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Chest of Paola Gonzaga, Wood by Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506, Italy)
The space of the room with a square plan (8,1 x 8,1 m) is essentially a cube, and in it Mantegna has created a monumental architectural reality by means of ribs on the ceiling connecting with pilasters on the walls, which are in turn supported by a marble socle. In the centre of the ceiling is the much-admired oculus, opening onto a painted sky. The interplay of levels of reality elaborates ideas already set forth in his art. Only the corbels are actually stone, the highly worked ribs, the garlands that encircle the eight busts of emperors supported by putti, and the ensembles in decorative lozenges are painted to simulate marble so convincingly that even the modern viewer is sometimes fooled. In the triangular spaces at the edges of the ceiling are twelve mythological scenes of Orpheus, Orion, and Hercules with backgrounds of simulated mosaics, a device that Raphael was to use in the ceiling of the Stanza della Segnatura. Only two of the walls have figurative narrations: the north wall with a scene that is usually called the Court and the west wall, divided into three scenes, Servants with Horse and Dogs, the Inscription with Putti, and the Meeting. The remaining two walls are painted with imitation leather draperies that encroach upon the other sides as well to create the fiction that there were curtains before all four walls and on two sides they had been opened up to reveal the events depicted.The central subject of the frescoes is Ludovico III Gonzaga, his wife, his children, and his court. A closed letter held by Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga in the Meeting seems to be the same one, now opened, that Ludovico, seated majestically, holds in the Court, and must be considered important for understanding the paintings. The style of the frescoes is similar to Mantegna's previous works. The compositions are dominated by the narrative elements, with the figures set frieze-like, close to the picture plane within a narrow spatial shelf in front of a landscape or architectural setting.