The Empire and the Giants

The second part of our tour centres around the painting of the Giants, who
are desperately  attempting to conquer
the mount Olympus. It is an allegory of the pointless rebellion of the enemies
of Carlo V and of the Empire. The frescoe creates a particular atmosphere,
highlighting the cave-like appearance of the room that is similar to a grotto
or an ancient tomb. 

Loggia of David (1532) by Giulio RomanoPalazzo Te

Loggia of David

A place where all paths cross: the loggia opens up to the garden on one side, on the other it gives onto the cour d'honneur. It was admired by Charles V during his second visit to Mantua in 1532. The protagonist of the scenes decorating the loggia is not a legendary figure but a character from the Old Testament. He is both the captain defending Israel and the young hero defeating Goliath, who is in love with the beautiful Bathsheba. The frescoes are the work of various painters: Luca da Faenza, Rinaldo Mantovano, Fermo da Caravaggio, Benedetto Pagni. Worthy of note are also the stuccoes and the sculptures representing the Virtues, which date to the seventeenth century.  

Loggia of David (1532) by Giulio RomanoPalazzo Te

From the loggia we pass into the sunny garden, enclosed by an exedra, that dates to a different period. The style of the Loggia is inspired by the prototype of the Roman villa created by Raphael. This place had a series of different functions: it was a place for recreation, it was meant to glorify the Prince; furthermore it was the ideal place to stage theatrical performances; finally it is the place that best sums up and represents the whole Palace. Here the rhythm created by the frescoes and the decorations respond to the complexity of the architecture.

Chamber of the stuccoes (1529) by Francesco PrimaticcioPalazzo Te

Chamber of the Stuccoes

Passing through the Loggia of David the visitor enters a rectangular space that is decorated by stuccoes representing divinities and scenes from ancient Rome. The work is by Francesco Primaticcio, one of the collaborators of Giulio Romano, who was here assisted by Giovan Battista Mantovano. The artist also contributed to the realization of the frescoes of Fontainebleu in France. The stuccoes are divided between the barrel vault, divided into twenty-five squares, and the double area of friezes that delimits it. A curious detail: one of the scenes is a baptism, out of context with respect to the other classical scenes represented. The reference is to an episode of Roman history narrated on Trajan's Column and on the Column of Marcus Aurelius in Rome. The intention of Giulio Romano was to glorify the classical word by surprising the visitor with the great many characters represented in the scenes.

Chamber of the stuccoes (1529) by Francesco PrimaticcioPalazzo Te

The beauty of this impressive vault lies in the chromatic contrast between the white figures and the black background, creating something that looks like an ancient cameo. The past is evoked through the illusions that here speak of the present glory.

Chamber of the stuccoes (1529) by Francesco PrimaticcioPalazzo Te

The detail of this double strip shows a parade of armed men, and the legs of horses that seem to come out of the wall. In the lower part, to the left, it is possible to recognize the Emperor on his horse leading the men, his arm raised, to lead the way. The second artistic reference of Giulio Romano is perhaps the painting depicting the great triumph with which Andrea Mantegna had adorned, a couple of decades earlier, the Palazzo di San Sebastiano. The same scene here acquires a plastic quality, and the figures, less dynamic than their painted counterparts, are turned into emblems.

Chamber of the stuccoes (1529) by Francesco PrimaticcioPalazzo Te

A detail of one of the frames, the stucco here represents two armed men who are about to fight.

Chamber of the Emperors (1529) by Francesco PrimaticcioPalazzo Te

Chamber of the Emperors

Before the Hall of the Giants, we pass through the Hall of the Emperors, glorification of the greatness of ancient Rome, ideally preceded by the achievements of Alexander the Great, who is represented with his father Philip II of Macedon next to Julius Caesar and Augustus. It is not certain whether Primaticcio and Rinaldo Mantovano are the authors of these frescoes. Next to the four sovereigns there are two tondoes, which illustrate the virtues of a just ruler.

Chamber of the Emperors (1529) by Francesco PrimaticcioPalazzo Te

At the centre of the vault, enriched by a light blue and red decoration in stucco with vegetal motifs, there is a central square which shows a painting of Caesar who is ordering the destruction of the letters by Pompey. Also here the main theme is the magnanimity of the ruler. By destroying these letters, Caesar was preventing Pompey's plots against the state from becoming public, so that the memory of his defeated enemy would be, at least in part, preserved.

Chamber of the Emperors (1529) by Francesco PrimaticcioPalazzo Te

In the frescoed tondo Alexander the Great holds a precious box, war booty, inside which the things most precious to him are kept: a copy of the Iliad and one of the Odyssey. It is the duty of a ruler to foster art and culture so they may remain alive throughout history.

Chamber of Giants - Side wall by Giulio RomanoPalazzo Te

Chamber of the giants

A marvellous art work that still today fascinates visitors: the Hall of the Giants, a room made to look like a cave, is decorated with representations of monstrous creatures waging an attack on the Mount Olympus and the heavens. Jupiter is fighting to defend his children. Giulio Romano turned the vault into a sky, with a series of not concentric circles. The perspective reaches a climax,  something that was later imitated by many artists, with a canopy under which stands the throne of the king of the gods. Significantly it is empty, although there is an   eagle that represents both Jupiter and the empire. The entire representation also has a political meaning, in that it alludes to the triumph of Charles V and the defeat of his enemy. It is interesting to see how the painter, probably Rinaldo Mantovano, creates a chaotic and indistinct crowd of divinities, almost hidden behind the white clouds, frightened by the march of the Giants who are about to fall, hit by lightening. 

Chamber of the Giants - Ceiling by Giulio RomanoPalazzo Te

In a curious but coherent way, the sky ends behind Jupiter's canopy just as a vault would. The heavens are closed, in a manner that is characteristic of Giulio Romano's art, that combines an invented reality with an artificial space. The twelve columns, almost hidden by a cloud, support the imaginary part of the cupola and trace another circle, a third one with respect to the one formed by the clouds and the one created by the canopy. The result is a celestial chart, that the Giants intend to destroy.

Chamber of the Giants - Side Wall by Giulio RomanoPalazzo Te

he Giants, colossal figures painted as hungry peasants intent on lifting the mounts and throwing them against the cupola of the rulers, appear in many places of the painting, being at the same time buried under the rocks they are trying to upturn. The story illustrates mythological episodes taken from Latin literature, but what is important here is the dynamism of the scene, that translates the violence of the rebels into a continuous rotating movement: the Giants are destined to fall into the bowels of the earth.

The architecture of the upturned universe falls onto the rebels, signifying the defeat of irrationality and of blind fury.

Small Chamber of Grotesques (1533) by Luca da FaenzaPalazzo Te

Chamber of the Grottesche

The small Chamber, also known as the eight sided chamber, is decorated with lively grotesques which represent small figures painted in a vegetal context. The main author of the work is Luca da Faenza, while the stuccoes are the work of  Andrea de Conti.  

Small Chamber of Grotesques (1533) by Luca da FaenzaPalazzo Te

The play of small Cupids inside a plaque with a dark background, held up by other Cupids.

Chamber of the Candelabra (1527) by Nicolò da MilanoPalazzo Te

Chamber of the Candelabra

The freize in this room is the only work that dates to the period of Giulio Romano; the authors are Nicolò da Milano and Giovan Battista Mantovano. It is the usual classical representation of  prisoners, army trophies and bacchic scenes. The distribution of the space of the frieze, decorated with tondoes and squares, is complex.

Chamber of the Candelabra (1527) by Nicolò da MilanoPalazzo Te

The decoration of the wooden coffered ceiling that dates to the Sixteenth century, is the work of Staffieri who realized it in 1813.

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
Chiara Pisani

Un ringraziamento speciale a / A special thanks to:
Giuseppe Billoni
Emma Catherine Gainsforth
Olmo Montgomery
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.
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