I am very excited to be writing my first post for the ArtSmart Roundtable which is a group of brilliant bloggers who write once a month on a topic or theme, each interpreting the monthly subject in their own way. You can see what the other members selected to write about at the end of this post.
This month’s theme is Art Worth Travelling For and immediately I harked back to my days of studying art history in Italy and specifically my presentation in Mantova, Italy. Before departing Canada, my art history professor gave each student a list of works from which we were to blindly select one masterpiece and write a presentation to perform on site. Terrified of public speaking I unknowingly chose a massive room that became one of the most important presentations of my student life and the best interaction with an artwork I’ve ever had.
-Sorry, pictures are a little scarce of the interior because of the No Photo Rule, but that didn’t deter me as you’ll see-
The Sala dei Giganti is a room located within the Palazzo del Te in Mantova, Italy. Mantova may sound familiar since it’s where Romeo was exiled from fair Verona in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. It may not sound like an obvious choice as an artistic hidden gem but when Shakespeare wrote his play Mantua was a swamp land.
The Palazzo del Te was built in 1526, commissioned by Duke Frederigo II Gonzaga and designed by Giulio Romano. The Palazzo itself is an embodiment of Gonzaga’s desire for love and struggle for power.
It was built in two phases – the first phase of the Palazzo is rife with frescos of passion, love and a whole lot of naked gods and goddesses. It was in these rooms where he would probably make believe he was as well endowed as Zeus and play out the sexual scenes with mistresses, of which he had many. There is also an entire room with frescos of horses because the Gonzaga family were famed for their excellent horse breeds.
The second phase was built in 1530 and in those 4 years Duke Gonzaga got his priorities in order. This time he meant business and aligned himself politically with Charles V – Holy Roman Emperor, aka Charles I King of Spain. This is where the Sala dei Giganti comes in. Some say this room was built to symbolize the growing power of the Duke – having aligned himself with a powerful figure, being appointed a military leader and looking to expand his domain – while others feel it symbolizes the power of Charles V – having become Zeus-like in his triumph over Italian princes, the Turks and heretic reformers (a long story you can check out here).
I remember entering the room for the first time, sneaking away from my class so I could get a moment alone. I had read so much about it and spent 2 months researching this one room I just had to experience it before everyone else. As one of my fellow classmates stumbled on about the exterior architecture of the younger second phase I made my escape inside.
The Sala dei Giganti is as close as one could get to 3D back in those days.
Immediately as I entered the square doorway I felt like my eyes were not big enough to take it all in at once and I was a pebble, a blip in the universe of Giulio Romano.
I found myself in a realm of titans and gods, reality and illusion. The walls and ceiling are shaped as an egg with the corners made into smooth curves. Painted upon the surface, from floor to ceiling, are ugly titans being toppled by the wrath of the gods and goddesses who are perched high above the viewer.
Giulio Romano, the architect and artist, knew the immediate response of the viewer would be to have their eyes fixated on the art around them so that they wouldn’t watch where there feet were heading. This is why the floor is uneven and made of pebbles. As you walk through the room and realize what you are seeing – titans falling as the gods rain down their lightening bolts and wind – you too will feel as though you are falling with the uneven floor. Your equilibrium is further thrown off balance because the room is thought to have special acoustics being the hollow egg shape that it is. The slightest of noise is thought to ricochet off the walls so that even a whisper would be made audible.
With sound, sight and equilibrium involved I felt as though I was part of the scene unfolding upon the walls.
My classmates eventually joined me inside the room and it was then that I stabled myself, put away my nerves and delivered one of my best presentations I have ever given to date.
You may ask why I chose The Palazzo del Te and the Sala dei Giganti as artworks worth traveling for.
Well..besides the impressive creativity, art and history of the room, it was because I was able to have a moment ALONE with an epic work of art that is 483 years old. I can’t say I was at all emotionally impacted by the Sistine Chapel in the same way, on the other hand. Because I was being shuffled through the chapel like cattle as guards yelled “No Photos! No Photographia!” every 5 seconds.
You do not want to be stuck in the Sistine Chapel when claustrophobia sets in with an angry mob who went through 30 minutes of single file narrow corridors just to get hauled out as fast as you can say Evolution.
You might think my experience in Mantova was a one time kind of thing. Unique. Unrepeatable even. You’re so wrong!
There are plenty of intimate moments like this to go around if you are willing to travel outside of the typical sight seeing checklist, especially in Italy. There are so many small towns with important works of art, architecture and home to historic events. As I toured Italy the most memorable travel moments were held in small towns full of character and unexpected places.
Art worth traveling for is art that you can comfortably sit within its presence and contemplate its existence as well as your own.
For more on the Sala dei Giganti:
Images: Click here for complete images/360 views of the room
More Art Worth Traveling For
Jeff at Eurotravelogue – Traveling for the Love of Art
Christina at Day Dream Tourist – A Day in Medieval Europe at the Cloisters, New York City
Kelly at Travellious – Richard Serra’s Band Sculpture
Erin at A Sense of Place – Wait, You Want Me to Go to Liverpool to See Art?
Leslie at Culture Tripper – Mosaics of the Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna
Jenna at This is My Happiness – Art Exhibitions in 2013: Art Worth Traveling For
Unfortunately I’ve never made it that far North during my time in Italy, but I have seen my fair part of the rural South.
When we finally get the chance to tour Italy properly, I’ll try to see as much of the rural North as possible 🙂
Wow – to give a presentation in such a room would fill me both with flutterings of excitement and basket loads of fear. I’m impressed.
I also stayed in Verona for some time and took several day trips to Mantua. I absolutely fell in love with the endless labyrinth that is the ducal palace, the royal residence of the Gonzagas. http://www.ducalemantova.org/?lang=en
And the pumpkin tortellini of Mantua is the best in all Italy!
Fabulous post. Thanks for introducing me to a building I was completely ignorant of and now can not wait to visit.
Mantova sounds delightful but you’re right, there’s art and experiences like yours are everywhere.
I could see how that room could have been intimidating for your first presentation.
I haven’t been but definitely on my to-do list for my next Italy visit!
Mantova is wonderful. Saw a great exhibit at Palazzo Te in 2001. We spent many day trips there when living in the region of Lombardia. And thank you for reminding me of the amazing sala dei gigante!
Wow, how lovely would it be to be able to take day trips within the Veneto region?!
Glad it reminded you of such lovely memories.
Thank you for stopping by Monique!
Great post Murissa and great pics!
Thanks Jessica and thanks for stopping by!
I’m not sure how I missed this when I was in the area but I won’t be making the same mistake next time. I enjoyed your description of seeing the Sala dei Giganti for the first time. Great to learn of it.
It was definitely a memorable experience and I would have missed it too had I not joined the art history course.
Thanks for your kind words and your visit!
Unfortunately, I never made it to any rural locations for art when I was in Italy. All the art I saw was in Florence. I’ll have to be sure to make it to Mantova the next time I’m in Italy!
Florence was one of my favourite cities in Italy.
Not far from Tuscany is the Veneto region where there are a ton of small towns like Mantova that contain important art works by people like Giotto to Donatello. It’s well worth your time.
I’ll be adding more small town experiences over the course of the year.
Thanks for stopping by!
I love your description of walking inside the Sala dei Giganti! Encountering art in person is an unforgettable experience. Hence why we travel! 🙂
Great post and welcome to the ArtSmart Roundtable!
Thanks for the welcome Christina.
Happy to be apart of such a talented and well traveled group!
I remember studying the Sala dei giganti, and my professor having, um, a “moment” over it. I can’t even imagine having to give a presentation in such a captivating space-I’d want to just stare instead of talk.
Also, those horse frescoes are great!
It is well worth having a moment over.
My professor kept ranting about it before we got there. I have thought maybe she was building it up too much but it was well deserved.
The horse room was great and the woman who presented on that room was very passionate about horses and the history so it too was quite memorable but a much more functional room.
Thanks so much for visiting!
Just thinking about Italy is enough to give me Stendhal Syndrome So much to see–even in a single egg-shaped room! Great post, Murissa.
I am missing Italy but that’s one of the great things about blogging and the ArtSmart Roundtable. I get to relive it with like minded people.
I really enjoyed your post as well Leseley.
Thanks for stopping by!
Wow! The Sala dei giganti looks so formidible. It must be awe-inspiring to be in the room with those figures. great post.
It was an overwhelming sensory experience. I do suggest you stop by. It isn’t too far from Bologna either.
Your blog is a fascinating compilation of cultures and living within Bologna.
Thanks for stopping by!
I couldn’t agree more. Most of the best art I’ve seen in Italy has been in remote locations. I still need to make it to Mantova, I am dying to see this!
Mantova was one of my favourite day trips away when I was staying in Verona. It is even a short train away from Venice so it’s doable for even those looking for a mix of visiting both the “must-sees” that we all know of and the lesser known spots. The Veneto region is one of my favourite spots for this kind of travel though. So many small towns with a ton of character.
Thanks so much for commenting!