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The 'Great Corridor in the Castle Square' - as it was formerly known - was built...

09 June 2021
Galleria degli Antichi esterno edit.jpg

The "great corridor in the castle square", as it was originally called, was built between 1583 and 1586; it is an external structure in exposed stone consisting, on the lower level, of twenty-six arches; the total length was approximately 97 metres. It is the third-longest of its kind in Italy, after the Gallery of Maps in the Vatican and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

It was built as the ideal home for Vespasiano's incredible archaeological collection, a series of antique marbles bought after the duke's return from the Spanish court in 1578. The busts, statues, epigraphs and bas-reliefs were mainly acquired in Rome and Venice. The collection also included hunting trophies brought from imperial collections in Prague. In 1589, following a period at the court of Rudolf II of Habsburg, Vespasiano returned to Sabbioneta with 20 pairs of antlers given to him by the emperor, and he placed them in the Gallery among the statues and ancient epigraphs, testimony of the deep ties between the duke of Sabbioneta and the Habsburg emperor. 

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The most valuable pieces include the front of a sarcophagus dating back to the 2nd century AD, bought in Rome in 1583, depicting the myth of Adonis; a Satyr playing pipes, a Roman copy of an original by Praxiteles; and a funerary urn from the 4th century BC, bought from the Venetian collection of Federico Contarini.

In total, Vespasiano's museum contained 50 statues, 160 busts and 80 bas-reliefs, all from the Classical era. The items in the collection were confiscated in 1774 on the orders of the Austrian authorities and moved to the Academy of Fine Arts in Mantua in order to establish a state museum; they remained here until 1915. Today the marbles are displayed in the Exhibition gallery of the Ducal Palace in Mantua and in the City Museum (Palazzo di San Sebastiano).

The fresco wall decoration was executed in 1587 by Giovanni and Alessandro Alberti from Arezzo who, with their assistants, painted perspectives on the short walls and allegorical figures on the long walls. The result is a complex iconography intended to celebrate the duke's virtues and the glories of his dynasty.

The female allegories, arranged thirteen on each side, are remarkable; starting from the long wall and moving towards the square:

  • Victory, painted from behind, holding a palm and a laurel wreath;
  • Kindness, accompanied by a dog;
  • Peace, with an olive twig and an upturned torch;
  • Moderation, holding a stick and a horse's bit;
  • Mercy, holding a basket of fruit, her foot resting on an apple, an allegory of Autumn.
  • Flora, scattering myrtle flowers, sacred to Venus; symbolising Spring;
  • Cybele, protector of the fortified city, with a turreted crown and holding a sceptre;
  • Concord, offering a pomegranate and alluding to Winter;
  • Ceres, personifying Summer.

These are followed by several divinities: Diana, Venus, Minerva and Juno.

Continuing on the opposite wall are the Theological Virtues (Faith, Hope and Charity) and the Cardinal Virtues (Justice, Temperance, Fortitude and Prudence).

Then Fame, seen from the back, and Modesty with a lily, as well as the Liberal Arts (Geometry, Music, Poetry, Astronomy).

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