Palazzo del Te

From Academic Kids

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Palazzo del Te, Mantua (1524 - 1534). Giulio Romano, architect

To a layman in architecture, driving through the suburbs of Mantua, the Palazzo del Te, standing isolated four square— a golden stone box— is an instant simple lecture in the basics of the mannerism style of architecture - a reaction to the High Renaissance. It breaks some of the rules of classical Renaissance architecture, but appears to conform at the same time to the basic rules as defined by Leone Battista Alberti's De Re Aedificatoria a century earlier. The Palazzo del Te is a simple building, constructed in its entirety between 1524 and 1534 purely for the pleasure of a long gone court.

Federico II of Gonzaga, Marchese of Mantua decided in 1524 to build a pleasure palace, or 'Villa Suburbana'. The site chosen was that of the family's stables at Isla del Te on the fringe of the marshes just outside Mantua's city walls.

The architect commissioned was Giulio Romano a pupil of Raphael. The shell of the palazzo was erected within 18 months. Basically, a square house built around what the English would call a cloistered courtyard. A formal garden complemented the house. This was enclosed by colonnaded outbuildings terminated by a semi-circular colonnade known as the 'Esedra'.

Like the Villa Farnesina the suburban location allowed for a mixing of both Palace and Villa architecture. The four exterior facades have flat pilasters against rusticated walls, the fenestration indicating that the piano nobile is on the ground floor with a secondary floor above. The East facade differs from the other three by having Palladian motifs on its pilaster and an open loggia at its centre rather than an arch to the courtyard. The facades are not as symmetrical as they appear, and the spans of the columns are irregular. The centre of the North and South facades are pierced by two-storey arches without portico or pediment, simply a covered way leading to the interior courtyard.

Few windows overlook the inner courtyard ("cortile"); the colonnaded walls are decorated on all sides by deep niches and blind windows, and the intervening surfaces are spattered by 'spezzato' (broken and blemished plaster) giving life and depth to the surfaces.

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Mannerism's most famous fresco: Giulio Romano's illusionism invents a dome overhead and dissolves the room's architecture in the Fall of the Giants

Once the shell of the building was completed, the real work began, for ten years a team of plasterers, carvers and fresco painters laboured, until barely a surface in any of the loggias or salons remained undecorated. While no artist of the accepted premier class was employed such names as Benedetto Pagni and Rinaldo Mantovano worked extensively on the frescos. These frescoes remain today and are the most remarkable feature of the Palazzo. The subjects range from Olympian banquets in the 'Sala di Psiche' and stylised horses in the 'Sala dei Cavalli' to the most memorable of all - giants and grotesques wreaking havoc, fury and ruin around the walls of the 'Sala dei Giganti'.

These magnificent rooms, once furnished to complement the ducal court of the Gonzaga family, saw many of the most illustrious figures of their era entertained such as the Emperor Charles V, who when visiting in 1530 elevated his host Federico II of Gonzaga from Marquess to Duke of Mantua.

One of the most charming and evocative parts of the lost era of the palazzo is the 'Casino della Grotta', a small suite of intimate rooms around a grotto and 'logetta' (covered balcony) where courtiers once bathed in the small cascade that splashed over the pebbles and shells encrusted in the floor and walls.

The glories of the Palazzo del Te were to last one century only, in 1630 Mantua and the palace were sacked by invading forces, the remaining population fell victim to one of the worst plagues in history. The palazzo looted from top to bottom has remained an empty shell: in this bare state its remarkable interiors are even more astounding, the nymphs, god, goddesses and giants continue to run riot around the walls of the empty echoing rooms.

Part of the Palazzo today houses the 'Museo Civico' endowed by the publisher Arnaldo Mondadori. Incongruously, it contains a collection of Mesopotamian del Te


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