Palazzo Te – Mantua
Palazzo Te is a museum and a cultural center in Mantua, northern Italy, as well as a masterpiece of Renaissance art and architecture designed and decorated by Italian artist Giulio Romano in the early 16th century.
History, architecture, and fresco paintings by Giulio Romano
One of the most fascinating examples of monumental architecture in Italy, the Palazzo Te building was designed by Giulio Romano between 1524 and 1530 as a pleasure palace for Federico II Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua.
The name Palazzo Te doesn’t mean, as many believe, “Tea palace”; in fact, the building was named after the island on the outskirts of Mantua on which it is located, once called “Tejeto” (linden grove), and then shortened to “Te”.
“(Giulio Romano and the Marquis Federico II Gonzaga*) went to a plot of land, a crossbow shot beyond the S. Bassano gate, where His Excellency owned a place with some stables called T(e). There, the Marquis said that he would like to have a small building where to stay sometimes for lunch or dinner, as a recreation.” Giorgio Vasari, 1568
* Federico II was Marquis of Mantua at the time, he was elevated to the rank of a duke in 1530
Giulio Romano, who had previously been a pupil of Raphael in Rome, incorporated the existing stables into a sumptuous residence, whose architecture was somewhat inspired by ancient Roman villas.
The complex is composed of a large square palace built around a central courtyard. The east side of the palace is marked by a portico opening on an Italian-style garden flanked by two wings – one of which once accommodated an orangery – to which it is connected by a pedestrian bridge; a semicircular colonnade borders the garden on the side opposite the main building. The complex also includes a small building with an inner garden, known as Appartamento del Giardino Segreto (House of the Secret Garden), which the Marquis used as a private retreat.
Along with an extraordinary architectural work, Palazzo Te is also well-known for the Mannerist-style fresco paintings which decorate its rooms. The paintings were made by Giulio Romano together with a team of pupils and collaborators, which included Raffaellino del Colle, and Rinaldo Mantovano, among others.
The frescoes adorn several spaces, both of the main residence and the Appartamento, including the renowned Chamber of Ovid or Metamorphosis, Chamber of the Giants, Chamber of Cupid and Psyche, and the Hall of the Horses.
Museum and exhibitions
Besides being an exhibition of art and architecture in itself, Palazzo Te is today also a publicly-owned museum and a cultural center which regularly hosts exhibitions and special events.
The museum features four small collections of art and archaeology; the Egyptian Collection comprises some 500 artifacts from Ancient Egypt; the Mesopotamic Collection includes cuneiform inscriptions, amulets, and votive statues from the ancient Near East; the Gonzaga Collection features coins, medals, weights, and measures dating from the 13th century to 18th century; the Mondadori Collection presents late-19th century works by Italian painters Federico Zandomeneghi, and Armando Spadini.
The spaces of the former orangery now accommodate temporary exhibitions of art and architecture, conferences, and special events.
Palazzo Te also organizes guided tours for groups and schools and special visits for visually impaired persons.
Palazzo Te in Mantua, aerial view; photo © Franco Cosimo Panini Editore
Palazzo Te, general plan drawing by Antonio Maria Campi, ca. 1780
Aerial view of the palace looking east; photo courtesy of Palazzo Te
Aerial view of the palace looking west; photo courtesy of Palazzo Te
View of the east facade; the large triangular pediment was added in the 18th century; photo: Olga e Zanni
Giulio Romano, drawing of the east facade of Palazzo Te; Dusseldorf, Kunstmuseum
View from the east gate looking west; photo: Andrea Lodi
East facade on courtyard; photo: Renzo Borgatti
Giulio Romano, drawing of the east facade on courtyard; Dusseldorf, Kunstmuseum
View of the garden looking east with the semi-circular portico in the background and the pedestrian bridge over the “Pescherie” pool on the right; photo: Andrea Lodi
Appartamento del Giardino Segreto; view of the north facade on the inner courtyard; photo: Dvdbramhall
Hall of the Horses; photo © Candida Höfer
Hall of the Horses, details of the fresco paintings; photos: Jacqueline Poggi, and Alessandro Bonvini
View of the “Banquet of Amor and Psyche” painting
Chamber of the Giant, general view; photo © Candida Höfer, courtesy of Palazzo Te
Chamber of the Giant, detail; photo courtesy of Palazzo Te
Cover image: Palazzo Te, east facade; photo: Jim Forest
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