'The Gonzaga Tapestries: from Mantegna to Raphael and Giulio Romano' goes on show in Mantua

The surviving tapestries come together at the Museo Civico Palazzo del Tè from 14 March - 27 June


Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua (1466-1519), and his wife Isabella d’Este (1474-1539) ushered an era of splendour into their northern state. Francesco had a fine collection of tapestries, but it was his three sons and their descendants who had a true interest in the art of tapestries. This show explores the taste and patronage of Federico II, first Duke of Mantua (1500-40), who commissioned the Palazzo del Tè, and his brothers Ercole (1505-63) and Ferrante (1507-57), through the tapestries they commissioned for their palaces in Mantua and elsewhere.  

The brothers were prolific with their collections: an inventory taken after Federico’s death lists 315 tapestries, while that of his brother Ferrante lists 27 series, a total of 127 tapestries. Another inventory for the ducal household after the death of the three brothers lists 57 series, a total of 386 pieces.

Of all these tapestries, only 52 survive, 18 of which are housed at the Palazzo del Tè. This exhibition brings to this collection the 34 others from museums and institutions around the world. These include the Annunciation tapestry from the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the few surviving tapestries woven in Italy before 1540. Made in Mantua between 1484 and 1519, the design has been attributed to an artist in the circle of Andrea Mantegna. The stars of the show are, of course, the Acts of the Apostles tapestries, designed by Raphael for Pope Leo X, and subsequently copied for Cardinal Ercole, among others.

The seminal publication on the Gonzaga tapestries, Tapestries for the Courts of Federico II, Ercole, and Ferrante Gonzaga, 1522–63, by Clifford M. Brown and Guy Delmarcel has been translated into Italian and published by Skira to coincide with the exhibition. The show is sponsored by the Lombardy Region Councillorship for the Culture, Identity and Autonomy of Lombardy, and it is promoted by the Municipality of Mantua.