Document Type

Article

Publication Date

Fall 2-15-2007

Abstract

A prominent writer, a master painter, and a treasure of art that for centuries had been largely neglected are brought brilliantly to life in this first important study of one of the great legacies of Renaissance art. The immense castle at Cataio, about thirty-five miles from Venice, was built between 1570 and 1573. An extraordinary series of frescoes, painted in 1573, covers the walls of six of its palatial halls. Programmed by Giuseppe Betussi, the forty frescoes depict momentous events in the history of the Obizzi family from 1004 to 1422. Executed by Giambattista Zelotti and assistants, the frescoes, plus ceiling decorations, are painted in a Mannerist, highly illusionist style with such skill that the walls seem to be windows through which one views battle scenes, weddings, political negotiations, and other episodes in the dramatic history of the Obizzi family.

Now one of the most distinguished scholars of Italian art takes readers room by room, fresco by fresco, on the first guided tour of this Betussi-Zelotti masterpiece. Writing with characteristic clarity, Irma Jaffe combines art history, iconography, formal analysis, Italian history, and the story of the Obizzi family in a richly detailed esthetic, social and historical introduction to the entire series.

Describing and explaining with spirit and authority the composition and meaning of each fresco—each illustrated with full color plates—Jaffe also illuminates the fascinating decorations on the ceilings and overdoors of the great rooms. In figures that personify virtues and vices, to comment on the events painted on the walls beneath them, the values of sixteenth century Italy are reflected with uncommon clarity in both the fresco saga and the decorations above.

A full understanding of Mannerism and sixteenth century painting must now include the contribution of Battista Zelotti. In the scenes at Cataio he reveals the possibilities available to Mannerist style in his countless poses of the human figure and of horses, in his variety of settings---indoor and outdoor, land and sea---and in the range of preeminent sixteenth century values such as family rank and pride, personal courage, and religion that are expressed in his Saga of the Obizzi family. Zelotti's masterpiece carries the artificiality inherent in Mannerism to a new level of theatrical drama. Viewing the scenes of fierce battles, magnificent weddings, assassinations, and triumph after triumph, suggests to modern viewers something of the splendor of grand opera.

For Renaissance scholars and students, for art historians, for travelers and art lovers interested in the heritage of the Renaissance in Italy and in the glorious estates of the Veneto, Zelotti’s Epic Frescoes at Cataio: The Obizzi Saga will be an indispensable introduction and guide to a treasure hidden in plain sight for many years.

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