Egerton R. (Egerton Ryerson) Williams.

Lombard towns in Italy; or, The cities of ancient Lombardy online

. (page 42 of 47)
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behind which stretches the suite occupied by the custodian
and his family: here were the first of Giulio's frescoes, two
panels in the centre of the vaulting with representations of
Apollo and Diana driving their chariots, — gay in hue,
graceful in outline, and happily decorative. The surround-
ing slopes were fashioned by white stucco mouldings into
diamond-shaped coffers of pale green, which set forth a series
of individual white figures by Primaticcio, — charming mytho-
logical deities, in flowing robes. It is no wonder that Fed-
erigo was delighted by this work, the first of its kind that he
had seen. Around the walls were many plaster copies of
classic reliefs in the Museo Civico, brought here during the
second Austrian regime. — The remaining rooms on this
side of the entrance, occupied by the* keeper, have no decora-
tions of worth now, and are not shown; the suites adjacent
on the west of the court, originally bedrooms and private-
chambers, and therefore not highly ornamented, have like-
wise no present interest, and are let to respectable tenants,
who enter only by the outer, western portal.

The public halls extend east from the front entrance, and
along the whole eastern side toward the garden, rising
mostly to the full height of the palace, and lighted both from
without and from the court ; — as I found upon now enter-
ing the first of them, the lofty Sala dei Cavalli. This spa-
cious chamber, immediately to left of the portico, was the
anticamera and guardroom, where the ducal body-guard
kept watch, and applicants for the ducal presence were
kept waiting. Its richly coffered ceiling is coloured in gold
and green, with the Gonzaga device of Mt. Olympus painted
in the panels; its frescoed frieze, of charming putti inter-
twined with arabesques, is said to have come from Giulio's



THE ENVIRONS OF MANTUA 527

own hand ; the broad walls are painted with an architec-
tural scheme in grisaille, between whose coupled columns
stand five antique statues and five busts, similarly depicted;
leaving six wider apertures or bays — two upon each side
and two at the ends — in which stand half-a-dozen hand-
some, lifesize chargers, in their natural shades of chestnut
and white, apparently tied by their bridles to the ornamental
pillars. These well-executed animals, from the brushes of
Ben. Pagni and Rinaldo Mantovano, portray the favourite
riding horses of Duke Federigo, of whose points he was very
proud. Here, also, and in several of the succeeding halls,
I noticed many small figures of the salamander, usually ac-
companied by the motto, " Quod huic deest, me torquet " :
an interesting reference to the original cause of the villa's
erection, indicating that the fire which the salamander en-
joyed was consuming the Marquis, — with love for the Bos-
chetti.

This hall is so long that its successor occupies the adja-
cent corner of the palace, — a large, square chamber, frescoed
from end to end and over the whole of its lofty vaulting,
the famous Sala di Psyche; it is by far the most highly
decorated of them all. And the fact which gives it beauty
and celebrity is that Giulio did most of the work himself,
using Isabella Boschetti as a model for the Psyche. Here
we behold him at his best, in the full tide of his luxurious
and splendour-loving fancy; for his huge, magnificent tab-
leaux that convert the walls into the Elysian bowers of
Olympus, veritably transporting the observer to the nec-
tareous banquets of the gods, — have been so little damaged
by age and retouching that they still exhibit most of their
original charm. I know of nothing to equal this wonderful
chamber in -its perfect reproduction of the ancient spirit that
deified the beauties of nature and the human form, — in its



528 LOMBARD TOWNS OF ITALY

utter abandon to the delights of the senses; and the theme
is realised on a grandiose scale that combines dozens of fairy-
like scenes with great tableaux of gorgeous brilliancy, —
that teems with loveliness in a hundred voluptuous forms,
set in landscapes of exotic lustre.

The history of Psyche commences in the octagonal coffers
of the vaulting, which picture her early days with her wor-
shipping parents, her seizure by Cupid, their happiness to-
gether, the jealous suggestion of her sisters, and her awaken-
ing of Cupid by viewing him with a light; the last panel
only was executed by Giulio himself, — a beautiful piece of
chiaroscuro-work, with lifelike, graceful, finely moulded
forms, which thoroughly betray the loveliness of the Bos-
chetti. All the rest of the panels were done by Pagni and
Rinaldo; but many of them also contain figures of ideal
modelling, charmingly posed, and most dramatically expres-
sive. The square central coffer is said by some critics to be
Giulio's work: its perspective is a marvel, depicting Jupiter
at a great height, hovering directly above the group of
deities assisting at the wedding, and blessing Cupid and
Psyche with outstretched hands; the whole scene being
shrouded in phantom-like clouds, extending upward like a
funnel. Roundabout are four half-octagons, holding sepa-
rate divinities that display the most perfect figures in the
room; these are surrounded by the 8 full octagons already
mentioned, — between which and the lunettes intervene a
dozen triangular, curving spaces, filled with amoretti, who
are frolicking and dancing to music in an enchanting manner
that none but Giulio could draw.

His method of thus working through his disciples, which
enabled him to accomplish so much in a short time, is de-
scribed by Lanzi: " He was accustomed himself to prepare
the cartoons, and afterwards, having exacted from his pupils



THE ENVIRONS OF MANTUA 529

their completion, he went over the entire work with his
pencil, and removed its defects, impressing at the same time
upon the whole the stamp of his own superior character.
This method he acquired from Raffaello." 4 It accounts for
the only slight difference here between his own scenes and
those painted by the disciples. The effects of the restorations
are obtruded upon the attention only in the loss of Giulio's
exquisite colour-schemes, which are overlaid by hues somewhat
violent and discordant; how lovely his original tinting was,
we may see in his arabesqued gablnetti in the palace of S.
Sebastiano.

From the octagons Psyche's story is continued in the 12
large lunettes, in which we behold her heroic efforts to rejoin
her lost lover; we see her repulsed by Juno, by Ceres, de-
scending into Hades to seek Proserpina, stealing the lock
of golden wool, sifting the heap of sand, etc., and finally,
brought before Venus, who consigns her to torments by the
Furies. Cupid's intercession with Jove, and the latter's
action on behalf of the distressed lovers, are not depicted ;
but we view the happy result, in Giulio's two great tableaux
on the inner walls, which cover the entire spaces between
the lunettes and the tops of the doors. Beneath them ex-
tends a sort of stucco wainscoting, formerly draped with
arras. The southern picture shows the nuptial feast: a table
loaded with gold and silver plate amidst a wide-stretching
landscape of southern aspect ; an ass, a camel and an elephant
standing near, that are supposed to have conveyed provisions;
Bacchus, Silenus, Apollo, and other deities and nymphs,
crowding around the board to sample the wine and edibles
prepared; Psyche and Cupid reclining on a couch to right,
smiling at the revellers and being served by attendants.
These last two forms, as well as Apollo and Bacchus, are re-

* Lanzi's " History of Painting."



530 LOMBARD TOWNS OF ITALY

markable for their beauty, and the care-free joyousness of
their expressions and attitudes.

The western picture shows the broad table now spread
with snowy cloth, the Graces scattering flowers upon it,
satyrs bringing forth viands, nymphs lending assistance,
and fauns disporting with goats; while Mercury appears at
the right side, to announce the gods' approaching arrival.
But the setting here is different: a lovely bower of roses
backs the table, with a vista on the one hand of distant
rocky peaks, on the other of a sunny lake amidst idyllic
slopes, upon whose verge recline a naiad and a river-god.
Over the rose-bower, across the upper part of the triple
openings in the wall of the seeming portico that shades the
feast, extend two lines of parallel bars; and perched upon
these, against the sky, are the scene's most delightful fea-
ture, — a dozen pretty winged cherubs, gambolling with flow-
ers, singing merrily to the music of an orchestral trio in the
middle. Nothing more charming than these happy babes
could be imagined, — the same charm of abandon that dis-
tinguishes the whole theme, and which must have communi-
cated itself to the real diners below, in those countless daz-
zling banquets that were given here by the Gonzaga princes.

Upon the walls broken by windows Giulio placed a num-
ber of subsidiary tableaux, unconnected with Psyche's story
but of similar erotic spirit: on the north side we see Mars
and Venus in the bath, Venus and Adonis surprised by
Mars, and Bacchus and Ariadne served by a satyr; on the
east side we see Jove presenting himself to Olympia in the
form of a dragon, the giant Polyphemus, and Pasiphae enter-
ing the wooden cow of Daedalus. All are from Giulio's
own brush, but badly damaged by the restorers, — only the
exquisite group of Bacchus and Ariadne retaining its original
attractiveness.



THE ENVIRONS OF MANTUA 531

Turning southward here, I entered the smaller Camera
delle Medaglie, so called from its series of 16 beautiful
panels of stucco reliefs extending around beneath the vault-
ing, representing the different common activities of life, —
such as fishing, dancing, racing, playing, the chase, the mar-
ket, etc. ; all were remarkably well done, by Scultori and
Mantoanello. One was a notable exception in subject, — a
view of the garden of the Te as it originally appeared. By
the same hands — also, of course, from Giulio's cartoons —
was the richly coffered, low ceiling, in whose squares and
hexagons glistened the signs of the zodiac in gilded stucco,
and numerous white figures of history and mythology. Un-
der the medallions stretched a course of delicately moulded
festoons, drooping from the little Hermes that supported the
springings of the vaulting; and beneath these extended the
lovely cornice, luxuriantly adorned with dainty reliefs and
arabesques. The floor here, like that in the last chamber
and in several others, was noteworthy for- being the original
mosaic pavement, exceptionally preserved.

The Sola di Fetonte followed, with another low ceiling
of extraordinary ornamentation, — so called because its cen-
tral, painted panel represents Phaeton falling from his fiery
chariot, smitten by the thunderbolt from Jove. The lower
slopes of the vaulting hold four stucco-framed lunettes, each
painted by Giulio with six small tableaux of exquisite deli-
cacy, representing the youth of different gods; above these
are four larger frescoes by Giulio, depicting the battles of
the Naiads and the Tritons, the Centaurs and the Amazons ;
between them, on the mid-slopes, are four of Primaticcio's
finest reliefs, with classic subjects; elsewhere the ceiling is
a mass of painted foliations in white and green, interspersed
with more than 200 tiny amorini, in every conceivable pos-
ture. The frieze is relieved with little eagles holding fes-



532 LOMBARD TOWNS OF ITALY

toons, under which tapestries formerly depended, and over
which are posed a row of antique marble busts of Roman
empresses, alternating with reliefs of Roman trophies and
Gonzaga arms. The handsome doorways are of pietrosanto,
and the magnificent mantel is of Lucchessino marble.

Hence I stepped into the central portico of this eastern
side, called the Grand Atrium, — which is one of the most
splendid features of the palace. To the left it looks upon the
neglected garden through three massive archways, with cof-
fered soffits, upheld by quadruple clusters of doric columns;
corresponding to these clusters are heavy piers upon the en-
closed court-side, each adorned with one or three lifesize
statues in niches; and from columns to piers circles the lofty
vaulting, frescoed from end to end with tableaux, patterns
and arabesques, said to have been executed by Giulio himself.
Three large scenes extend down its middle; and four more
occupy the lunettes at the sides and ends, — each of those
over the end doorways being surrounded by five medallions of
stucco reliefs by Primaticcio; the theme of all these tableaux
is the life of David, — whence the portico is often called the
J trio di Davide, — and the subject is continued on a series
of 1 8 rectangular panels of reliefs, of varying length, moulded
in stucco and painted to resemble bronze, which extend
around the three walls beneath the frieze. Originally these
last were really of bronze, but having been carried away by
the French, they had to be replaced by plaster copies; their
artist is said to have been Degli Orefici, a pupil of Cellini.
Similarly, the 14 statues extending roundabout in niches —
8 on the piers of the inner wall and 3 on each end wall
beside the portal — were originally marbles of great beauty,
representing divinities, of which but plaster copies remain.

There is a reminder here of the Austrian siege of the
French garrison in 1799, — a gaping hole in one of Giulio's



THE ENVIRONS OF MANTUA 533

attractive octagonal pictures in the centre of the vaulting,
through which a cannon-ball plowed its way. — The middle
arch on the inner side is open into the court ; those upon the
left afford an uninterrupted view of the pleasaunce, across
a deep, dry fosse stretching immediately below. This was
not a moat, but a channel of changing water stocked by the
princes with every kind of fish they could procure, — the
Gonzaga aquarium ; in place of the modern bridge crossing
from the central archway to the garden, marble steps then
descended to the water's edge, where the court and its visitors
used to sit, observing the varied specimens of aquatic life.
The outer wall of the fosse was a mass of coloured marbles
and statuary, from which fell jets and cascades of incoming
water.

Beyond this stretched then the spacious greenery, in its
carefully ordered figures of turf, shrubberies and flowerbeds,
shaded by groves of rare and beautiful trees, amidst which
gleamed everywhere the marble of statuary and splashing
fountains; rare plants of every obtainable species contributed
to its exotic charm; the boundary walls at the sides were
covered with glowing scenes of Elysian life by Caravaggino,
and across the far end extended a glistening arcade on clus-
tered columns, echoing the ornate face of the royal villa.
Vanished is all this paradise now, — replaced by a wide
stretch of weedy grass, bounded by bare stucco walls at the
sides, and by the semicircular red-brick colonnade at the end
which Prince Eugene erected in lieu of the ruined arcade of
Giulio. The fagade of the palace, as I saw on walking forth,
alone remains the same, with its imposing central portico,
and its long row of graceful arches sustained by slender
columns resting on parapets. The Grotta of Giulio also
remains, in its small building at the garden's northeast cor-
ner, no longer hidden by trees,



534 LOMBARD TOWNS OF ITALY

Leaving that for the end, we continued southward from
the Atrium, stepping next into the delightful Sala degli
Stucchi: this received its name from the double frieze of
white reliefs, each about 2 feet high, filled with countless
figures marching in one vast, continuous procession, which
represents the entry into Mantua of the Emperor Sigismund
in 1433, when he created the marquisate of the Gonzaghi.
Over the door to the next room we see the Emperor himself,
a noble form on horseback, followed by a file of gaily ca-
parisoned chargers, then by officers, guards, bands of music,
foot-soldiers, banners, troops of cavalry, captives, — every
division of an army, down to the butchers of the commis-
sariat; all executed with astonishing lifelikeness and vigour,
and in perfect preservation. It is one of the chefs d'ceuvres
of Primaticcio, who was assisted by Scultori. By artistic
license the whole army is garbed in ancient Roman cos-
tumes. The handsome vaulting is also by the great master of
stucco-work: its large square coffers are filled with mytho-
logical groups, and at the ends rise two lunettes containing
lifesize reclining figures of Mars and Hercules, strongly
modelled, — topped by radiating panels with tiny figures.

The Sala di Cesare succeeded, so called from the fres-
coed medallion in the centre of the vaulting, in which the
great Julius is seen amongst his lictors, commanding the
burning of the private papers of Pompey; in this, and in the
two other medallions over the doorways — portraying Scipio
and Alexander — Primaticcio tried his hand at frescoing.
They are not offensively poor, — but, as the custode well
remarked, Primaticcio was a decorator, not a painter.
Around the central panel stand 6 large Roman warriors,
of which Giulio executed the four upon the slopes ; the right-
hand one upon the northern side is furnished with his own
lineaments. But the wonderful feature of this chamber is



THE ENVIRONS OF MANTUA 535

the frieze of putti, painted by Giulio in grisaille, on brown :
these cherubs are of a most celestial beauty and joyousness,
drawn with a perfection of modelling and a grace that noth-
ing could excel, — walking, frolicking, playing instruments,
carrying festoons of flowers, drinking from vases, etc. One
has only to glance at them to realise the truth of the asser-
tion that Giulio was the greatest putti-painter that ever
lived ; — the reason being, that he infused into them all the
joys and graces of his own soul.

Finally now I entered, in the southeastern corner of the
palace, Giulio's celebrated Sala del Giganti, in which he
poured forth all the grotesque and colossal fancies of his
extraordinary imagination, — all that side of his dream-
world which strove after the horrible and the immense,
which I had already seen partly in evidence in his huge
Hermes of the Palazzo della Giustizia. Every great artistic
mind seems to have a certain leaning to the uncouth and the
awful; Leonardo showed his, in the keen enjoyment with
which he ever sought and drew persons of fearful ugliness,
and Michelangiolo his, in the terrors of his Last Judgment,
and the size and exaggerated strength of most of his created
forms. Giulio took for his exposition the War of the Titans
with Jove, — a theme as daring, as tremendous, as it would
be possible to find here below; and using the four walls and
vaulting of this chamber as one would construct a cyclorama,
he obliterated their form and architecture, submerged their
very being, under one vast, unbroken picture of the primitive
world of the Giants, shaking to its centre with the throes of
the awful combat. The Palazzo del Te, the modern world,
fade to nothingness with him who enters these strange por-
tals; and he stands amidst the falling caverns, the rocking
mountains, the opening abysses, the boiling sea, of that Titan-
peopled earth crashing to its destruction ; he is a participator



536 LOMBARD TOWNS OF ITALY

in the terrible cataclysm, and seems to feel the solid rock
quake beneath his feet.

It is a cavern, apparently, in which the spectator finds
himself, — one of those huge caverns in which the giants
dwelt, — whose roof has just fallen upon all sides, accom-
panied by portions of the surrounding mountains, burying
beneath the debris many of the struggling monsters. On
one side naught is seen of them but the extremities of one
colossus, and the ruins heaving above others ; near-by appears
the projecting one-eyed head of Polyphemus, bellowing with
pain and fury ; on another side two Titans are visible uplift-
ing the masses of rock pressing upon them and struggling
to emerge, — terrifying, brutish forms, teeming with evil
passions; between them a large aperture affords a vista of
the surging sea, with a peopled island whose crags are top-
pling upon the inhabitants, crushing many and hurling oth-
ers into the water; two of them are trying to climb forth
into this very cavern, their massive, uncouth heads, glaring
eyes and clutching hands reaching almost to one's feet;
through another crevice a far expanse of landscape is seen,
across which numbers of Titans are fleeing, smitten as they
run by the hail of thunderbolts from the sky; in still another
direction one beholds the great temple of the giants, to which
many have rushed for refuge, — but its mighty columns are
snapping, and, with its ponderous roof, are dashing in frag-
ments on those below.

Fully 80 of the Titans are visible in all these scenes, " so
inconceivably ugly and grotesque," said Dickens, " that it is
marvellous how any man can have imagined such creatures,
— ■ monsters with swollen faces and cracked cheeks, and
every kind of distortion of look and limb, — undergoing and
doing every kind of mad and demoniacal destruction." 5

5 Dickens' " Pictures from Italy."



THE ENVIRONS OF MANTUA 537

Marvellous is the word for this feat of Giulio, in which,
wrote Lanzi, " he appeared to compete with Michelangiolo
himself in the hardihood of his design ; " seldom indeed did
dramatic composition more directly and powerfully accom-
plish its purpose. I have no patience with those critics who
turn up their noses at the whole effect because the faces of
the giants are " lacking in true expression ; " how could it
be otherwise when the brushes of two sets of " restorers "
have been over those faces, obliterating every original line
and painting over every feature!

The scenes upon earth are wonderfully complemented by
those in the heaven, where the host of the gods appear,
equally agitated by the struggle. Looking up, one sees in
the zenith the empty throne of Jove, framed by a circular
loggia and surrounded by rolling clouds; below, in a great
circle, extends the throng of the Olympians, stopped from
their usual occupations, gazing downward in fear at the
awful conflict and anxiously seeking counsel from each other.
Every prominent deity is visible, clearly distinguished by the
customary form and implements ; the Hours have halted their
horses in dismay, the nymphs and satyrs are overcome by
fright, Mars and Venus flee with Cupid; the four Winds
alone keep at their work, blowing furious tempests to the
aid of Jupiter. The latter has descended lowest of them
all, and from a commanding cloud, aided by Juno, is hurling
his thunderbolts angrily at the Titans, with careful aim. —
Rinaldo and Caravaggino were Giulio's assistants upon this
work, and doubtless did much of the colouring, from his
cartoons. —

In accentuated and delightful contrast with these
grandiose halls was the suite of little rooms, 8 daintily orna-

6 Little by comparison with the other apartments, yet of good size
and height compared with modern rooms.



538 LOMBARD TOWNS OF ITALY

merited like cameos, which succeeded the last hall, running
westward across the rear of the cortile: semi-private cham-
bers of the Duke and his intimates, with low, confidential
ceilings and a more homelike air. Here were held the re-
stricted house-parties, the gay little suppers, the nights of
frivolity with the Boschetti and her friends; here doubtless
the princes slept and worked when staying in the villa, and
received their breakfasts from the adjacent kitchens in the
southwest corner. The suite is double, with parallel cham-
bers, the more important looking upon the court and the
lesser looking to the south; they are in a damaged condition,
some much more so than others, because of long use as sleep-
ing quarters for the Austrian troops. The first one, facing
north, is remarkable for its characteristic ceiling-decoration
by Giovanni da Udine, who was prevailed upon to give the
Te a little of his time ; its grotesques are in his happiest
manner, most gaily tinted, and worthily set off by Primatic-
cio's lovely stucchi filling the lunettes, with white figures
on a maroon field. Back of this I observed a domed apart-
ment, probably designed for an oratory, similarly ornamented
by Giovanni and Primaticcio. The latter endowed the sec-
ond chamber on the court-side with one of his beautiful
white friezes, of separate panels; naught is more charming



Online LibraryEgerton R. (Egerton Ryerson) WilliamsLombard towns in Italy; or, The cities of ancient Lombardy → online text (page 42 of 47)