Giulio Romano and the Palazzo Del Te

Submitted to Robert Franklin, Tutor
The Architecture of Eccentricity
Oxford University
Department for Continuing Education
Andrew Becker
Roger M. Jones Fellow Abroad, The University of Michigan
Hillary 2009

Giulio Romano and the Palazzo Del Te

The Palazzo Del Te by Giulio Romano is a true classic among the Mannerist style of architecture from the Renaissance period in Italy. This style is characterized by the deliberate use of techniques and design elements in ways that may appear contradictory (to tradition or function), confusing, or chaotic– in order to draw attention to the “art” that is the building itself. The principal features of the Palazzo Del Te, in their deliberate breaking of classical rules, increase the aesthetic appreciation of the building by even the amateur viewer.

Principle Features
The Palazzo was the pleasure palace or “Villa Suburbana” of Federico II Gonzaga, then Marquess of Mantua. It was constructed in Mantua, Italy in 1524-34.
The North Façade – note that while the features at first glance appear evenly spaced, they are actually quite irregularly spaced. Also note the strange way the building seems to be halfway between one and two stories, so you are not quite sure if there is a second story or not. It is as if the second story has been compressed down.

The Northeast view from within the Palazzo. The building on the left is a “secret garden” containing a grotto. There is a fake door on this grotto, but this is nothing particularly exciting as there are fake doors throughout the Palazzo. On the right is the hemispherical exedra, through which the Marquess would have had a grand view on horseback. The whole palace was built with a theme of horses and horseback riding, the great love of the Gonzaga family.
Here we see columns that have been given a very rough surface treatment that perhaps seems out of place, common throughout. The beam above has a keystone shape that might be functional in another place, but certainly is not here and is therefore perplexing or humorous.
Here is a wall within the courtyard. There are fake windows like this all over, mirroring the dummy doors. Note the dropped triglyphs at the top that seem to be falling out of the entablature. This was done on purpose and is perhaps the ultimate inside joke / Easter egg of the multitude within the Palazzo. Also note that the keystone is slightly raised out of place, pushing the joint above open.
Inside “Cela dei Giganti”, the room of the Giants. Intricate work like this is common throughout the interior of the house. The theme of the painting, collapse, unifies this as the theme of the entire building, along with numerous other items such as the dropped triglyphs and the smashed two story / one story appearance. Some say Romano was alluding to the collapse of classical architecture.

Analysis from a “Classical” Context
Classical architecture, meaning Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman, came out of the very first architecture, and involved the desire to build ever more perfect buildings. Simplicity, elegance, and symmetry were considered the goal, and the buildings seem very formal and imposing. Here Giulio Romano has built something that at first may seem to be quite classical, but is in fact thumbing its nose quite deliberately at the classical tradition. It is not perfect, but in fact, quite deliberately appears to be in a state of perpetual falling down. It is not symmetrical, but alludes to symmetry in its playful and careful dissymmetry, which could be said to give it a higher symmetry of purpose. It is not simple, but has numerous features that serve no functional purpose, serve only to mock functionality, or deliberately create chaos or complexity. It is clearly layered with meaning, message, and humor, some of which requires additional information to decode. Yet it is supremely elegant.

Assessment of Aesthetics
The Marquess of Mantua paid a princely sum for this pleasure palace, and he entrusted Giulio Romano with the vision. In return he received a building that was not just great, but personal, with innumerous intricacies revealing both the details of Gonzaga and the essence of Romano. Because of this building, these men have been remembered, who they were and what made them special remained in the public knowledge until modern times and therefore they live in infinity. So it was a trade-off. The Marquess could have demanded a building in the classical style, to match with thousands of others, and perhaps his could have even been a particularly grand classical building, and perhaps he would have even been remembered for it, but it would have been as a footnote. By allowing Giulio to share (and perhaps even dominate) the stage, he cast his lot with greatness. This feeling, that this is a great building, that je ne sais quoi, that x-factor, is what makes this such a stunning and noteworthy piece of architecture. It draws the viewer in, makes them feel that they are a part of something special. While classical buildings were exclusive and imposing, this one is inclusive and imperfect—imperfect like a human being. It tells a story of fantasy and secrets. What greater aesthetic evaluation is possible, to say that this building is, to all who view it, a great piece of art?

So it was through careful inclusion of features that subtly break the rules of classical architecture that Giulio Romano created one of the most aesthetically pleasing buildings of his time. It may be saying, “look at me!” but says so in a subtle and never ostentatious way (as far as a “pleasure palace” can be unostentatious). Today we recognize the Palazzo Del Te as a great example of Mannerist architecture that achieves great beauty through its rebellion.

All web resources were accessed on 27-3-2008.
All photos used under educational fair use, not for distribution (photos in this post will be removed in 30 days or less)

Virtual Reality Tour of the Palazzo –

Wikipedia Palazzo Del Te –

Photographic tour of the Palazzo –


One response to “Giulio Romano and the Palazzo Del Te

  1. This was very helpful, thank you.

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