In the course of its long history as a residence of the Gonzaga family, the Palazzo Ducale or Ducal Palace in Mantua has housed one of Europe’s most important art collections. The works on display in the museum today bear testimony, if only partially, to the Gonzaga family’s interest in Dutch and Flemish art—an interest that led to commissioning and acquiring numerous works of northern art, from the beginning of the sixteenth century, and the settling of foreign artists, especially portraitists such as Frans Pourbus, Peter Paul Rubens and the French artist Jean Bahuet. The Gonzaga Family in Adoration of the Holy Trinity, by Rubens, from 1605, testifies to the painter’s extensive work in Mantua. From 1657 to 1662, the official court painter for the Gonzagas was Daniel van Dyck; his Venus Suspended in Flight by Two Cupids, installed in the middle of the ceiling of the ‘Room of the Moors’, and Wedding of the Virgin can still be seen in the museum today.
Besides paintings, the Gonzagas were also very interested in tapestries. In 1539, the Brussels-born tapestry weaver Nicolas Karcher moved to Mantua and established a factory that operated until 1545. One of the Puttini tapestries, made for Federico II Gonzaga based on a drawing by Giulio Romano, remains in the Ducal Palace as a testament to his work. Of great importance is the cycle with the Stories of Saints Peter and Paul based on cartoons by Raphael, purchased in Brussels by Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga and displayed today in the ‘Apartment of the Tapestries’.
Michela Zurla, Curator (April 2022)