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Ceiling with the enterprise of the Salamandra
Trace of the original Salamandra
Wooden ceiling in the Hall of the Horses - Detail
Ceiling of Mount Olimpo
Ceiling with rosette

Materials and methods

The ceiling is held up by beams embedded under the trusses of the roof. Made mostly of polychrome and gilded fir wood, it is a complex combination of square, pentagonal and triangular coffers formed by the interweaving of bands decorated with a braid design. The larger coffers contain wooden elements such as rosettes and devices of Mount Olympus; the smaller coffers, smaller rosettes, carved devices of the Salamander (19th century) and painted grotesques.

Recorded restoration work

Eighteenth century
In 1789-1790 the Mantuan Academy of Fine Arts reports the need to restore the ceiling as well as the frescoed walls: described as “rotten in various places”, it was also suffering from losses on the supporting elements, and some of the rosettes (8) and numerous salamanders (42) needed to be replaced.

Nineteenth century
Giovanni Antolini, Royal  Architect and inspector of the Royal Palaces of Mantua between 1806 and 1808, again points out the need for restoration work on the ceiling.
Made in around 1817, an engraving by Pietro Biaggi of the north-eastern corner of the ceiling shows the original stucco salamanders decorating the pentagonal coffers: therefore the present ones in gilded wood are of a later date.

Twentieth century
In around 1921 Dante Berzuini restored part of the ceiling, reapplying “the device in the central coffer […], which fell when a powder keg exploded” and adding missing parts of the cornice and decorative elements (such as small rosettes), which he also gilded.
In 1990, the extremely poor state of conservation of the ceiling required urgent action. Restorer Diego Voltolini of Trento consolidated polychrome parts of the ceiling which had lifted dangerously.

Restoration 1998

The work was carried out by Augusto Morari.

Conditions prior to restoration

One of the major problems was extensive lifting of the paint layer and gilding, losses in the decoration and noticeable repainting on the background of the coffers.

Work carried out

First the polychrome  and gilded areas were stabilized and the coffers were cleaned. Then the precarious carved wooden elements were secured and the losses on the cornice and other ornamental details were replaced; these included the ribbons around the Mount Olympus and Salamander devices.
The restoration revealed the original azurite-based colour of the background in the coffers. And led to the discovery, beneath the 19th century work, of traces left on the boards by the outline of the original stucco salamander, with its sinuous and lively shape.

Further reading:

  • P. ARTONI, G. MAROCCHI, I recuperati ambienti di Palazzo Te in Mantova. Tracce per una storia dei restauri, in “Storia e cultura del restauro in Lombardia. Esiti di un biennio di lavoro in archivi storici”, Associazione Giovanni Secco Suardo, Lurano, Il Prato editore, 2009, pp. 141-187.

With the support of:

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