The beginning of our virtual visit discover some of the first realized frescoes. They represent two main elements of italian manneirsm: the outline of the huge Gonzaga’s horses, suspended between dream and reality with metaphysical accents, and following scenes illustrating Amore and Psiche’s myth. Art changed, nevertheless some ecoes of Raffaello techniques are still visible.
In the fresco on the east wall there is a lunette, the scene inside it depicts a tub with overflowing water. A head with a laurel wreath appears from the tub. It is Virgil; paintings and prints from the fifteenth-century confirm this. The great Mantuan poet draws his knowledge from the waters of the river Mincio and spreads his poetry across his native land. A young woman is leaning against the tub, she is the personification of the city of Mantua. The viewer, seeing the fresco, had the feeling of being in a place that was source of creation and art. This is also highlighted by the presence of Apollo, who appears on the same wall. The Gonzaga coat of arms is painted under the lunette, and is surrounded by two cherubs, leaving no doubt as to who the owners of the palace were.
The genius of Giulio Romano is visible not only in the representation of the individual horses, that here are depicted in a position of rest, yet seem to be vibrating. They are standing against openings inside which a painted landscape is visible, and the city of Mantua, with its classical architecture. The entire Chamber, which is embellished by a fireplace made with Istria marble, becomes a fake loggia, that enters into an imaginary dialogue with the Camera Picta, where the Gonzaga family is portrayed inside a large pavilion, beyond which we see some villages. Giulio Romano’s ability to add new elements to the Chamber is evident also if we look at the series of fake painted bronzes in which the labours of Hercules are depicted. The contrast between the calm horse and the twisted body of the hero is magnificent.
In the Hall of Horses there are also real windows which disturb the overall rhythm of the composition, but also show Giulio Romano's ability in taking advantage of obstacles to create a perfect mix of artifice and reality. The decoration on the walls is completed by large statues of divinities which probably allude to Federico and his lover Isabella Boschetti. Under the magnificent ceiling there is a slot with vegetal motifs and cherubs playing around grotesque masks.
It is not of fundamental importance to determine whether here the painting depicts a lizard, a salamander or a gecko. What is significant is the contrast between the cold skin of the animal and the fire of passions tormenting man. The Latin motto that refers to this scene reads: “Quod huic deest me torquet”, which means “That which she misses torments me”. The heat, unknown to the Salamander, forces the heart of men to suffer the effects of passion.
The story of Cupid and Psyche is forms a sort of labyrinth in the eight octagons of the vaults surrounded by golden stuccoes and in the twelve lunettes of the Chamber; the story ends in the central frame, where Psyche, after having completed a series of difficult tasks, is finally allowed to enter the Olympus, where she becomes immortal and can marry Cupid. The various steps of Psyche’s journey have lead her to discover the dark side of the divinity, such as when she is forced to reach the infernal river Styx to steal some of its water.
The walls are painted with frescoes that illustrate some famous love stories, starting with Venus and Mars. We also find Baccus and Ariadne, Pasiphaë in Crete, Jupiter and Olympias, as well as a magnificent representation of the Cyclops Polyphemus, who is in love with Galatea, who in turn is in love with the shepherd Acis. The meaning of the painting is clear: Love reigns undisturbed over every being, be it man or God. The most important section is the nuptial banquet, where men, women and animals celebrate the love between the two protagonists, who are lying on a Roman triclinium.
The scene unfolding around the table on the western wall shows a group of satyrs chasing sensuous girls. The painted figures enter into dialogue with the guests that took part in the banquets organized by Federico. The sixteenth century visitors being entertained here were offered a pictorial representation of the joys of life.
In the beautiful lunette at the bottom, Psyche, dressed in green, is leaning forward to to touch the water of the river Styx. Under the lunette, in the octagon on the right, her story begins: she is the daughter of a king, so beautiful that people give her many gifts and presents, honouring her as if she were a goddess. In the octagon on the left we see the second episode of the story: Venus, angered by this, orders her son, Cupid, to punish her: he must hit her with an arrow that will make her fall in love with the most horrific being in the world. An episode that inspired Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
To the left of the large table on the western wall is a landscape where a river, or a lake, a hint to the lakes around Mantua, not far from the villa. The Earthly Paradise here represented has nothing to do with the Christian one. It is however worth noting that despite this difference, the series of paintings revolve around the motif of the initiatic journey, that the guest would have embarked on in a quest for true wisdom.
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:
In collaborazione con / in cooperation with:
Stefano Benetti (Palazzo Te e Musei Civici)
Foto di / Photo by:
Gian Maria Pontiroli
Redazione / Editors:
Un ringraziamento speciale a / A special thanks to:
Lo staff di Palazzo Te che ha fatto il turno dalle 19 all’1 del mattino per la gigapixel per tre giorni di fila