Pescherie di Giulio Romano

Two buildings in particular were object of the planning activity of Giulio Romano in the area around the Rio: the so called Macello, or Beccherie, and the so called Pescherie.

By Mantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

Giulio Romano's Pescherie (1536) by Giulio RomanoMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

The first, which stood like a hut next to the Convent of St. Dominic, just under the bell tower that is still visible today, was demolished starting in 1843. All that is left of it are the arcades, at water level, once supporting it. Unlike the latter construction, the two Pescherie are still in place on the east side of the Rio, and run perpendicular to the waterway. The eastern one is rather run down, and will be restored in the year 2018; the western one, despite having been subject to many renovations, is still standing with its portico and pillars, just over the small bridge over the Rio.

Giulio Romano's Pescherie (1536) by Giulio RomanoMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

The bulding and the water

The intervention by Giulio Romano consisted certainly in the design of the building. His style is visible in the overall decoration, in the blocks forming the pillars and the walls of the building. The main feature is the rustic ashlar, one of the main elements characterising the work of Romano. Here the roughness of the overall design is due to the fact that these constructions were intended for humble, though important, trades. The space was indeed meant for workshops. The ashlar portico was to become one of the most used elements in the inventions of Romano in the years preceding his death.  

Giulio Romano's Pescherie (1536) by Giulio RomanoMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

Rythm and appearance

We find confirmation of the date the complex was built in a letter by Giulio Romano to the Duke that dates to October 26, 1536. In it Giulio Romano speaks of six pillars of the Beccherie that have already been completed. The buildings not only had a remarkable aesthetic impact, but were also intended to be a model of neatness and functionality, and substituted the old Medieval workshops. The connection with water is essential, also because the whole area was rethought, the small part of the city between the two bridges later called delle Pescherie and di San Silvestro. It is interesting to note that the upper floor of both the Pescherie is inhabitable. The place is today obviously very picturesque, its frequentation highlights the renewed relationship of the Mantuan people and visitors with a city that was built on water.  

Giulio Romano's Pescherie (1536) by Giulio RomanoMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

A window on the Rio

It must be noted that the original destination of the Pescherie is not certain. Some believe that they were part of the Beccherie also from a functional point of view. It must be stressed that from 1526 Giulio Romano played an increasingly important role in the overall urban planning of Mantua: after being appointed Vicar to the Court and Superior General of Gonzaga buildings and streets of Mantua (city architect), Giulio Romano was entrusted with overseeing the paving of the streets, which meant, in other words, that his vision encompassed the whole network of city streets. The eastern Pescheria that we can admire here is smaller than the western one, but it overlooks one of the most beautiful areas, where the Rio flows creating a luminous relationships with the houses surrounding it.

Giulio Romano's Pescherie (1536) by Giulio RomanoMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

A new order

This is one of the eight windows of the western Pescheria, on the side that gives onto the street. Like the others, it presents a gracious decoration on the moulding. Worthy of note is the play of triangles which on the inner side tend to form a squared shape.

Giulio Romano's Pescherie (1536) by Giulio RomanoMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

Ambiguous signs

Both the Pescherie are covered with tiles in rustic ashlar, many are also carved with curious graffiti. It is evidently impossible to say whether this was an idea of Giulio Romano, because of the continuous renovations and because it is difficult to identify a precise and specific intention. The geometric play has, however, inspired many to speak of a kind of ideographic language, which is probably not casual.

Giulio Romano's Pescherie (1536) by Giulio RomanoMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

Waves, punctuation, arrows: imagination is given free rein when walking along the Pescherie.

Giulio Romano's Pescherie (1536) by Giulio RomanoMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

Renovation

Over the eighth pilaster, on the right of the facade of the western Pescheria that looks towards the bridge of San Silvestro, it is possible to see the date 1931 inscribed in the stone. This is, in fact, the year the complete renovation of the whole right side of the building was carried out, making this building longer than the eastern Pescheria.  

Giulio Romano's Pescherie (1536) by Giulio RomanoMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

Arches and pillars

To sum up, there are six arcades east and eight west. Also in these buildings that were not constructed for noble purposes, the variations on the theme of Giulio Romano are surprising, and still today they allow to interpret the strong connection between Mantua and its watercourse, apparently still but actually quietly flowing. The Rio is, in fact, a man-made channel that connects the two lakes, it was created in 1190 by Alberto Pitentino, an engineer from Bergamo, who had to drain large areas of wetland.    

Giulio Romano's Pescherie (1536) by Giulio RomanoMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

A last look

A last look at the Pescherie allows to grasp the suggestive superimposition of constructions from different periods: the bell tower of St. Dominic is the only trace left of the large church dedicated to the saint and of the convent that used to stand next to it; these two buildings were demolished at the beginning of the 20th century.  

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 Foto di / Photo by: Art Camera Redazione / Editor: Erica Beccalossi Assistente / Assistant: Annica Boselli

Credits: All media
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