In ancient times, the whole area around the Cathedral of Sant'Andrea formed part of the suburban district of Mantua. In the late Middle Ages, it was only the buildings around present-day Piazza Sordello that constituted the city itself. But from 1190 onwards, a series of modifications took place in the city, which soon saw the creation of via Broletto, Piazza Mantegna, Piazza Marconi and Corso Umberto - the beating commercial heart of the city. Restored in 2016, the 209 columns and corresponding capitals are an exceptional example of Mantua's sculptural tradition, bringing an additional charm to the archetypal porticoes of the Po valley. Often constructed from old demolished buildings, the columns and their capitals date as far back as the 14th century, with some having been constructed as recently as the 20th century. Another journey through time, to the present-day centre of the city.
The symbol of the Gonzaga family that brings this fine capital to life, the doe, recalls the name of the 15th century building, "La Cervetta", situated on the corner of Piazza Mantegna that belonged to the Strada family and that was bombed and destroyed during the Second World War, before being rebuilt later. The only original elements of the building that remain are the columns and their respective capitals.
Here is one of the four magnificent capitals, carved from Veronese pink marble, that stand proudly on the portico beneath the façade of the house owned by the Concorezzo family from Brianza. The house is situated on the corner between Piazza Mantegna and Piazza Erbe and is also known as the "Merchant's House". It was built in 1455. The adornment in the style of an acanthus leaf embellishes the complex façade, while Gothic elements complement the Renaissance style.
Albeit somewhat undermined by an adjoining drainpipe, this superb and impressive capital is taken from the building at 13 Piazza Marconi, which showcases the most prominent Mantuan painted façade.
The frescoes on the building can be attributed, directly or indirectly, to Andrea Mantegna or to the elite circle of his best pupils. The coat of arms depicted here features an alternating pattern of the sun and the moon, which can also be found on the insignia of the Gonzaga family in various guises.
It was often the case capitals were not originally part of the adjoining column. In this case, the fact that the capital has been added later is quite noticeable given the different colours on display. This capital is simple in form and dates back to the most widespread Renaissance archetype in the city.
The hallmarks of Fancelli's sculptural style can be gleaned from the leaf motifs in the vertical grooves that run down the middle of each side. Luca Fancelli (Born in Settignano in 1430, died 1502) was an architect who worked on a large number of buildings in Mantua and further afield, during the age of Alberti among others. For its geometric rigour and graceful forms, his architectural style is instantly recognisable, in both the clay and stone decorative elements.
This coat of arms is engraved on a capital that forms part of the porticoes at a house on Corso Umberto. It shows the black and gold stripes of the first coat of arms of the Gonzaga family, quartered with the distinctive large snake of the Visconti. The capital therefore dates as far back as the last decades of the 14th century, at a time when there was still an alliance between Francesco I Gonzaga and Gian Galeazzo Visconti. In fact, Francesco's wife was Agnese Visconti, who was accused of infidelity and beheaded on 7 February 1391.
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
Redazione / Editors:
Un ringraziamento speciale a / A special thanks to: