SEX AND THE CITY (OF MANTOVA)

There are many interesting sites in Mantova, The Palazzo Ducale, to mention one.


But no visit can be complete without a visit to Palazzo Te.


Palazzo Te is a Renaissance Villa built in what in 1524 used to be suburban Mantova. To the first-time modern visitor, at first look, It is just an unassuming building. But once inside, it is another story entirely.

Federico II Gonzaga chose this swampy and lacustrine area, a training ground for his prized and beloved horses, and not just that. At age two, Federico was betrothed to Luisa Borgia, daughter of Cesare Borgia. Still, things didn’t go as planned. He was betrothed about three more times before he married Margherita Paleologa, daughter of the Marquis of Monferrato, and Anna d’Alençon, to keep the Monferrato and Savoy from France. But Federico, during this period of unfortunate love stories, kept himself quite busy at Palazzo Te.

Federico asked the architect Giulio Romano for a place of leisure, rest, and festive receptions with the most illustrious guests and where to escape from institutional duties with his lover Isabella Boschetti.

If you have any doubts about the scope of Palazzo Te, they will be dissipated as soon as you enter “Sala di Amore e Psiche” (Hall of Cupid and Psyche). The other rooms are as stunningly frescoed, notably the Hall of the Giants.

The Palazzo is a square-plan building with a large square courtyard in the center, also once decorated with a labyrinth, with four entrances on all four sides. The building has unusual proportions: it looks like a large, low, single-story block whose height is about a quarter of the width.

The Halls

  • Hall of the Giants: the fresco of the Fall of the Giants was painted between 1532 and 1535, covering the room from the walls to the ceiling with the illusionistic representation of the battle between the Giants trying to ascend to Olympus and Zeus
  • Hall of Cupid and Psyche: this is the Duke’s dining room. Entirely frescoed, each wall luxuriously depicts the mythological story of Psyche. It is the symbol of the Duke’s love for Isabella Boschetti. The literary source is the metamorphosis of Apuleius. On the other two walls, with no relation to each other, there are mythological episodes with Mars and Venus, and various divine loves above the windows and the fireplace. Here I wondered how they could eat in there!
  • Hall of Eagles: Federico’s bedroom is decorated in the center of the vault with the fresco of Phaeton’s fall from the chariot of the sun
  • Hall of the Winds or the zodiac
  • Hall of Enterprises
  • Hall of Ovid and the Metamorphoses
  • Hall of the Sun and the Moon
  • Hall of the Emperors
  • Hall of bas-reliefs and Hall of the Caesars
  • ‎Loggia of honor or David

By visiting Palazzo Te, one gets a pretty good idea of the kind of good life Federico II Gonzaga, so accustomed as he had been since he was a child to the ease and refinement of Roman villas. Federico found himself an excellent place for his idea of a “happy island.”

How About Margherita (The Wife)

She probably looked the other side, like any wife. In 1540 Federico died of syphilis. The Ducal title passed to the eldest son Francesco who was only seven years old. Margherita was appointed regents until the Duke’s age. In this first period of regency, the excellent government of Margherita brought about the reestablishment of the finances of the Duchy of Mantova.

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I lived the most part of my life in Washington DC, now in Italy getting to know again my country. Plenty of surprises, for good and bad, and lots of nostalgia for DC.

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