye of the falcon is represented like the sun.

Duamutef was one of the four powerful sons of Horus, the god protecting one of the canopic vases in which the viscera of the dead person were preserved, while the body would have been mummified. This cover represents Duamutef’s head, with the face of a jackal, while the other divinities have falcon, baboon and human features. Traces of black colour are still visible on the artifact.

This fragment is 11,5 cm high.
It represents a man offering a naos to the divinity. In architecture the naos is the inner part of the temple, a sort of cell that hosts the divine figure. The main character represented is showing the god the place where he is going to be venerated. The text engraved on the little statue explains that the offer is for Osiris. The rite is presided over by a priest with a shaved head.

The Gonzaga section of the Civic Museum of Palazzo Te was not created around one donation but by bringing together various items from different sources. It is composed of an important collection of coins and of an even more significant collection of medals, some of the finest examples dating to Italian Renaissance. Finally, also on display are weights and measures from the Gonzaga period. One medal in particular stands out because of its author: it is the medal of Gianfrancesco (1394-1444), first Marquis of Mantua, of which we can admire the front. The work is by Antonio Pisanno, known as Pisanello, a genius of the International Gothic, also author of the largest existing chivalrous fresco, discovered in Palazzo Ducale by the superintendent Paccagnini in the seventies of the twentieth century.    

Pisanello, also a well known medal-maker, spent a considerable period of time working for the Marquis Gianfrancesco. On the front of this medal the name and title of the Marquis are visible, while on the back the artists signed his name, next to the image of the Marquis riding a horse; another rider also visible on the back presents traits that are similar to some details of the frescoes in Palazzo Ducale. The paintings tell the deeds of the knights of the Round Table and depict the tournament they took part in.

Under the lower side of this bucket-shaped container is this sentence: “OLEARUM SOLEI SEX DEC EXEMPLUM PARTIS 1554”. It mentions the year it was made and explains that the measure contained it’s the sexteenth part of Mantua’s solio.
The artifact is enriched by a vegetal decoration and by four coat of arms: those of Hercules, Gonzaga, the city of Mantua, Margherita Paleologo. The fourth emblem is the composite coat of arms of Paleogo and Gonzaga.

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
Ilaria Pezzini
Veronica Zirelli

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

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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