Absolute masterpiece of the Renaissance the Camera Picta (Painted Room) is placed in the north-eastern part of the Castle. Painted by Andrea Mantegna within nine years from 1465 to 1474 (both starting and finishing dates are written on the walls) combines reality and fiction giving the room an ‘en plain air’ atmosphere and making it look like a loggia.
The space of each wall has been divided by Mantegna into three openings showing, through wide arches, landscapes and curtains moving in the wind, in contrast with the confined architectural space. The frescos represent two scenes portraying the members of the Gonzaga family, the ‘meeting scene’ and the ‘court scene’. With these paintings Mantegna celebrated his Lords and the prestige of Mantua.
Originally known as Camera Picta (Painted Room) it is in the north-eastern tower of St. George’s Castle in Mantua. Renowned for the cycle of frescos around the walls it is the masterpiece of Andrea Mantegna, painted between 1465 and 1474. Mantegna studied the fresco decoration so that it would cover the entire surface of the walls as well as the ceiling.
The decoration is adapted to the limits of the setting but at the same time breaks free with a virtual opening of the walls as if the space were enlarged far beyond the room. The theme is the political-dynastic celebration of the whole Gonzaga family, on the occasion of the election of Francesco Gonzaga as a Cardinal.
The work was commissioned by Ludovico Gonzaga to Mantegna, court painter since 1460. The room once had two functions: it was used as a state room where the Marquis would receive ambassadors and do business and as official bedroom where Ludovico would meet with his family.
The commission is far from being explained by the scholars. The traditional interpretation wants the frescos to be linked to the election as a Cardinal of Ludovico’s son Francesco Gonzaga which took place on January the 1st 1462: the Court scene should then represent the Marquis receiving the news and the Meeting Scene should see father and son reunited in the happy event.
The mature and strong-built figure of Francesco though, doesn’t seem to match with his age in 1461 when he was only 17 (an early portrait today in Naples confirms this opinion). For this reason these frescos could refer to a later visit of Cardinal Francesco to Mantua, precisely on August 1472 when he was given the title of St. Andrew.
The chronological sequence of the paintings has been recently discovered: the painter started from the vault by dry painting in the background small bits particularly those of the oculus and the wreath surrounding it.
Then he moved onto the ‘Court scene’ where he used a mysterious oily tempera dry laid out on the surface. The east and south walls followed, with the traditional fresco technique representing heavy curtains. Finally the ‘Meeting scene’ on the west wall was painted, always ‘a fresco’ but in very small bits which confirms an almost ten-year period of work on that part of the chamber.
After Ludovico’s death the Chamber underwent a series of changes and damages up to around 1875.It is not clear when the Chamber started to be called Camera degli Sposi. In any case the name was referred to the dominant presence of Ludovico and his wife portrayed on the wall rather than being considered as the couple’s bedroom.