FALCONETTO, Giovanni Maria
(b. 1468, Verona, d. 1535, Padova)

View of the Sala dello Zodiaco

Palazzo d'Arco, Mantua

According to Vasari, Falconetto produced a number of works for Ludovico Gonzaga, a member of a collateral branch of the ruling Gonzaga family in Mantua. These works include the fresco decoration in the Sala dello Zodiaco (Hall of the Zodiac) in what is now part of the Palazzo d'Arco. Here the artist, who was expert in all things ancient, painted a large cosmological decoration based on the Cycle of Months that Pinturicchio painted in the Roman palace of Cardinal Domenico della Rovere in about 1490, which is today almost totally lost.

Falconetto created a complex architectural framework decorated with fictive marble reliefs and pilasters sporting capricious grotesques and imperial medallions, all beneath a splendid frieze animated by satyrs, sphinxes, and a variety of monstrous creatures that alternate with mythological scenes taken from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Twelve arched openings penetrate this riot of decoration, and each offers an illusionistic view into a deep passage that ends with an architectural monument, usually something recognizable like the Arch of Augustus in Fano, the tomb of Theodoric at Ravenna, or the Coliseum. Each archway is also painted with the zodiac sign appropriate to the month it represents and is populated with characters from ancient history and myth.