The appearance of the Palace

Palazzo Te

Giulio Romano’s genius is visible in the way he treats the several surfaces of the magical square he considers the heart of Palazzo Te. Stylistic variations, shadow effects and architectural elements form some of main attractions of the Palace, visible every day and in all seasons.

Exterior of Palace Te, Giulio Romano, 1524, From the collection of: Palazzo Te
Around the Palace
When approaching the Palazzo the first thing that becomes visible at a distance is a low building with a light colour. Getting closer the visitor will then make out openings, windows, frames, and more in general, decorative elements that   cover every facade. The genius of the painter and architect Giulio Romano, favourite pupil of Raphael, who arrived in Mantua in 1524, consists in mixing and innovating different styles from ancient buildings. His friendship with the Marquis Federico Gonzaga lead to the development of various projects and to the idea of creating a magnificent building intended for idleness and pleasure, where parties could be held, and that in general would have celebrated victorious battles and been a tribute to the ancient Rome they both descended from. Federico Gonzaga had in fact been kept prisoner inside the papal residence as a child, and had the opportunity to come into contact with the genius of Raphael, whose paintings adorned the walls of this residence, and where he is also very probably depicted.
Exterior of Palace Te, Giulio Romano, 1524, From the collection of: Palazzo Te

The famous villa was erected in the sixteenth century on an island at the edge of the city, close to the fourth lake, the lake of Paiolo. The villa is an important element in the political project of Federico, who was made Duke by the Emperor Charles V during a visit to the city and to the palace in 1530. Giulio Romano interpreted the intention of Federico and created a building that is characterized by a perfect geometrical balance. The edifice is tall, its contour is not invasive, allowing the building to blend in with its surroundings. The overall harmony is more Greek than Roman, and is characterized by a Doric austerity.

Details of the entrance, Giulio Romano, 1524, From the collection of: Palazzo Te

One of the distinguishing features of the work of Giulio Romano is the continuous search for a variation in the modules he uses, that are chosen not on the basis of their structural function, but for the dynamic quality they are able to impress upon the whole building. Giulio Romano here demonstrated that it is possible to create something totally new by juxtaposing, in an almost musical way, diverse elements taken from past examples. This miracle is achieved by making small changes to the a prefixed order, following a poetics of vision and of its illusions. This is the invention, both in painting and in architecture, of Mannerism, a path that already Raphael, who died at a young age in 1529, had opened up when he had substituted the copy of nature with the invention of something artificial, creating a second nature that was totally human.

Perspective of the east faced reflected in the Fisheries, Giulio Romano, 1524/1534, From the collection of: Palazzo Te
A perfect shape
The square cour d'honneur was designed by Giulio Romano. To the west and east are two imposing gates, while to the south and north there should have been a loggia – though only on one side the loggia was realized, called Loggia delle Muse. A third Loggia looks out towards the garden from the east gate, enclosed by an exedra, perhaps added by Nicolò Sebregondi (Sondrio 1585, Mantova 1652) in 1651. The palace is surrounded by a double perimeter, an internal one, which coincides with the cour d'honneur, and a second one that is the garden. The two squares are separated by two large rectangular pools, which evoke the two lakes on the outskirts of the city: in the Sixteenth century these artificial stretches of water separated the palace from the mainland making this an island.
East facade and garden, Giulio Romano, 1524/1534, From the collection of: Palazzo Te

The Loggia of the Muse seen from the outside is an example of the architecture of Giulio. The systematic use of the “bugnato” technique creates movements on the surface of the palace, creating during the different seasons a game of shadow and light, captivating both in the summer and in the winter, as well as during the night. The material in which the Palace is covered seems able to accommodate the natural light of the ambient. Everything is inside a rigid sequence, contained in a clear geometrical setting.

East facade and garden, Giulio Romano, 1524/1534, From the collection of: Palazzo Te

Standing inside the garden and looking from east, the exedra behind us, we see Palazzo Te reflected in the water of the two pools. Also visible from here is the Loggia di Davide, that opens up at the end of the long walk through the rooms of the palace. The loggia also connects the garden to the courtyard.

East facade on the Courtyard of Honour, Giulio Romano, 1524/1534, From the collection of: Palazzo Te

The east wing of the palace is characterized by a triple arch, held up at the centre by eight columns. The triple opening is balanced by large windows, four on the left and four on the right, which add rhythm to the facade, enhanced by a triangular tympanum, similar to the one of the Pantheon in Rome. The building is reflected in the water, creating yet another artifice.

North Loggia: facade on the Courtyard of Honour, Giulio Romano, 1524/1534, From the collection of: Palazzo Te

Giulio Romano is mentioned in The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare, making him the only artist to be explicitly referred to. In the words of the British playwright Giulio Romano is the creator of statues that come to life, and is referred to as the“rare Italian master”. Even though Giulio Romano was not a sculptor, his ability to create what today would be called a “multisensorial space”, was indeed understood by Shakespeare, who speaks of a genius able to bring matter to life. Indeed, if Giulio Romano “had he himself eternity and could put breath into his work, would beguile Nature of her custom, so perfectly is he her ape”. These lines are also an accurate and brilliant description of the mannerist style.

Secret Garden, Giulio Romano, 1524/1534, From the collection of: Palazzo Te
The Secret Garden
In the centre of the villa there is a small building where Federico would withdraw, a secluded place where art and nature come together. A series of rooms surround a rectangular garden. Here we can recognize a loggia with three openings supported by two marble columns. The frescoes on the vault show different episodes of the common life of men, from birth to death. The two walls which surround the garden were once adorned by fake perspectives no longer visible. Towards the top of the wall there are eighteen niches which contain figures from Aesop's fables.
Secret Garden, Giulio Romano, 1524/1534, From the collection of: Palazzo Te

This image shows a beautiful decoration where the style seems to be that of ancient Roman villas. The master of the house is surrounded by scenes that tell of a life spent honestly and happily

Apartment of the secret garden, Giulio Romano, 1524/1534, From the collection of: Palazzo Te

The Secret Garden was realized, starting in 1595, by the Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga and his son Ferdinando. A fountain, today ruined, delighted the guest with creative water displays, enclosed in a place in which the walls were, and in part still are, covered by stuccoes and natural elements such as the mother-of-pearl and crystals. The frescoes represent scenes taken from the Orlando Furioso, in particular the scenes with the magician Alcina. The small room is also enriched by mosaics and many illustrations of the heroic deeds carried out by the Gonzaga’s family. The representation of animals and references to alchemy complete this curious and fascinating creation.

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

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.