ANDREA MANTEGNA’S HOUSE IN MANTUA: Andrea Mantegna, the court painter to the Gonzagas of Mantua, had a talent for conjuring magical spaces out of square boxes – his “bridal chamber” – or camera picta – in Mantua’s Ducal Palace, with its trompe-l’œil oculus, is one example, creating as it does a complex sense of space, an open sky oculus on the ceiling, various panoramas on the walls, out of a boringly rectangular room.
Another example is Mantegna’s own house in Mantua, outwardly a banal brick cube, but inside a wonderful display of geometric mastery, with a courtyard topped by an opening, enclosed by curves, that indeed looks like an oculus, as if we were inside, and not outside.
I explored Mantegna’s work, briefly, while writing a historical novel, Son of Two Fathers, and the process left me with excess curiosity – I wanted to know more about Mantua and about Mantegna, and the – difficult and demanding – patron of his later years, the brilliant ruler, collector, connaisseur, and style-setter, Isabella d”Este.
Above is a view upward, from the courtyard of Mantegna’s house; it reproduces, ironically perhaps, the effect of a trompe-l’œil oculus, while in fact being not an exercise in tromp-l’œil, but the real thing – a real sky, framed by a real building. See, below, the overhead schematic view of Mantegna’s house. Mantegna was, I think, a bit of a trickster, a showman, as were many artists of the Renaissance. Leonardo Da Vinci, for example, delighted in complex ingenious devices and extraordinary ephemeral pageants or shows.
VIEW UPWARD FROM THE COURTYARD OF ANDREA MANTEGNA’S HOUSE IN MANTUA
SCHEMATIC OVERHEAD VIEW OF ANDREA MANTEGNA’S HOUSE IN MANTOVA