Frescoes from every era

Palazzo del podestà

The 2012 earthquake caused a lot of destruction but also brought to light some very valuable frescoes that tell of a fantastic world, inhabited by mythological creature and decorated by emblems. The power of the Gonzaga family is here told through  fairy-tales for the people of Mantua to see. 

Imaginary battles
One of the most remarkable images, uncovered in 2013. The thirteenth-century fresco shows a man chasing a centaur, in turn carrying another warrior who is fending off the attacker. We are on the sixth level of the palace, where the decoration once covered the whole upper part of the walls of the rooms.

A detail of a horse in battle. It is worth noticing the skillful stroke of the anonymous painter of the thirteenth century.

The fragment of another thirteenth-century fresco. In this case we are by the ancient staircase of the Tower of the Hours. It is possible to make out a man carrying something, maybe a spike from which some food is hanging.

A detail of the same scene.

The same story unfolds along the walls.

We are back in front of the battle scene with the warriors and the Centaur. On the left we can see the first coat of arms of the Gonzaga family.

Underneath the scenes of the battle with the Centaur, there is a fresco of great artistic value with a totally different subject. No warriors or mythological figures, but a sacred scene where we can easily identify a Madonna, and at her side a group of saints with a halo; among them is San Bartolomeo, his name in letters above him. The fresco probably dates to the first half of the fourteenth century.

Towards the Renaissance
The remaining part of this fresco is more difficult to date. It shows the profile of a man; it was perhaps a tribute to an important figure.

A portion of a Renaissance fresco, showing the characteristic tricolour daisy, symbol of the Gonzaga family. A similar decoration can also be found in some rooms on the ground floor of the Ducal Palace in Mantua, on the site of the ancient church of Santa Croce.

We are again on the first floor above the vault. Here is a detail of the frescoed section with plant motifs, and cupids on a black background. The decoration probably dates to the sixteenth century.

The geometric theme of this fresco in large colourful circles is connected to the decorative motifs of the Camera degli Sposi painted by Mantegna. Similar decorations can also be seen on the painted facades of some homes in Mantua, for instance in Via Fratelli Bandiera.

We are on the fifth level. It is possible to make out the first part of a motto painted over a crown that probably contained a coat of arms: "Deum Time", which means “fear God”. The motto continues with the words "and judge wisely". Here the chronology is certain because we have an exact date, the year 1468. On another wall of the same room there is a little sketch which probably represents the vault and Piazza Broletto.

Other decorations and mottos.

Here is the above mentioned sketch of the vault. On the left, the outline of an angel.

On the fifth level, another representation of the coat of arms of the Gonzaga family.

Other paintings
A beautiful wooden ceiling decorated with floral motifs.

The frescoes which appear here, that date to the beginning of the fourteenth century, are painted on the wall in the room that gives onto the hall on the first floor above the vault. The elegant decoration, small yellow palms against a black background next to a strip of red, probably covered many walls in this section of the palace.

On the same wall, under the decoration with palm trees, we see a yellow eagle inside a reddish circle. This fresco was already known before the last restoration.

From the same period and by the same hand is the decoration that runs along the arch of a door or window today closed, in the space immediately above the vault.

We are again standing in front of the frescoed south wall in the room on the first floor above the vault.

The corner between the east wall and the south wall of the same room.

The Gonzaga coat of arms and the decorative strip on the north wall.

On the fifth level, this fresco depicts a helmet with a feather inside a crown; the writing on top of it is probably a reference to Ermaclide Suardi, mayor of Mantua from 1472 to 1473. This fresco is very similar in style to some representations visible on the exterior walls of Palazzo San Sebastiano.

Still on the fifth level, another helmet, the crest of which is formed by a menacing eagle with open wings.

The journey through time is fascinating and complex.

This painting, that can be found on the fifth level, in a section of the building that gives onto Piazza Broletto, toward the vault, is among the most interesting brought to light. The yellow outlines seem to be those of a sinopia; it shows, among other poorly comprehensible traits, the upper part of a human figure standing in front of a tower with a clock. Most likely it is the Astronomical Clock Tower located next to Palazzo della Ragione in Mantua. It could therefore be a representation of the square soon after the construction of the tower, erected in 1473. It is important to notice that the tower in the drawing is turreted: the fifteenth century turret was replaced only in the seventeenth century, when the balcony and statue of the Madonna of the Apocalypse were put in place. The image, although difficult to date, must be compared with the inlaid woodwork in the wardrobe belonging to Giovanni Maria Platina (1455-1500) kept in the museum of Cremona, which possibly represent Piazza Erbe.

Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries
Poi, nello spazio tra i due palazzi, una volta affrescata in modo elegante ricorda la presenza religiosa di immagini sacre, capaci di confortare il condannato e di consigliare il giudice a seguire una giusta legge, nell’equilibrio dell’amministrazione. 

The dove of the Holy Spirit appears in the highest point of the ceiling, surrounded by angels forming concentric circles and by four figures representing Doctors of the Church. This is the main theme of the seventeenth-century chapel on the fifth level, in the section of Palazzo del Podestà nearest to Palazzo della Ragione. The author of the fresco is Giovanni Battista Caccioli.

Palazzo della Ragione and Palazzo del Podestà were used as jail and as court since the Middle Ages; this function became however dominant starting in the sixteenth century and shaped the identity of the palace which changed only in modern times. Both buildings embody the continuity of the town's administration from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century, through different types of government and foreign domination. In particular, the frescoed chapel was located above the so-called Oratorio dei Giustiziati, which no longer exists and which gave onto the homonymous street.

Giovanni Battista Caccioli was a Baroque painter from Bologna. He was pupil of Domenico Maria Canuti. He worked in many towns of the Po valley, in particular in Mantua, where he also decorated a room of Palazzo Canossa. His style is lively and dynamic. In the Cathedral of Sant'Andrea it is possible to admire an altarpiece by him, it shows Saints Carlo and Francesco praying the Virgin Mary. Probably he was also a sculptor, although no traces of this activity have survived.

The fresco shows angels of different size and importance. Here we see an angel carrying a crosier.

The presence of the Doctors of the Church, painted on the walls of a chapel inside the courtrooms, is a reference to the correct interpretation of the word of God, therefore to the virtue of justice, which here must be imparted wisely.

The motto “Iuste iudica proximo tuo” is taken from the verse 15 of the chapter 19 of the Book of Leviticus, third book of the Old Testament, translated into Latin by Saint Jerome: “You will not commit iniquity while judging; you will not have special consideration for the poor, neither you will bestow special honour to the powerful person; but you will judge your neighbour with justice”.

Below the vault of the chapel the wall is decorated by a frescoed strip. The mottos are intended for the judges who imparted justice in these rooms: “Nec amor nec odium nec praeces”: justice should not be influenced by feelings of love and hate, or by pleas.

A second motto: “Sola est quae aliis nata est” refers to the fact that justice is always imparted equally to all and that therefore it should never be exercised with a particular aim. The quote is taken from a book by Saint Ambrose, who told the story of Noah's ark.

Here the sign reads: “Homines propter iustitia diligo”. It is a part of the sentence by Gregory the Great, who claims to love men because of justice and not vice versa.

“Iustitia hominum indiget misericordia Dei”, is a reminder of the fact that earthly justice requires divine mercy.

Another hall of Palazzo del Podestà, located on what is known in the plan of the building as second raised level. Here a series of frescoed strips decorate the walls just below the wooden ceiling, also painted.

The walls of the municipal buildings are decorated by frescoes dating from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century. The same rooms were used over time for a variety of purposes, they were inhabited and left vacant, renovated and abandoned, until they were redone following the controversial project in the twentieth century.

A rather perplexed little angel holding a set square.

A decorative fresco with flowers and plant garlands.

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

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:
Emma Catherine Gainsforth
Elisa Gasparini
Paola Menabò
Ciro Molitierno
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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