Is it true that during the Renaissance all houses in Mantua had painted façades? Probably not. But if you walk through some of the most typical streets in Mantua today, you can still see many frescoed exteriors. From the late Gothic era until the 16th century, simple structures show some highly inventive decorative elements, which are partly down to the tastes of the court and partly to the great Gonzaga dynasty. It is highly likely that even the great Andrea Mantegna readied his brushes to depict coloured figures for all to see.
One particular detail about these frescoes is that the various groups of figures - originally around a dozen - are looking out from balconies adorned with the Mantuan style rings, the very same that can be seen in the Camera degli Sposi at the Ducal Palace. What can be seen here, therefore, is a mixture of styles, or rather the great iconography of the Gonzagas combined with a modern depiction that still indulges in the fashions of the past. Here we see a solitary youth holding a scroll with the obscured writing O PER MIO, which may be a motto that could have been associated with the unknown commissioning family.
The best-preserved figure has been identified as the prophet Amos, in view of the letters "AMO" that appear on the scroll that he is holding. Elsewhere, other surviving fragments bear the names IACOB and IUDITH. It is therefore reasonable to assume that all the embrasures were adorned with figures from the Old Testament. The clear outline of the prophet's face, with his blond hair and oriental headdress, is a clear indication of the mastery of an exceptional artist, a man recruited by the Boldrini family to add further prestige to their residence.
Other notable decorative elements of the house are the fine stone portal, carved with Renaissance motifs and, just below the roof, a long frieze depicting angels that are holding up wreaths which are adorning circular windows. They once stood on a reddish background, which drew inspiration from the two fundamental colours of the interlinked rings: red and green, the symbolic colours of the Gonzaga family.
Between the two beautiful Fancelli windows on the first floor is the best preserved part of the two large fresco episodes. These depict the "Clemency of Alexander", an anecdote taken from the text by Curzio Rufo. The Latin inscription declaims that nothing is more commendable or worthy for a great man than leniency and clemency. After the battle of Issus, Alexander shows himself to be merciful towards the defeated Persians. It is worth noting that this theme, while alluding to Alexander's magnanimity, is clearly directed at the upper echelons of government and not at everyday folk in the city.
The house's crowning achievement is a frieze of bright cherubs on a dark background around two circular openings. On the second floor below there is a second painting, most probably depicting Rome, that has unfortunately been almost totally wiped out. It is accompanied by a Latin inscription that underscores the importance of forgiveness towards those who have insulted you.
Rearing horses on a red background, buildings showcasing the glory of Rome scattered on the horizon and frolicking cherubs that add a touch of the light-hearted to a noble and intense story. Although the work of Andrea Mantegna himself is not on show here, there is no doubt that we at least find ourselves in the presence of the pictorial fruit of some of his best pupils, who were in all probability working under his tutelage. Nevertheless, the direct influence Mantegna should not be ruled out altogether.
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:
Curatore testi e immagini / Superintendent texts and images:
Foto di / Photo by:
Gian Maria Pontiroli
Alessia Lodi Rizzini
Redazione / Editors: