Italian art: The Camera Picta

May 15, 2015 834

WTI Magazine #60    2015 May, 15
Author : Enrico De Iulis      Translation by: John Cabot University


The 2012 earthquake in Emilia Romagna and in Lombardia severely damaged Saint George's Castle in Mantua, and particularly one of his greatest jewels: La Camera degli Sposi ("the bridal chamber") by Andrea Mantegna. This masterpiece, known in the Renaissance as Camera Picta ("painted chamber"), reopened for few days of inaugural period this April, and it will then ordinary open next October.

The room was entirely decorated in nine years (from 1465 to 1474) and occupies one floor of the north-eastern tower of the Castle. It was conceived by Mantegna as a golden loggia with an en plain air effect. Each wall houses a painted curtain that opens theatrically into the two most enlightened sides representing the several characters. The first side's fresco represents the court of the Marquis of Mantua and his family. The second side's fresco, the so-called "meeting scene," shows instead Ludovico II Gonzaga in his official vests with his son Francesco as a recently-appointed Cardinal. A sequence of several landscape frames complete the walls' cycle. Moreover, one of the first Italian early-Renaissance scorci appears on the ceiling. An oculo in a strong splay simulates a balustrade from which young women, playing putti, and a vase face out, all standing against a blue sky with clouds.

This is one of the places that best represent Italian Renaissance art, not only for Mantegna's fine finishing of the work, but also for its social and cultural meaning. As the private place of a head of state (like a studiolo in Urbino), this room puts the intimacy of such public figure on display, showing his passions, interests, and affects. The mission of the painter was thus to display such private aspects in a cryptic and very personal way, which nowadays could seem overtly clear. Accordingly, throughout time new particulars emerged defining a place in which commission and artist apply and invest most of their quintessence.

Such works were a chance for the artist both to reach fame – given such an important commission – and to deal with iconographical and content constructions that open the way to different levels of interpretation and access.

Mantegna's public signature is overtly visible and located in the large plate hold by the putti, in which the painter's dedication and thanksgiving to his commissioner is readable. The painter's private signature appears in the self-portrait of the artist, depicted as the grotesque decoration of a column separating the "meeting scene" from that of the plate. It is evident that Mantegna states his respect for the Marquis by appearing at his edge, rather than in his space. Eventually, Mantegna's intimate signature appears within the largest cloud in the oculo, where the shape of a profile face is enlightened by the sunrays. As required by the Marquis, this is a statement of participation in the intimacy of a place the public cannot access, yet the artist plays a prominent role.

This kind of intellectual reasoning was shared among Renaissance painting, and leads us today to exciting discoveries on the relationships between culture, power, and art of that period.

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