wonders of the Mantua collection
from Mantegna to Rubens and Guido Reni
Palazzo Te and Palazzo Ducale
2 September - 8 December 2002.
exhibition is a unique, scientific, philological occasion to make a synthesis of
the Gonzaga Lords museum, through remarkable paintings like "The toilet of
Venus" by Guido Reni (National Gallery), "'Eleonora Gonzaga, two years
old" by Rubens (Kunstmuseum of Vienna), "The entry in Mantua of Philip
Il of Habsburg" by Tintoretto (Alte Pinakothek of Munich), "Portrait
of a young lady with a mirror" by Titian (Louvre), "Judith with the
head of Holofernes" by Paolo Veronese and "David with the head of
Goliath" by Mantegna, (both in the Kunstmuseum). These paintings were in
the Palazzo Ducale until 1627, when Vincenzo Il Gonzaga sold them to the English
King Charles I Stuart, and were the most important part of the ducal collections.
A museum, of this kind, that in 1626 was in the van in Europe, thanks to duke
Ferdinando, for quantity, quality and the setting of its paintings and works of
art. We can only imagine the Ducal palace of those days, after the new
organisation by duke Ferdinando, with mirabilia (artificialia et naturalia) of
Isabella d'Este, her son Federico, and the pieces added by Guglielmo and
Vincenzo I. From the unicorn horns to the "Death of the Virgin" by
Caravaggio, the Wunderkammer of the 16th C. has been turned into a modern
exhibition. Very precious paintings are exhibited in Mantua but also the onyx
vase from Braunschweig, originally in the Grotto of Isabella d'Este, the helmet
of a parade armour of duke Vincenzo, the command baton of his father Guglielmo,
crystals, jewels, arms, little bronze statues and musical instruments.
Numerous are the portraits in the exhibition, but not only of the Gonzaga. It is worth mentioning the presence of the famous portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam, painted by the Flemish master Quentin Metsys in 1590 lent by Hampton Court, where the extraordinary 'Triumphs of Caesar" by Andrea Mantegna also belong. The Erasmus was bought by Duke Vincenzo I Gonzaga as he was travelling in Flanders during one of his leisurely trips. Among the portraits is the one of Eleonora, two years old daughter of Vincenzo I Gonzaga and future Empress of Austria, painted by Peter Paul Rubens in Mantua in 1602, which comes from the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna. Among the mirabilas is the portrait of the cat-woman, bought in the twenties of the 17th C. by the Duke Ferdinando Gonzaga (once a cardinal but always an important alchemist). The Duke kept it on the inside door of his library. The painting could remind you of the tale of the puss in boots or give you a feeling of anxiety. It is the portrait of Antonietta Gonsalvo, painted for the Mantua Lord by Lavinia Fontana in 1540. The painting, coming from the museum of the Blois castle, shows the famous Spanish girl, covered with hair, possibly because of hormonal trouble (fame and artist were possibly exaggerated). The girl became an attraction at the European Courts together wit her father, who came from the Canary Islands, and suffered from the same trouble. The portrait is an important example of painting and mirabilia, which often was displayed in the aristocratic collections of the Renaissance and Baroque.