Chapel of St Bonaventure or Castiglioni

One of the focal points of the sanctuary is the chapel of San Bonaventura, belonging to the Castiglioni family. The space is universally known as the burial place of the great humanist, Baldassarre Castiglioni, and created by the genius of the manner, Giulio Romano. A diplomat and writer, after the death of his wife, Ippolita Torelli, Baldassarre went into the service of the pope; an apostolic nuncio to Spain to Emperor Charles V, he died in Toledo in 1529, a few days after being elected bishop of Avila. His mother, Aloisia Gonzaga, arranged for his remains to be transferred to her homeland and commissioned Giulio Romano to build the chapel.

To outline the extraordinariness of the character, it should be remembered that he was the author of Il Cortegiano, one of the most representative books of the Renaissance, and of Raphael's letter to Leo X, the most extraordinary document on the protection of cultural heritage. Autographs of both these works are preserved in the State Archives of Mantua. The dedication to St Bonaventura is due to the patronage of the Castiglioni family, of whom the saint was the patron) Chiara is the origin of the sacred space. In September 1523, Baldassarre Castiglioni, about to leave for a military expedition, ordered in his will that his tomb be built in a chapel to be decorated by 'Julius Romanus pictor', who also designed the tomb where Castiglioni wished to be buried next to his wife Ippolita Torelli.

The epitaph was entrusted to Pietro Bembo. The chapel stands on angular columns, the spaces between which dilate to resemble the arms of a Greek cross, defined by round arches that prelude the frescoed vault. This is a riot of colour, frescoed from the walls to the vault, set on a complex, geometric structure that parallels that of the Camera dei Venti in Palazzo Te.

The frescoes on the roof depict four episodes relating to the resurrection of Jesus, surrounded by medallions with figures of apostles and other saints and the Castiglioni and Torelli coats of arms. The importance of the site is underlined by the use of marble in impressive quantities for the sepulchral monuments, certainly among the most splendid 16th-century monuments in the entire province. The fulcrum is, of course, the humanist's mausoleum, consisting of the sarcophagus surmounted by the stepped pyramid, with clear Raphaelesque references and culminating in the statue of the Risen One, which alludes to classical statuary.

The sarcophagus is flanked by small pillars with epigraphs (on the left, a eulogy of Balthasar, formulated by Pietro Bembo; on the right, his regret for his beloved bride) and surmounted by a stepped pyramid concluded by the statue of the Risen One. There are eight tiers, alluding to the eighth day, which is precisely, in the language of the liturgy, that of Jesus' resurrection. The monument is thus connected to the scenes on the vault to express the Christian meaning of death, which for the believer, marks the passage from the earthly to the heavenly world.

To the left of the monument is the altar, which is later, but which must have had a specific space already in Giulio Romano's original design, considering that the drawing for the altarpiece, made by Fermo Ghisoni da Caravaggio, is preserved in Weimar. The painting depicts the Virgin and Child, adored by St Francis and St Bonaventure, who, as mentioned, was a Franciscan and the patron saint of the Castiglioni family. Opposite is the sepulchral monument of Baldassare's son, Camillo Castiglione, splendid in its use of marble and architecture. Note the fine marble bust at the crowning.

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