Thirty years since the great monographic exhibition in 1989, Palazzo Te again celebrates the genius of Giulio Romano with the exhibition Giulio Romano: Art and Desire, from 6 October 2019 to 6 January 2020.

The exhibition, curated by Barbara Furlotti, Guido Rebecchini and Linda Wolk-Simon, is an integral part of the program of exhibitions and events Giulio Romano is Palazzo Te (September 2019 – June 2020), promoted by the Fondazione Palazzo Te and the City of Mantua, organized and produced in partnership with Electa publishers, with the contribution of: Regione Lombardia, Camera di Commercio di Mantova, Fondazione Banca Agricola Mantovana, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Fondazione Cariverona, Fondazione Comunità Mantovana Onlus, technical sponsors: Aermec, Smeg, Glas Italia, Pilkington and with the support of: Amici dei Palazzo Te e dei Musei Mantovani, MeglioMantova, Agroittica Lombarda.

The exhibition investigates the relation between erotic images in the classical world and the figurative inventions produced in the first half of the 16th century in Italy .

Focusing on the work of Giulio Romano, the exhibition itinerary highlights the widespread dissemination of an immense repertoire of erotic representations in 16th-century artistic culture and reveals the influences existing between high culture and low culture in the production of such images.

The precious exhibits on display – from 20 institutions in Italy and abroad, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Hermitage in San Petersburg, the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the British Museum in London, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Galleria Borghese in Rome, and the Galleria Uffizi and Museo del Bargello in Florence – underscore the playful and sometimes subversive character of these artistic inventions, revealing  the flexibility of the erotic themes embodied in works ranging from drawings to paintings, sculptures to engravings, and from maiolica ware to tapestries.

The theme of the exhibition, which will enable the public to explore a relatively little-known aspect of the art of the Renaissance, is closely bound up with the place that hosts it. Erotic subjects and love stories are recurrent in the interiors of Palazzo Te, the undisputed masterpiece of Giulio Romano’s artistic career. This appears, for example, in the stories of Bacchus and Ariadne frescoed in the Room of Metamorphoses; or the passion of King David for the beautiful Bathsheba depicted in the Loggia di Davide; and especially the tormented story of Cupid and Psyche that unfolds along the walls and ceiling of the Sala di Amore e Psiche. There are also many allusions within the palace to the earthly, contemporary love affair between Federico II Gonzaga and Isabella Boschetti, which began in 1516 and ended only with the duke’s death in 1540.

Giulio Romano: Arte e Desiderio, presented in the Napoleonic Wing of the building, is divided into 6 sections.

The route opens with the theatrical presentation of a figure of Venus in ancient marble, formerly owned by Giulio Romano and donated by the artist to Federico Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua. The work on display shows ancient sculpture’s fundamental impact on the imagination of artists active in 16th-century Rome, in particular Raphael and Giulio Romano, which provided them with the stimulus for the creation of new works with an overtly sensuous character.
The first section illustrates Giulio’s youthful production when he was active in Raphael’s workshop, and in particular his decoration of Cardinal Bibbiena’s stufetta (heated chamber) in the Vatican Palace (1515-1516), and in the Loggia of Psyche at the Villa Farnesina in Rome, where the throngs of ancient divinities constituted an inescapable source of inspiration for the fresco with the same subject subsequently created by Giulio in Palazzo Te.
The second section is devoted to I Modi, a series of 16 pornographic images, probably inspired by ancient sources, which were drawn by Giulio Romano, engraved by Marcantonio Raimondi and accompanied by licentious sonnets composed by Pietro Aretino. Following a severe censorship campaign by the papal authorities, the engravings have been lost, but their exceptional popularity is attested by the proliferation of erotic images inspired by them in different media, including drawings, bronzes and decorations on historiated maiolica.
The section entitled Art and Seduction presents an ancient and particularly faithful copy of Raphael’s portrait of La Fornarina, probably by Raffaellino del Colle, a collaborator of Giulio Romano, and Giulio’s own portrait of a courtesan, also inspired by Raphael’s  famous erotic portrait.
Next, the room devoted to the loves of the gods shows, through drawings and engravings, the great success with collectors enjoyed by erotic subjects in the 16th century, when they were masked behind the more acceptable appearance of a mythological tale and justified as translations into images of literary and poetic inventions.
The fifth section is the heart of the exhibition, devoted to the monumental painting by Giulio Romano entitled The Two Lovers, preserved at the Hermitage, which may have been painted shortly before his arrival in Mantua, in 1524, and brought to the city ??of the Gonzagas for the Marquis Federico. The painting is flanked by two works of exceptional artistic importance, related to The Two Lovers by subject and chronology: a tapestry – spectacular by its size and the refinement of the materials – depicting Mercury and Herse, inspired by an invention by Raphael for Villa Farnesina, on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and a refined cartoon of large dimensions from the Louvre depicting Jupiter and Danae, by Perino del Vaga – another of Raphael’s collaborators – which was to serve as a model for a tapestry (now lost) commissioned by Andrea Doria, one of a set devoted to the clandestine loves of Jupiter.

The theme of the clandestine loves of Jupiter returns in the last room of the exhibition, where a large cartoon depicting the Loves of Jupiter and Leda inspired by an invention by Michelangelo and the sensuous Danae by Correggio, commissioned by Federico Gonzaga in 1530-1532, show how 16th-century artists explored the painting of erotic subjects in competition with the school of Raphael.

The exhibition design will be by Lissoni Associati. The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue published by Electa.

Palazzo Te
Mantua, Viale Te 13

Open to the public
6 October 2019 – 6 January 2020

Curated by
Barbara Furlotti
Guido Rebecchini
Linda Wolk-Simon

Promoted by
Municipality of Mantua

Produced and organized by
Fondazione Palazzo Te
Museo Civico di Palazzo Te

In partnership with
Electa publisher

Exhibition design
Lissoni Associati
Piero Lissoni
Gianni Fiore

Graphic design
Studio Sonnoli
Leonardo Sonnoli
Irene Bacchi

t +39 0376 323266




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Monica Brognoli

Palazzo Te Foundation
Federica Leoni
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