Camera Degli Sposi Frescoes by Andrea Mantegna
Interpretation of Early Renaissance Fresco Mural Paintings

Pin it

Camera Degli Sposi Frescoes by Andrea Mantegna
Ceiling oculus in the
Camera Degli Sposi.
By Andrea Mantegna.
Regarded as one of the
Greatest Paintings Ever.
Note the foreshortening.

Camera Degli Sposi Frescoes (1465-74)


Interpretation/Meaning of Camera Degli Sposi Frescoes
Analysis of Other Early Renaissance Paintings


Artist: Andrea Mantegna (c.1431-1506)
Medium: Fresco painting
Genre: Renaissance portraits
Movement: Renaissance art
Location: Palazzo Ducale, Mantua.

For other important pictures, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed.

The Court of Gonzaga by Mantegna
The Court of Gonzaga
This fresco is another
wonderful work of the
Italian Renaissance.

Art Appreciation
See our educational essays:
Art Evaluation and also:
How to Appreciate Paintings.

Interpretation of Camera Degli Sposi Frescoes by Mantegna

One of the most famous examples of Early Renaissance art, the ceiling and mural painting in the Camera degli Sposi (room of the spouses, or bridal chamber) located at the Palazzo Ducale, Mantua, was executed by the Padua-born painter Andrea Mantegna. Earning the astonishingly high salary of 180 ducats a year as court painter to Ludovico Gonzaga (1412-78) Duke of Mantua - a sum which reflected his reputation as an outstanding figure in Early Renaissance painting and perhaps the finest 15th century Italian artist outside Florence - Mantegna was the first painter of any real standing to be a resident of Mantua, where he spent 46 years of his life in the service of Ludovico and his successors. The Camera degli Sposi was a relatively small reception room located in the north tower of the Castel San Giorgio, part of the Ducal Palace, which - for unknown reasons - was later renamed Room of the Spouses. It is also, more accurately, called the Camera Picta (painted room), and Mantegna's illusionistic fresco paintings transformed it with colour and extra space, using the trompe l'oeil painting technique known as quadratura. Indeed, his pictures appear to extend the Camera Picta through the ceiling and up into the sky, and through the walls on either side out into a terrace and landscape.



Compared to the fabulous wealth of the Medici family of Florence, the income of the Gonzaga family was somewhat limited. Although rulers of Mantua (a small independent state in Northern Italy) since 1328, their lands on the Lombardy plain compared very unfavourably with those of states like Venice and Milan. Pope Pius II described it in 1460 as "marshy and unhealthy... all you can hear are the frogs." When he came to power in 1444, Marquis Ludovico Gonzaga determined to remedy all this and give Mantua a fitting reputation. He drained the marshes, improved the architecture and did all he could to attract the finest painters, sculptors and architects to his court. He succeeded in attracting two of the top Early Renaissance artists - namely, Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72), who designed churches for him in the manner of Greek temples, and Andrea Mantegna who became his court painter. Actually, aside from the large salary, the real reason why Mantegna agreed to come to Mantua, was probably Ludovico's understanding of fine art painting, his appreciation of Renaissance techniques such as linear perspective, foreshortening and chiaroscuro, and his willingness to spend money on the best colour pigments like gold leaf and lapis lazuli. As a testimony to his efforts, not long after Ludovico's death in 1478, Lorenzo de'Medici - probably the greatest of all Renaissance art collectors - paid a special visit to Mantua to admire its artworks. Out of a frog-ridden swamp, had arisen a city whose fame had spread throughout all Italy within a matter of 20 years.

The Ducal Palace

Comprising numerous buildings, connected by galleries and other corridors, and surrounded by gardens, the Palazzo Ducale di Mantova consists of over 500 rooms and served as the royal residence of the ruling Gonzaga family for almost four centuries (1328-1707). Although best known for Mantegna's frescos in the Camera degli Sposi, the palace boasts a wide range of other decorative and architectural elements. It is now preserved as a museum.

Fresco Paintings in the Camera degli Sposi

Only two of the walls are decorated with narrative pictures: the north wall with a group portrait of the Gonzaga family, known as The Court Scene; and the west wall with The Meeting, and two other scenes. The south and east walls are decorated with imitation drapery. According to recent analysis, Mantegna began by painting the circular window in the di sotto in su ceiling oculus, before moving on to the Court scene on the north wall, then the east and south walls, and finally the Meeting scene on the west wall. The decoration of the room took Mantegna about nine years to complete.

Di sotto in su Ceiling Panel

On the vaulted ceiling of this small square room is the famous circular window, or oculus, which Mantegna used to create the illusion of a painted space with an open view upward into the heavens for the first time in the history of western art. The opening is circumscribed by a balustrade over which playful putti, human figures and animals lean and gaze downward. This di sotto in su ceiling panel uses foreshortening to place the viewer in a position far below the painting - a perspective that was emulated by later artists, especially during the Baroque era. The surrounding ceiling ribs and decorative lozenges are painted to simulate marble, while the backgrounds to the triangular spaces at the edges of the ceiling are painted to resemble mosaics, a device later used by Raphael in the Raphael Rooms at the Vatican.

The Court of Gonzaga: North Wall

The fresco mural known as The Court of Gonzaga (La Corte dei Gonzaga) on the north wall, contains a wonderful picture of the Gonzaga family and court, including various courtiers, and a pet dog. The Duke, Ludovico, speaking with an official on the left of the picture, is dressed informally, with his wife Barbara von Hohenzollern-Brandenburg seated next to him in the centre, surrounded by her sons and daughters (Paola and Barbara), a nurse, and a female dwarf. This remarkable work, one of the greatest portrait paintings of the 15th century, contains an important narrative, namely the delivery of an important letter, which Ludovico holds in his hands. The blond young man on the right of the group with a dagger at his waist is Rodolfo Gonzaga.

The Meeting: West Wall

The fresco painting known as The Meeting (L'Incontro) on the west wall of the Camera degli Sposi shows Ludovico in official dress meeting with his son Francesco Gonzaga, following his elevation to the rank of Cardinal in 1462. Also present is the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III and Christian I of Denmark. Given the real age of his son (17) at the time, the depicted scene is almost certainly an idealized version of the historical meeting. The letter held by Ludovico in the painting of The Court of Gonzaga on the north wall is believed to represent the arrival of news concerning Francesco Gonzaga's appointment as Cardinal.

Gold Drapery: South/East Walls

The south and east walls of the Camera degli Sposi have no narrative pictures. These are decorated with curtains in gold brocade. To achieve this effect, Ludovico purchased a total of 4,000 sheets of gold leaf in early 1474.


Noted for his sculptural approach to figurative art, Mantegna's most famous individual work is the illusionistic tempera painting Lamentation over the Dead Christ (c.1470-80, Milan). His trompe l'oeil frescoes in the Camera degli Sposi rank alongside the Brancacci Chapel Frescoes (1424-8) by Masaccio, as some of the greatest Renaissance paintings of 15th century (quattrocento) art.



Other Early Renaissance Paintings Analyzed

Tommaso Masaccio (1401-28)
Holy Trinity (1428) Santa Maria Novella, Florence.

Piero Della Francesca (1415-92)
Flagellation of Christ (1450-60) Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino.

Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506)
Lamentation Over the Dead Christ (1470-80) Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510)
La Primavera (1482-3) Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
Birth of Venus (1484-6) Uffizi.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
Virgin of the Rocks (1483-5) oil on panel, Louvre, Paris.
Lady with an Ermine (Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani) (1490) Czartoryski Museum.
The Last Supper (1495–98) Tempera/oil, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan.

• For more about fresco murals, see our main index: Homepage.

© All rights reserved.