Day 34: More Mantova

The Duomo of Mantova is Cathedral San Pietro Apostolo across the main square in front of the Ducal palace. It has as Dr. M D-S says an transitional facade (part Baroque, part Neo-Classical), a medieval church and a Romanesque bell tower.

The interior design by Giulio Romano was his last and looks uncharacteristically restrained, less Mannerist, more classicizing. It was believed to have been intended to be styled on the old St. Peter’s in Rome.

The central historic area of Mantova, barely a few blocks long, was the area of the court at one end, and the town area at the other. In the middle of the three strings of piazze, there is a Medieval statue of Virgil. Virgil was born near Mantova and described it as his home, yet he was not much celebrated in Mantova.

Mantova’s biggest church is Sant Andrea. The original design by Alberti was highly influential. Its facade contains a triumphal arch motif and a temple pediment, both taken from classical Roman architecture.

Alberti’s interior design was modified to raise the height of the nave and possibly to create a barrel vault rather than a flat ceiling; as well the apse end was pushed back and a transept crossing was created. The use of piers, instead of columns, like Brunelleschi, is more Roman. Alberti, who researched and lived in Rome, would have been more aware of classical architecture than Brunelleschi.

Alberti likely intended the interior to look more spare in its decoration like a chapel he designed in the Duomo.

Sant Andrea includes Mantegna’s burial chapel, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, with a marble bust of Mantegna and decorated by a young Correggio. The chapel indicates Mantegna’s high status.

San Lorenzo is a Romanesque Rotonda in Piazza delle Erbe, the third of the main piazze.

It dates from the 1000s and is the oldest above ground monument in Mantova. It has been largely re-created as it fell into ruins for centuries.

No one is sure about its use.

Palazzo Te is a major monument of Italian Mannerism with lavish, sometimes lewd and cheeky frescoes by Giulio Romano. Romano designed a pleasure palace for Federico II Gonzaga, Isabella d’Este’s son, and built 1524-34.

The area also had stables for the prize Gonzaga horses some of whom are portrayed in the dining hall.

Federico hosted the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V twice at Palazzo Te. He was made a duke by Charles V, not just for his lavish hosting but also because he supported Charles V in his wars against rebelling Italian nobles. The Palazzo was never finished possibly because Federico got married.

Correggio painted mythological subjects for Palazzo Te but are now located in various museums. Plenty of other mythological subjects remain—not religious subjects—mainly on themes of sex and pleasure as that was the purpose of the place. Federico housed his mistress at Palazzo Te.

The piece de résistance of the decoration is the Room of the Giants, Salla dei Gigante, which depicts the Titans or giants being defeated by the gods of Olympus. The entire room is dedicated to a single scene making the viewer feel as if they are part of the action—Renaissance virtual reality.

San Sebastiano or Temple of San Sebastiano, starting in 1460, was designed by Alberti and commissioned by Marquis Ludovico II Gonzaga, son of Gianfrancesco Gonzaga and Paola Malatesta. It is one of the earliest Renaissance examples of a church with a central plan.

The Temple’s current appearance largely corresponds to Alberti’s architectural intentions, although between 1922 and 1925 it was decided to transform the building into a war memorial, modifying the openings and adding the two access staircases in the facade. The actual use of the Temple remains uncertain to this day, but it is thought that it was built as a family tomb.

There are plans to restore the church’s original identity as an Albertian monument with the ambition of making it a new space for discussion on architectural themes.

The homes of Mantegna and Giulio Romano show how high the status of court painter had grown.

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