Thursday, May 13, 2010

camera degli sposi

Here are three images of the same painting. It is an oculus — a Trompe-l'œil opening in the ceiling of a room — showing classical figures, mostly putti, observing the scene below. The images come from different sources, all of them art history web sites, and that accounts for the variations in color and definition. Below the three are details from one of the sources.

I'm showing these images because I admire the artist's skill in executing his design. I like the humor he shows in the figures themselves and their interaction. I like the diversity of the women's faces. And it intrigues me that this is a pioneering work of art from the Early Renaissance, made while this cultural movement was still fresh and new.

If, like myself, you wonder what is the dark mark at the center of the oculus, here's a close up. I suppose it was placed there to support a chandelier.

Here are some shots of the room over which the oculus presides:

The artist is Andrea Mantegna and the room is bridal chamber (Camera degli Sposi) or picture room in the duke's palace of Mantua belonging at the time to the wealthy and well-connected Gonzaga family.

Here's the story (from the Oxford Dictionary of Art):
In 1460 Mantegna was appointed court painter to Ludovico Gonzaga in Mantua, and apart from a visit to Rome in 1488–90 he remained there for the rest of his life. He was held in the highest esteem by Ludovico, by his son and successor Federico, and by Isabella d' Este, who married Federico's successor Francesco. At this time Mantua was becoming one of the leading centres of humanist culture in Europe, and Mantegna glorified the Gonzaga family and court in his most famous work—the fresco decoration (1465–74) of the Camera degli Sposi, or Camera picta, in the Ducal Palace. Group portraits of the Gonzaga family, arranged in various courtly scenes, line the walls and above them are bust medallions of the Caesars, indicating that the reigning house was worthy to continue the traditions of the Roman Empire. The most remarkable feature of the room, however, is the illusionistic painting of the architecture (particularly of the ceiling), which appears to extend the real space of the room. This was the first time since antiquity that such a scheme had been carried out and Mantegna's work became the foundation for much subsequent decorative painting.
The mural on the north wall shows the current head of the Gonzaga clan, Ludwig II, receiving news that his son has been elected cardinal. It includes members of his family, retainers, and court officials.

This shows one of the images on the west wall. Ludwig is shown in an imaginary meeting with his son the cardinal.


See also:

Andrea Mantegna: The Camera Picta

Frescoes in the Ducal Palace, Mantua (1471-74)

Andrea Mantegna, an annotated view of the oculus.

The Court of Mantua, an annotated view of the north-wall court scene.

Andrea Mantegna: The Camera Picta

Andrea Mantegna article in wikipedia

Andrea Mantegna article in the Catholic Encyclopedia

The Ducal Palace, Mantua from Professor Sheila ffolliott's course on Renaissance art at George Mason U. from which I've taken some of the images I reproduce above.

My source for some of the other images is a nice web page which quotes from an article on the room given in the Grove Dictionary of Art.

There are more images of the room at the Web Gallery of Art.


Here is the entry on Mantegna from The Bulfinch Guide to Art History, contained in Andrea Mantegna on
Italian painter and engraver. He was the pupil and adopted son of Squarcione in Padua. Mantegna's life long passion for Classical antiquity was given ample early nourishment through the archaeological interests of his master, the abundance of Roman remains in northern Italy and the humanistic atmosphere generated by the local university of Padua. He terminated his apprenticeship with Squarcione at the age of 17 in a celebrated court case, apparently on the grounds of exploitation. Mantegna's earliest independent commission was for the fresco decorations of the Ovetari Chapel of the Eremitani Church in Padua (1459, largely destroyed in the Second World War). These scenes, particularly the St. James Led to Execution, display a mastery of perspective and steep foreshortening (the scene adapted to the low viewpoint of the spectator standing in the chapel) unrivalled in any contemporary paintings. Furthermore, Mantegna's understanding of anatomy and his archaeological exactitude are fully in evidence. The influence of Donatello (note the quotation from Donatello's St. George in the figure of the Roman soldier) is even more apparent in Mantegna's next commission, the San Zeno Altarpiece (late 1450s, Verona, S. Zeno). The spatial construction of the painted all'antiqua hall in which the Madonna and Child and attendant saints stand coincides with the actual frame, such that the painted architectural setting relates to the actual entablature and four wooden columns of the altarpiece's frame; thus the frame itself simulates the front of a Classical temple. The figures do not have a sculptural solidity but, as it has been suggested, the composition probably derives from Donatello's dismembered altarpiece in the Santo at Padua.

In 1453, Mantegna married Jacopo Bellini's daughter. Both he and his new brother in law, Giovanni Bellini, used a drawing of Jacopo's as a basis for an Agony in the Garden (c 1455, both London, National Gallery): a comparison of the two reveals the fundamental difference between Mantegna's sculptural conception and the new conception, that of forms modelled by colour and light, their edges softened by atmosphere, that Giovanni was to evolve for Venetian painting.

From 1460 Mantegna was court painter to the Gonzaga rulers of Mantua, his most important work here being the decoration of the Camera degli Sposi (the Bridal Chamber, completed 1474) of the Palazzo Ducale. Again a mastery of perspective is displayed, but also, in the representations of the Gonzaga family and court, Mantegna's skill as a portraitist. Perhaps the most significant part of the scheme is the painting of the ceiling, the middle of which is illusionistically opened up to the sky for the first time since antiquity. From over the fictive balustrade of a circular balcony, figures appear to look down into the room below. Such convincing illusionism was not accomplished again until Raphael in the Vatican and Correggio at Parma before reaching its consummation in the stunning illusionism of l7th century Baroque ceilings in Rome. Also for the Gonzaga family was the series of nine monumental canvases of the Triumphs of Caesar (c 1486, London, Hampton Court) which, in addition to all his usual characteristics, reveal Mantegna's interest in antique bas reliefs. For Isabella d'Este, the wife of Francesco Gonzaga, Mantegna painted the Madonna della Vittoria (1495-6) and the Parnassus (both Paris, Louvre). Mantegna was also important as a graphic artist, his many engravings exerting a powerful influence on Durer."

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