San Gabriele or Strozzi Chapel in Mantua

Imposing in size and decoration, the chapel dedicated to St. Gabriel belonged to the Strozzi family of Mantua and was formerly dedicated to the Virgin of the Assumption and St. Ludovico. The noble family, in fact, had two main branches, one from Florence, the other from Mantua (in the capital of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, they owned a large palace behind Santa Maria del Fiore).

And it is, in fact, the coat of arms of the three moons that characterises the space, starting with the beautiful wrought iron gate with gilded bronze decorations. Unfortunately, the appearance that it must have had during the splendour of the 17th century is now mitigated by a more modest appearance made even more mournful by its state of preservation. When they arrived at the sanctuary, the Passionist fathers, in fact, put their hand to the decoration (carried out between 1920 and 1922), distorting it from the cornice downwards. On the walls run, alternating and within an ornamental module, the symbols of the Passion of Christ, while the floor bears the Passionists' sign made in mosaic. Also owing to the Passionists are the paintings in the mirrors on the sides of the altarpiece: on the left is St. Paul of the Cross, founder of the Passionists, in his cell, while on the opposite side is The Crucifixion with the Virgin, Mary Magdalene and St. John, both by an early 20th century artist, Enrico Volonterio from Milan.

Above the entrance, moreover, on the opposite side of the apse, in a lunette, is a Dead Christ, also from the 20th century and of good quality. Quite different must have been the chapel at the time of the Strozzi family. No visible trace remains of the decorations on the walls; one source seems to indicate a great 16th-century painter active in this space: Giovanni Antonio de' Sacchis known as Pordenone. The doubt remains that the 'medallions' created by the Mannerist master, who was active in Mantua, are none other than the lunettes that punctuate the upper part of the walls, which are iconographically interesting, despite being in a disastrous state of preservation.

Starting with the first on the right-hand side near the entrance, they present the stories of St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, but already the fourth lunette shows a painting style that is undoubtedly older, dating back to the 17th century, and an iconography that leads many of the images in the lunettes back to an older iconographic cycle relating to the chapel's first titular saint, St. Louis of Toulouse, which continues all the way to the apse and also involves the first lunette on the opposite side near the back wall. Returning from here towards the entrance wall, one encounters other, much more recent paintings belonging to the cycle dedicated to Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Spectacular is the vault, with several frescoes decorating the mirrors bordered by rich stucco frames: an Assumpted Madonna, not far from the works of Antonio Maria Viani, while above the apse area of the chapel, a frescoed tondo set within a rich crown of winged vólti and arabesque plant motifs, also in the style of Viani, dominates.

The iconography represented here is that of the salvation of the soul: the animula is carried to heaven, towards the Trinity, by two angels, while three other winged figures, below the space left free by the play of arms, look upwards. Magniloquent then is the altarpiece, surrounded by an imposing carved and gilded wooden altar, and characterised by the rich palette and numerous beautiful figures that often refer to other works of art. The work, attributed to Karl Santner, a painter from Munich who was active in Mantua in the early 17th century, depicts the Madonna and Child with Saints: on the sides, in fact, appear adoring St. Francis of Assisi and St. Louis of Toulouse, the former patron of the religious order that governed the sanctuary in the 17th century (the Franciscans, in fact), the latter the titular of the chapel before the change wanted by the Passionists)

The sepulchral monument leaning against the right wall, by Pietro Strozzi, made of a beautiful mixture of coloured marbles (1601), is linked to Antonio Maria Viani. On the opposite side, on the other hand, is the early 19th-century stone memorial to Marquis Luigi and Uberto Strozzi (1807).

For further information click here: Sanctuary bibliography and insights

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