• Giulio Romano Mantova
  • Giulio Romano Mantova
  • Giulio Romano Mantova
  • Giulio Romano Mantova

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Giulio Romano Mantova

Mantua: City of Giulio Romano
September 2019 - June 2020

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The places of Giulio Romano

This guide presents an unprecedented itinerary of Mantua and its province, following in the traces of the genius of Giulio Romano, an artist who has left an unmistakable imprint in the city and its surroundings.

1 Porta Giulia

Considered one of the most beautiful urban gates of the Renaissance, it was designed by Giulio Romano from 1542 on, though it was only completed after his death, in 1549.
The external facades of the structure, resembling a Roman triumphal gate, have Doric marble pilasters supporting an entablature with triglyphs and metopes, surmounted by the triangular pediment and two superimposed attics. The upper part of the gate originally served as a lookout post.
An unusual feature is the interior in the form not of a passage, but a true rectangular chamber covered by a barrel vault. The decoration consists of stucco bas-reliefs with ancient motifs with trophies of weapons and winged victories. Clearly the walls and decorations were originally covered with white stucco.

2 The Portal of Palazzo Capilupi

The documentation found so far does not provide a definite record of the authorship of the portal of Palazzo Capilupi. However, the style of the portal, probably part of the 15th-century palace, has features that suggest it was Giulio Romano, for example in the single rusticated ring on the semi-columns. As for the portal of the Customs House, here too the architectural order frames the arch. The horse’s head emblem with ribbons and the inscription above "CAPILUPORUM DOMUS / AMICORUM HOSPITIUM" date from the early 16th century.

3 Palazzo Ducale

The monumental complex consists of a vast and composite set of buildings of different genres and functions (apartments, courtyards, gardens, churches, galleries, arcades) built between the 13th and 18th centuries for the rulers of Mantua. Giulio Romano made several alterations to the palace, some of which are still visible:

  • Apartment of Troy in the Corte Nuova
    For Federico II Gonzaga, in 1536-1539, Giulio Romano devised the suite known as the Apartment of Troy in the Corte Nuova with the scenes that appear on the vault and walls of the principal chamber, the Room of Troy.
    The decorative program of the Room of Troy, developed by court scholar, Benedetto Lampridio, was translated by Giulio into drawings which, as usual, were then painted under his supervision by assistants such as Luca da Faenza, Rinaldo Mantovano and Fermo Ghisoni. The decorative scheme devised by Giulio for these spaces here reached its apex. The epic narrative, love of classical antiquity and splendid staging with a strong emotional content were designed to overwhelm the viewer.
  • La Rustica
    The structure known as La Rustica closes off one of the short sides of the Cortile della Mostra or Cortile della Cavallerizza on the opposite side facing towards the Giardino dei Semplici. In 1538-1539, while working on the Apartment of Troy, Giulio Romano began work on this new building intended to be used as a summer residence by Federico II Gonzaga.
    For the purpose Giulio designed an isolated building, placed orthogonally in relation to the lake shore, with the main façade characterized by the presence of marked ashlar work and twisted columns giving it a decidedly rustic and picturesque appearance.

4 The cathedral of San Pietro

In 1545, at the behest of Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga, Mantua cathedral was again restored by Giulio Romano. He left the façade and the outer walls intact, but substantially modified the interior, transforming it to a form resembling the ancient early Christian Basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome, before the alterations made by Bramante and Michelangelo. The artist was again concerned to astonish and fascinate the viewer using, even in this sacred building, variations based on the unexpected and the articulation of the space from multiple points of view together with the play of light over the surfaces embellished by decorations.
On the east wall of the Sacristy there are fragments of frescoes relating to a tomb built or renovated in 1537 by Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga for the bishop-cardinal Sigismondo Gonzaga, who died in 1525.
The fresco is all that remains of a larger work designed by Giulio Romano and painted by Fermo Ghisoni.
Giulio's drawing for the project is preserved in the Louvre: it is far more complex than the one actually painted.

5 Casa Tortelli

This is a building dating from 1527, built under license granted by Federico II Gonzaga to the official of the ducal treasury Nicola Torelli, permitting construction of a private house set against the tower of the Broletto. Giulio Romano, at that time Prefect of the Ducal Buildings, reassured the Duke that the building would not damage the tower.
Although it has come down to us somewhat modified and the attribution is not documented, Casa Tortelli has features markedly characteristic of Giulio Romano, such as the first floor with enlarged Serlian windows projected onto the façade to simulate a loggia, highly innovative for its time.

6 Basilica of Sant'Andrea

The Basilica, Mantua’s co-cathedral, was built by Luca Fancelli to a design by Leon Battista Alberti from 1472 over an ancient 9th-century church as a symbol of the political power of the Gonzagas.
The Basilica contains many works by Giulio Romano and his pupils. In particular, works attributed to him include the Chapel of St. Longinus, the Cantelmi Monument and the funerary monuments in the Petrozzani Chapel.

The Chapel of St. Longinus preserves the urn of St. Longinus, to the left of the altar, and two large side frescoes representing the Crucifixion with the Gathering of the Blood, attributed to Giulio, and the Finding of the Precious Blood, assigned to Rinaldo Mantovano based on a drawing by Giulio Romano. The altarpiece by Giulio of The Adoration of the Christ Child and St. Longinus, now in the Louvre, completed the series.

The striking Cantelmi wall monument was brought from the suppressed monastery of the Presentazione di Maria al Tempio. It consists of the sarcophagus of Margherita Cantelmi, Duchess of Sora, flanked by two male busts with portraits of two of her children, placed within an aedicula with a triangular pediment. The work was made from 1535 to 1539. The attribution to Giulio Romano of the conception of the imposing mausoleum rests on its style and the nature of the commission.

Finally, the Petrozzani Chapel, in the left arm of the transept, contains the 16th-century mausoleum of Pietro Strozzi. The tomb was built in 1529 in the Church of San Domenico in Mantua. When San Domenico was demolished in 1789, the monument was moved to Sant'Andrea (1805) and placed in the Petrozzani Chapel.
The tomb is attributed to Giulio Romano for stylistic reasons and the strongly archaeological taste of the monument. Studies of the design have shown that the model Giulio used was that of the Loggia of the Caryatids of the Erechtheum, in Athens, certainly based on graphic reproductions.
Also in the Petrozzani Chapel, there is a second funerary monument devoted to Gerolamo Andreasi. It was devised by Giulio Romano, as shown by a drawing now in Hamburg. The ark was built between 1534 and 1535 for the church of the Carmine in Mantua. In 1785 the convent was suppressed and the monument moved to Sant'Andrea, initially set in the entrance portico and then the Petrozzani Chapel.

7 Portal of the Customs House

In 1538 Federico II Gonzaga identified the new site of the Customs House in the building formerly occupied by the Council of Elders, in what is now Piazza Broletto, next to the Masseria. Giulio Romano, as Prefect of the ducal buildings, was again commissioned to design it. All that remains of Giulio's work is the monumental portal. In 1787 this was moved from its original location to the former convent of the Carmine in Via Pomponazzo, which now houses the Finance Ministry. The attribution of the marble portal to Giulio is supported by stylistic features: the Ionic order of the semi-columns from the Corinthian bases set on pulvinate pedestals, an unusual feature of archaeological origin. Also characteristic are the figures in relief set in the spandrels, depicting porters bowed under the weight of large sacks.

8 The Pescherie

The Pescherie or fish market was built in 1536 to a design by Giulio Romano. It consisted of two porticoes with rounded arches with his typical rustication. Above is set an attic with rectangular windows framed by pilasters. The fish market was placed at the sides of a medieval bridge spanning the Rio, a canal running through Mantua from Lago Superiore to Lago Inferiore. It was dug between 1188 and 1190 as part of the rationalization of the city's water system. The market was connected to the neighboring Beccherie, a public abattoir built in the same years, also based on designs by Giulio Romano, but demolished in 1872. Towards the end of the 19th century the fish market was also restructured and lost its original function.

9 House of Giulio Romano

Giulio Romano built his houe in Contrada Larga, beginning in 1544, after settling in Mantua and making his name in the service of the Gonzagas. The work involved renovating existing buildings and redeveloping a model for a palazzo developed in Rome by Bramante and Raphael, which included a base with a superimposed Tuscan archivolted order. In Giulio's house the rustication, reduced to an almost graphic feature, covers the whole facade made of plaster and stucco with terracotta finish. The interior of the building, privately owned, preserves frescoes by Giulio in the main hall, the walls are decorated with pilasters of the Doric order that flank panels decorated with statues and bas-reliefs in archaeological taste again painted in fresco. In 1800 the building was altered by the architect Paolo Pozzo, who enlarged the façade from 6 to 8 bays.

10 Santa Paola

Around the middle of the 16th century the church of Santa Paola briefly became the burial place of the Gonzagas. Federico II Gonzaga (1500-1540) chose this church to be buried in, followed by his son Francesco III and his wife Margherita Paleologa. The sepulchral monument has been lost, but it retains traces of frescoes painted to a design by Giulio Romano for the funeral. The church was heavily altered after the suppression of religious houses in 1782 and today only fragments remain of the decorations. The sole recognizable scene, painted in monochrome, depicts the Ezekiel’s Vision of the Resurrection of the Dead. Given the lack of precise documentation and the difficult state of preservation of the fragments of fresco, scholars conjecture that the general plan and rusticated architecture reflects Giulio’s design, while the scene with Ezekiel was painted by Bertani.

11 Palazzo Te

The splendid suburban villa known as Palazzo Te, designed, built and decorated by Giulio Romano between 1525 and 1535, is one of the jewels of the late Italian Renaissance. Federico II Gonzaga commissioned the villa sited south of the city, just outside its walls. He wanted it to be a place for recreation and leisure on the island, where his father Francesco II had the stables of his finest horses. Here he organized lavish receptions for his most illustrious guests, far his institutional duties.
The skill of Giulio Romano, the sole, ingenious creator of the whole complex and the designer of the decoration, lay in combining in fantastic, provocative and unexpected ways simple materials and precious gilding, classical architectural features and deliberately dissonant compositions. He used the range of technical and formal devices of classical tradition in cleverly transgressive ways to create an absolutely innovative complex that Vasari significantly described as "modernly ancient and anciently modern".

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Giulio Romano Mantova.
01 Settembre 2019 al 30 Giugno 2020.