Magnificent adornments

Mantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

The group of sculptures seen here, mostly terracotta, can be traced back to Mantua during the Renaissance and to the major adornments for on the city's streets. The City Museum houses this exceptional collection, which is generally associated with the style of Mantegna, who not only would produce paintings in a statuesque style, but also produced his own models of statues, as can be seen from the bronze bust of him in his funeral chapel in the church of Sant'Andrea. A truly standout piece from this period is the beautiful Romanesque statue of Virgil, the true patron of the city of Mantua.

Virgil in his chair
This magnificent, high-quality statue clearly shows Virgil in his chair, illustrating the tradition that not only was he an exceptionally gifted poet, but he also had a talent for universal teaching. There is intense debate among scholars as to the origin and sculptor of this depiction. The possibility that it was sculpted in the Middle Ages has now been discredited. What we do know is that the craftsman was from the Campione d'Italia area, which does not help to identify a distinct style, as the sculptures from that region - situated between Como and the Canton of Ticino - did not have one artistic style in common. Other scholars have pointed to the links with the particular Romanesque styles from Modena, Bologna and Parma. The most accepted explanation attributes the work to the years immediately after 1180. It would appear that from the 14th century onwards, the sculpture had been housed at the Palazzo della Ragione, whence in 1853 it was removed and brought to the Accademia Virgiliana, and then ultimately to the Ducal Palace in 1915.   
Virgin of the Annunciation
These five statues, of supreme quality of craftsmanship, come from a façade of a Renaissance house in Mantua situated at Via Frattini 5, which is stylistically influenced by Fancelli. Made in terracotta with traces of polychrome, the sculptures were once set between the niches at the top of the façade but in 1958 they were removed and replaced with copies. The originals on display here can be attributed to an anonymous sculptor from the Lombardy-Veneto region, who was active in the second half of the 15th century and may have associated with the circle of pupils of Donatello in Padua. As early as the time of the great exhibition on Andrea Mantegna curated by Paccagnini, the group at least mixed with the workshop of Mantegna, if not with the great master directly. Originally intended to be admired from a low perspective, the sculptures boast openly expressive features alongside a more elegant, classical style. We might thus conclude that it is the work of two separate artists: one who worked on the figures of the Enunciating Angel, the Madonna of the Annunciation and St. Paul, distinguished by a softer classicism that is closer to the Tuscan tradition, and one for St. Peter and the Evangelist, which present a more persistent expressiveness reminiscent of the style of Mantegna or Donatello. Perhaps the most moving figure is that of the Virgin, who appears withdrawn and overwhelmed by the power of the Annunciation.

Even the Angel, astounded by the Annunciation, is restrained in his dynamism, which lends a magnificent and dramatic feel to his relationship with the Virgin. His great wings become a majestic adornment.

It is suggested that these first three statues have even greater links with Tuscany. Of course, any attempt at attribution is complicated by the fact that Donatello, the master Tuscan sculptor par excellence, moved to Padua and exerted an influence on artistic production in the Veneto region, culminating in Mantegna as one of its greatest exponents.

The statue of the Evangelist shown here has a coarser outline and appears quite tense, with the arms seeming almost to protect the body. One might therefore conclude that, together with the sculpture of St. Peter, this piece is the work of the pupils of the master who designed the entire collection and produced the first three sculptures himself.

Each of the five statues displays considerable intensity, which was undoubtedly supposed to serve as a warning to passersby. Moreover, details that might seem too accentuated to modern eyes were mitigated by the distance between the sculptures and the viewer.

Bust of Francesco II Gonzaga
Alongside others that portray Virgil and Battista Spagnoli, this bust is the work of an anonymous local sculptor who produced the whole set at the behest of the doctor and scholar Battista Fiera (1465-1538), in honour of the Marquis and the two great Mantuan poets. The three sculptures adorned an arch that stood between Casa del Fiera and the Monastery of San Francesco in Mantua. The busts were placed there in 1514 when Francesco decreed that they were to be protected and carefully conserved because they were considered a fine adornment for the whole city. They were removed in 1852 when the arch was knocked down. The appearance of the Marquis Francesco, who proudly displays a beard and armour, is quite familiar. Bearing a laurel branch in its beak, an eagle stands on his cuirass. The piece is of undisputed quality.
Virgil
Unlike the other two busts on the Fiera arch, in this case the unknown sculptor draws not on the inspiration of contemporary figures but the greatest Latin poet of all. Among the many depictions of Virgil in the city, this one shows him almost as an elderly man, perhaps overwhelmed by the weight of his own genius. What is magnificent and realistic, however, is the depiction of the face of the spiritual patron of Mantua, a conception of which 
Battista Spagnoli
A prolific scholar, writer and native of Mantua, Battista Spagnoli was professor of theology at Bologna. He produced reams of verse and, by emulating Virgil, created simulacra of the works of the great Latin poet for the age of the Renaissance. As a Carmelite, he was also a prominent religious reformer. As part of the group on the Fiera arch, the bust that depicts him combines a serenity of expression with deep contemplation. 
Suspended corbel
This attractive capital is adorned with a scroll ornament and inscription This finding may originate from Mantegna's House. In fact, the inscription in block writing AB OLYMPO is reminiscent of the inscription in the courtyard of the painter's 15th century house. AB OLYMPO is the Latin for "From Olympus": a look from the heavens that is directed in the famous circular courtyard of the Maestro's residence, situated in Via Acerbi.
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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