A Mantuan Private Collection, from Renaissance to modern times

The taste of collecting art, showing vivid paintings and masterly works

Jesus and Apostles by Jacobello di BonomoMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

Jesus and Apostles

The life of Jacobello is quite enigmatic, since the scarce news concerning him was dispersed within the fourteenth century. However, his art is high quality, and obviously cannot be separated from the Venetian environment, in particular the influence of Paolo and Lorenzo Veneziano. The only work definitely attributed to the painter is the Polyptych of Sant’Arcangelo, signed and dated 1385. In this beautiful work we can see a compositional approach, still owing to the Byzantine style, but naturally transformed by the new gothic sensibility. The rhythm of the colors in the Apostles’ clothes is combined with the slight sinuosity of their bodies, giving movement to this series of characters painted against a gold background. The compactness and solidity of the forms, the play of hands, and the effectiveness of the large white marble base gives the whole of the work a peculiar and truly convincing harmony, nevertheless expressing a quiet tension that translates into contemplative ardor.

Madonna with Child by Alvise VivariniMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

Madonna with Child

Belonging to the illustrious Venetian family of Vivarini painters, in particular being the son of Antonio and nephew of Bartolomeo, this painter’s personality in the Serenissima was partially obscured by the presence of the great Giovanni Bellini, the maestro who definitely instigated a turning point in Venetian Renaissance art. Alvise was nevertheless an excellent artist, closer in some respects to the Paduan Mantegna. Although some of his works are now lost, we can say that he created paintings characterized with a clean composition using bright but cool colors, which sometimes stiffen the figures in a kind of actualized paradise. All of this demonstrates a truly remarkable strength of expression. The present work derives its value from the figure of the Virgin posed in an astonished surrender, whose hand seems to protect her son like an insurmountable barrier. The dispersion of the bodies in geometric masses is very interesting, as is the division of the background into clearly delineated areas. This is an example of art becoming by metaphysical instinct, abandoning any easy luministic solution.

Madonna with swallow and Child by Nicolo RondinelliMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

Madonna with swallow and Child

The swallow that can almost be seen on the large green curtain is evidently a signature of the artist who, perhaps of Venetian origin, was certainly a pupil of Giovanni Bellini. The art of Mantegna's brother-in-law does not have sublime grace, and the composition shows an excessive rigidity in some areas, for example the Venetian landscape, opening up behind the couple, which is carried out in a much too simple manner. However, the beautiful hands of the Madonna and the complex folds of her red dress reveal the technique of an artist that is far from negligible and that channels the unrivaled magisterium of Giovanni in more frank ways.

Visit of Mary to Elizabeth by Scuola fiammingaMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

Visit of Mary to Elizabeth

This small work portrays one of the most subtly intimate scenes of the Gospel of Luke, the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth: "In those days Mary set off to the mountain, in a hurry, and headed for a city in Judea. Entering the house of Zechariah, she greeted Elizabeth. As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby jumped in her womb. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. To what purpose does the mother of my Lord come to me? Behold, as soon as your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb jumped with joy. And blessed is she who believed in the fulfillment of what the Lord has told her. - " It is therefore a mutual recognition between the two expecting mothers, one pregnant in an almost miraculous way given her age, the other full of joy after the Annunciation. Here the anonymous painter portrays the meeting with simple but effective grace, placing it in an open space behind which a landscape dotted with mountains and castles opens up. The strength of the Virgin, with a very white complexion, contrasts with the figure of Elizabeth, almost bent over with old age. All around, there is an atmosphere of quiet joy, well accentuated by the intense colors and the happiness of the dog.

Madonna with Child and fruit by Joos Van CleveMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

Madonna with Child and fruit

Formerly known as the Master of the Death of the Virgin, Joos van Cleve is an important representative of the Antwerp school. He distinguishes himself from other contemporaneous masters by his numerous trips, especially those made in Italy. In this way he had the chance to know Leonardo da Vinci, at least artistically so. In fact, he was strongly influenced by Italian painting, as evidenced by this work in which the Virgin's face is evidently modeled on da Vinci’s examples. On the other hand, in the Prague National Gallery there is a painting that refers to the theme of the so-called Monna Vanna, or smiling woman such as the Mona Lisa, with a bare chest, reinterpreted in the appearance of a courtesan. In the group that appears here, the effort to adapt to the first Italian Mannerist style is particularly noteworthy, even if the glossy colors and the strained chiaroscuro testify to the artist's Nordic origins. The iconography of the fruit is interesting, in particular the cherries held by the child Jesus, symbols of the passion, and the apple lying nearby, which evidently evokes original sin.

Nativity by Michele di Ridolfo del GhirlandaioMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso


His real name was Michele Tosini. He was a pupil of Lorenzo di Credi and later of Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, in turn son of the famous Domenico, in whose honor he took his name. He was a remarkable representative of Florentine Mannerism, especially after the period of collaboration with Vasari in the frescoes of the Salone dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio. Mannerism, in fact, generally denounces the following stylistic features: the elongated monumental figures, the vast range of opposing colors, and the complex construction of the subject. In this work, which is still affected by his period of training, we see Saint Joseph and the Magi surrounding the couple of the Virgin and the Child Jesus in swaddling clothes, as if protecting both from the adversities of the world. The setting is candidly folk, and the squaring of the buildings is still uncertain.

San Sebastian by Giacomo FranciaMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

San Sebastiano

Son of the most famous Francesco, Giacomo Francia participated at an early age in his father's workshop with his younger brother Giulio. He is therefore an artist who belongs to Bolognese and Emilian Mannerism, capable of works that are captivating yet robust, with bright colors, confident contours, and lavish appearances. For example, the solidity of this Saint Sebastian recalls the resounding physicality of Christ at the Column by Bramante, a famous panel currently hosted by the Pinacoteca di Brera. Note the physical prestige of the saint and his imperturbable gaze. He is a beautiful and almost heroic figure standing in front of a landscape, and on the left church or a temple seems to reveal itself behind a Giorgionesque tree. Giacomo Francia is therefore a gifted painter, continuing his father’s activity thanks to a copious and convincing opus.

San Matteo by José de RiberaMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

San Matteo

This depiction of the evangelist while he is preparing or continuing to write the pages of his famous book is powerful. De Ribera, called Spagnoletto for his short stature, is an artist of great importance, a point of connection between Italy and Spain. He absorbs the lesson of Caravaggio, but interprets them according to typical methods of Iberia, planting seeds that will later be followed by painters after him. His long stay in Naples, even during his illness and until his death, allowed him to produce a very abundant and then increasingly small opus. In the work that we see here, the physicality of the saint is connected to his spiritual tension, while the scarce elements around him, illuminated by an almost unnatural light, serve to underline every moment of the inner drama experienced by the one whose task it is to tell the story of Christ. For example, the reddish cloak, which encircles and separates him, is magnificent. Thus, both the artistic career of Spagnoletto and the particular rendering of this masterpiece unfold in a fruitful relationship between light and shadow.

Nursing peasant by Monsù BernardoMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

Nursing peasant

Eberhard Keilhau is the real name of this painter, who was born in Denmark, specifically in Elsinore, the place of the legendary castle of Prince Hamlet. After coming to and remaining in Italy for some time at Rembrandt's workshop, Monsù Bernardo made long trips to the peninsula, living for example in Venice, Ravenna and Ferrara, and especially in Rome, where his stay had profound artistic resonance. He is one of the most interesting proponents of the so-called genre painting. Inspired partly by Caravaggio and partly by the Bamboccianti school, which loved to paint popular scenes of papal Rome, he spent most of his non-religious work portraying ordinary people, caught in the normal moments of life. In this context, for example, we admire a woman holding her baby in her lap while the baby suckles greedily from her breasts. At the same time, a man appears from the left, dressed in bright red and carrying a tablet with some items, perhaps jars for perfume or medicine, which he obviously offers for sale. The whole scene is extremely moving and pleasant, both for the richness of the colors, and for the spontaneity of the stroke that portrays the almost astonished faces of the characters, intent on productively completing their day.

Gentleman by Agostino CarracciMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso


The critical adventure of Agostino Carracci, to whom this work is attributed, is inexorably far from the fate of his younger brother Hannibal, the acknowledged leader of the Bolognese and Emilian art in the late sixteenth century. However, the talent of Agostino, who was also an excellent engraver, is not at all insignificant, although it develops more calmly than the brilliant inventions of his brother’s realism. Thus, in this beautiful portrait of a gentleman, we discover a frank adhesion to the subtle movements of the soul which the motionless face suggests and implies. Indeed, in a certain way, Agostino advocates a more modern art, making it so that the painting’s details, although seemingly conventional, have a direct impact on the viewer, suggesting more than describing. We can also see some similarities between this small painting and one of the arist's masterpieces: his self-portrait in the guise of a watchmaker. The bizarre union of attitude and passion shows us how attentive the painter was to the subtle but relentless rhythm that pervades our existences, translating this into a balance of colors capable of conveying a truthful image of life.

Apparition of Virgin Mary and Child by Luca GiordanoMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

Apparition of Virgin Mary and Child

In this work which is characteristic of his opus, Luca Giordano seeks expression and movement. The subject is the saint or the martyr to whom the Madonna appears, from her place in heaven with Baby Jesus in her lap, and this subject is enriched by a swirl of characters, probably soldiers and judges called to torment her, who perform a kind of circular movement of surprise, giving tone and vibration to the whole composition. The rest contains a happiness typical of Giordano and his exquisite talent with color. At first a student of José de Ribera in Naples, he then went on a series of journeys to perfect his technique, especially by spending time in Venice. Indeed, Luca Giordano retains the Venetian brilliance and ability to describe, with a few brushstrokes, figures in various attitudes. Yet he retains the solidity he has learned from the old masters, which he was able to demonstrate by becoming a famous painter and frescoing numerous churches and palaces throughout the peninsula and in Spain, from Florence to Castellamare, from the Escorial Monastery in Naples.

Selfportrait by Giovanni BottaniMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso


Giuseppe Bottani, from Cremona, was a high-level 18th century artist who studied first in Florence, and then in Rome. From 1769 he taught at the newly established Academy of Mantua, under the direct mandate of Empress Maria Theresa. His painting style, though sometimes didactic and usually addressed to religious themes, is graceful, interpreting a trend that progressively turns from the classic towards the neoclassical. The painting that appears here is a self-portrait cultivated with precision and strength. This theme of the painter painting himself looking at his reflection in a mirror, under our very eyes, was a great success in the history of art. For example, let us remember the self-portrait of Antonio Canova, a few decades later than this. The sharpness of the face, the decisive look, the love of details, the strokes so confident as to be almost scornful, are all elements that make this work a fine example of the era. Bottani's brush illustrates the right display of ingenuity, linking the displayed portrait to the fertile theme of the relationship between the creator and his audience.

San Luigi Gonzaga by Giuseppe BazzaniMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

San Luigi Gonzaga

In religious-themed paintings, Giuseppe Bazzani very often manages to render, in an extraordinarily effective way, the yearning of the saints, which resembles ecstasy. This certainly happens in the beautiful work that we admire here, in which appears the favorite saint of Mantua: Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, progeny of the famous family, born in Castiglione delle Stiviere in 1568. The verticality of the painting defines the character, who appears slightly bent forward, completely immersed in his vibrant search for faith. The canvas was exhibited in Florence in the 1920s, then in Mantua, and it is dated to the 1740s. Here, once again, Bazzani shows the particular stylistic synthesis with which he operates, on the one hand starting from the distant example of Domenico Fetti and Rubens, and on the other, invigorating his paintings with the sensibility of Veneto, particularly of Venice.

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: Fabrizio Foresio

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.
Explore more
Related theme
Mantua Italian Capital of Culture 2016
A showcase of Mantua's finest cultural treasures. From ancient monuments to contemporary art, be inspired by the wonders of this incredible City.
View theme
Google apps