(b. ca. 1499, Roma, d. 1546, Mantova)

View of the Palazzo del Tè

Palazzo del Tè, Mantua

Outside the gates of Mantua on the island of Te there was a large stud farm belonging to the marchesi of Gonzaga. From 1526 onward the young Federico had the stalls converted to a large palazzo-like villa: a place for pleasure and courtly entertainments, an island of leisure, love, and display of a ruler's status. It took ten years to complete the palazzo. As a child Federico had spent several years at the court of Julius II in Rome, where he became familiar with the new art of the High Renaissance and the Roman culture of villas. From 1515 to 1517 he lived in France, in the circle of King François I, who lived in various châteaux on the Loire.

The design of the architecture and decoration was in the hands o a single artist: Giulio Romano. His design was based on the ideal plan for a single story Roman house with a vestibule and a large atrium.

In order to decorate the villa's vast surface areas with fresco and stucco in a short period of time, Giulio Romano put together an enormous workshop of artists who could work up and then execute his designs while maintaining, as far as possible, a uniform stylistic tone. The master established the overall decorative framework of a room, the composition of its figural groups, and the placement of individual figures in an impressive number of drawings. His assistants then translated them, using a system of squaring, into cartoons that allowed the original idea to be transferred onto the walls themselves. Even the most talented artists who spent time in Giulio's workshop, like the Bolognese sculptor Francesco Primaticcio, had to rein in their own stylistic impulses in order to sustain a uniformity that reflected the master's style. And with little documentary evidence to help us, it is very difficult to distinguish individual hands in the decorative cycles.