The Sculptures of the Renaissance

Mantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

One of the most important sections of the Mantua City Museum is undoubtedly the one that takes us back to the golden age of the Gonzagas and to the time of Mantegna, Isabella d'Este and Francesco II. Two 17th century contributions complete this collection of work. Visitors can admire and study in detail the features and modelling of the sculptures on display here. They will especially enjoy the paintings and historical and artistic figures brought to life. 

Relief of an Amorino
Greek marble bas-relief drawing on classic inspiration, depicting a winged putto, probably captured in a pose of holding up a table. In its manners, it is reminiscent of Roman models from the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., when such figures held up symbols of the Olympian Gods. Similar references to classic reliefs can be witnessed in Mantua in the transennae of San Sebastian, but also in the Camera degli Sposi by Mantegna, in the famous scene of the putti with the dedicatory plaque.
Candelabrum with ornamental reliefs
The candelabrum may have served as a decorative element to a funerary monument.                    It comprises a base and a shaft made from different stone materials: marble and limestone. The two elements were put together later and came from other sculptures. Known as "L'Antico" for his interpretation of the Antique, Pier Jacopo Alari Bonacolsi worked for the Court of the Gonzagas on numerous occasions from 1493 as a bronze worker, sculptor and adviser on the purchase of ancient works.
Bust of Battista Spagnoli
In line with traditional iconography, Battista Spagnoli is depicted wearing the outfit of a Carmelite, of which he was Prior General from 1513. This high-quality sculpture is undoubtedly based on the real person, and is distinguished for the three-quarter length cut of the figure which features his hand holding a large book, alluding to his great qualities as a humanist. Produced in glazed terracotta, this sculpture is held in high esteem, not only for the ideas behind it, which draw on the influence of Mantegna, but also for the great technical qualities that it possesses. It was formerly kept at the Church of the Carmine in Mantua, where Spagnoli was a prior from 1479.
Bust of Francesco II Gonzaga
This terracotta bust of the Marquis Francesco II Gonzaga is of unquestionable value and superb craftsmanship. The rich parade armour, illustrating his role as a prince and warlord, is adorned with lightly protruding or engraved patterns, showing a highly refined iconographic scheme. The crucible work is particularly noticeable on the chest, showing a band of molten rods immersed in the fire of a brazier. Below, an eagle with its wings outstretched holds a ring in its beak, perching on weapons and the spoils of war. The right shoulder strap shows a caduceus, the symbol of reason and peace, while on the left there is a warrior showing the temple of Janus, whose open doors allude to the historical context at the time - the war being waged against Charles VIII. This work is regarded as a cornerstone of Mantuan sculpture from the late 15th century. In fact, the quality is so outstanding that some scholars have suggested that Mantegna himself may have worked on it.
Sleeping Cupid with two snakes
Carved in Carrara marble, this Cupid is captured with great verisimilitude in his sweet surrender to sleep and in the softness of the childlike forms. His quiver, bow, wings and wreath of roses, all symbols of the son of Venus, leave us in no doubt as to the subject being portrayed. Meanwhile, the two snakes that surround him should be understood as allegorical. This piece is from the Ducal Palace of Sabbioneta. 

The exquisite beauty of this piece, its unusual size, the contrast between the sweet, sleeping figure of Cupid and the robust snakes that brush against him have led some scholars to come to a conclusion about to whom this work might be attributed, with some highly-vaunted artists in the frame. Some, for example, suggest that it may be the work of Antonio Lombardo. More specifically, Gianna Pinotti, following the trail of the Cupids that were in the possession of Isabella d'Este and have since been lost, has developed a complex theory linking this piece to Michalengelo Buonarroti, who has been identified as the creator of one of the two missing sculptures. While there is no definite proof, the subject is still very much up for debate.

Bust of Pope Julius II
This terracotta bust portrays Pope Julius II in his pontifical robes. Elements of his clothing that are easy to identify include the mozetta (a short cape closed at the front with a row of buttons and cowl at the back, known as the cocullo) and the camauro (a cap worn by Popes only in winter). His face displays his renowned proud and strong-willed attitude.
Relief of Diana
The iconography of this relief is unusual. Even in antiquity, it is not particularly common to find a nude depiction of Diana, displayed here alongside the more traditional items with which she is associated: the bow, the quiver and the leash, which is traditionally tied to a dog or a deer. The crescent on the front emphasises the nocturnal aspect.
Relief of the Goat Amalthea
There is no verifiable information about the origin of this graceful relief in Carrara marble. The figures emerge with great potency from the material, which is worked with great technical skill, as can be seen by the skilful use of the drilling implement, dating back to sculpture from the late Roman empire. The strong but balanced chiaroscuro emphasises the overall movement of the piece, which is further enhanced by the elliptical form. The choice of the theme and the lively rhythm of the relief suggest that this small sculpture was part of the vogue for Emilian classicism during the first half of the 17th century.
Relief of the Rape of Europa
The figures in this Carrara marble piece stand out forcefully from the background, following a centripetal movement that is brought out by the elliptical format. The classical theme is inspired by Hellenistic models, which constitute the basis for every detail. All the elements are further accentuated by the interplay of the chiaroscuro and the heightened rhythm of the depiction. This is the work of the same classically-inspired Emilian sculptor who crafted the relief of Amalthea as a goat.
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
Veronica Zirelli

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

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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