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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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”.
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.
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
Un ringraziamento speciale a / A special thanks to:
Emma Catherine Gainsforth