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Rubens at Palazzo Te, phenomenology of a conversion

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Rubens at Palazzo Te, phenomenology of a conversion

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With admirable elegance the canvases of Pieter Paul Rubens, the “cultured universal humanist” adorn the autumn of Palazzo Te. With attention to detail, the exhibition by Raffaella Morselli confirms Mantua and its renovated Tuileries-style gardens – complete with iconic chaises vertes – among the best European art circuits.

For Rubens, Mantua always represents a return. Here the Flemish stayed, mesmerizing first his imagination and then his palette, in contemplation of the Giulio Romano, the Correggio and the Isabella collection: all treasures available to him in Palazzo Ducale and Palazzo Te. If Giulio Romano’s legacy made the stay formidable of Rubens at the Gonzaga court, makes it revelatory today. It does so thanks to a philological and lively exhibition itinerary, where the fascination that the Italian workshops had on the genius educated in Antwerp is tangible.

Palazzo Te

The purpose of the exhibition is moreover clear. And it certainly succeeded: showing and making clear the correspondences between Rubens’ works and the decorative-iconographic instances of Palazzo Te. It is, in no uncertain terms, a conversion. That of the painter from Flanders, pure Flemish in his early stylistic features who gradually, coming into contact with Italy (first the Serenissima, then Mantua) absorbed those of the Renaissance to finally become the accomplished Rubens of proto-baroque and artistic maturity.

Transformation and freedom

A conversion that the subtitle of the exhibition diligently chisels: transformation and freedom. The first instance is contained in the propensity for the classical myth on which Giulio Romano himself had abundantly nourished himself and which Rubens underlines and transforms with new and highly original textures. Freedom is that of the genius permeable from antipodal poles: on the one hand the events of Roman history (considered exemplum virtutis by Rubens) and on the other the landscape of the Mincio. All suggestions that follow one another in the rooms of the Giuliescan Villa, with a surprising amalgam.

Twelve sections and over fifty works on loan from the most prestigious collections summarize Rubens’ rich poetics, starting from Nature interpreted not as an objective reality, but as the sentimental stage where the myth is historicized through a sort of maieutics of forms. Mantua was therefore Rubens’ gym, the workshop where he learned to speak to the most advanced courts of Europe with a universal language. Not the epiphany of the great artist, but the emblematic turning point of his stylistic parable. For this reason, and for a scientific curation and catalogue, the exhibition is a candidate to be one of the best initiatives of this part of the year. The overall project is also very ambitious, linking Mantua to Rome. “Rubens! The birth of a European painting” is in fact the synoptic title of a trilogy of exhibitions that unites Fondazione Palazzo Te, Palazzo Ducale (with the Altarpiece of the Holy Trinity) and Galleria Borghese in a tribute divided between the Lombard moment and the Capitoline moment (from 14 November 2023 to 18 February 2024) with “The touch of Pygmalion. Rubens and sculpture in Rome”.

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