Mondadori Collection, Palazzo Te

Donated by the Mondadori family in 1974 and on permanent display at Palazzo Te since 1983, the collection includes 19 works by Federico Zandomeneghi and 13 by Armando Spadini.

The Mondadori family’s decision was prompted by a desire for the public to have access to the paintings collected with such enthusiasm by Arnoldo Mondadori, and by the museum’s informative purpose.

Federico Zandomeneghi (1841-1917) was an important figure among late 19th century Italian artists, and several monographic exhibitions of his work have been held in recent years.

Venetian by birth, after a formative experience with the Macchiaioli in Florence, he moved to Paris in 1874. Here he developed his own personal style of Impressionism. He was particularly influenced by the painting of Degas, as can clearly be seen in works such as Al caffè and La grande danseuse.

The highly original pastels on display at Palazzo Te (La lezione, Il risveglio, Il compito, to mention a few) demonstrate Zandomeneghi’s skilful use of light and luminous colour. Also notable are his scenes of daily life, often with female subjects, where his attention is focused on gestures and the feelings these arouse.

His final years were devoted to still life works, also well represented in the Palazzo Te collection.

The paintings by Armando Spadini (1883-1925)at Palazzo Te reveal much about Arnoldo Mondadori’s preferences as a collector: his love of oils and studies of light en plein air and intimate, familiar scenes. Examples of these include Maternità, Bambini all’aria aperta, Bambina (Anna) tra i fiori and Il mattino.

Intimity unveiled
The exhibition also features works by Zandomeneghi and Spadini, two very important painters from Mantua. Both artists formed shapes using light: Zandomeneghi paints highly structured figures, while Spadini uses bright colours to represent characters in their daily intimacy.

A venetian impressionist
The core of the collection of modern art of Palazzo Te is composed of the donation Arnoldo Mondadori (2 November 1889, Poggio Rusco-8 June 1971,Milan). The renown publisher, born in the province of Mantua, decided to donate the works by Federico Zandomeneghi and Armando Spadini to a public institution. His wish was to open an art gallery in Segrate, where his company is based. After his death his wife Mimma Berardi and his brothers decided to donate the collection to the Museum of Mantua, the city where the most important Italian publishing house of the twentieth century was founded in 1907. A part of the donation was first exhibited at Palazzo Te in 1974, then in 1983 the whole collection was put on display. These painting are mostly the work of contemporary artists, many from Mantua. The collection reflects the taste of Arnoldo Mondadori: there is something intimate about these paintings, almost domestic; the use of light plays an important role and brings to mind French Impressionism. Federico Zandomeneghi, from Venice, gives us some of the finest examples of this use of light: here he represents, creating an atmosphere similar to that of a fairy-tale, scenes from everyday life. He moved to Paris in 1884, where he became friends with Renoir and Degas, and took part in four of the eighth Impressionist exhibitions, starting in 1879. This painting shows a cook holding a plate, her delicate and caring attitude is well represented by the remarkable contrast between the different shades of colour. The work was completed in 1881.

At the cafè (Femme au bar)
This is perhaps the most celebrated work of the author. The scene takes place in Paris, capital of frivolous lifestyle in the eighties of the nineteenth-century.

Zandomeneghi was an excellent portrait painter, here a woman wearing a veil sits in a seductive and allusive way. One man is drinking, of another one we see only the hand. Her red lips, the large flower on her dark dress and her yellow gloves stand out, she seems to offer herself to the viewer and is surrounded by a sensuous group of men.

A bunch of flower
The style of this painting, that dates to 1894, is particularly reminiscent of the work by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841 – 1919). In particular his influence is visible in the pink shade of the child’s cheeks and clothes; she appears to be almost crushed under the weight of a very big bouquet of flowers, though the compositional balance is perfect: the large section depicting the side walk is almost empty, while the upper part of the painting shows an explosion of coloured petals.

In the painter’s study
A fundamental characteristic of Zandomeneghi’s work is that he gives the impression to be painting with pastel colours.

In fact the constitutive elements of his painting are coloured lines, both long and short, juxtaposed and sometimes overlapping.

He captures the figures in a kind of serene ecstasy, completely immersed in what they are doing. In this painting, dated 1896, a lady with a flowered hat blissfully observes the work of the painter, gracefully leaning on her umbrella.

The carpet in the foreground is magnificent, we have the impression we could reach out and touch it. As always, inside the atelier here depicted there are paintings scattered all around, they are very expressive even though they are only just sketched.

The absorbed young girl shows her white and pink dress in front of a wood, the dominant colours are here green and pink. The red of the ribbon she is wearing in her hair captures the viewers attention. Impressionism taught Zandomeneghi the art of separating the colours, and to eliminate black, obtaining a much lighter effect.

This work, painted in the first years of the twentieth century, represents something very Italian. It is not only the choice of colours, that brings to mind the Italian flag, but also the features of the girl, who is similar to the characters depicted in the works of the Macchiaiuoli and more specifically of Giovanni Fattori (1825 – 1908). As he grew older, the artist seemed to go back to the classical art of his homeland, however without putting aside what he had learnt on the use of light during his French experience.

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Girl with flowers
The little girl seems to move in an abstract space, where the dominant colours are blue and grey. Her dress seems to be emerging from the bottom of this blue patch, and lights it up. Also the bow in her red hair is blue. She is holding flowers with a long stem, her attitude is of devout intensity. A small masterpiece, painted around 1915, of daily grace and chromatic charm.

The obvious reference of this work of the first decade of the twentieth century is the painting of Edgar Degas (1834- 1917). The favourite subjects of the great French Impressionist painter were indeed the dancers, portrayed in all kinds of poses, often caught off stage, getting ready or warming up. This is the case of the girl by Zandomenghi, completely immersed in her own reflection. We do not finds the grace and movement that characterize the paintings of Degas, put the contrast between the pink of the socks and the blue of her tutu makes this work very powerful. Also, two details in particular are worthy of attention: on one side is a mirror, with a mechanical quality, on the other side a soft and light curtain. The two elements seem to delimit a stage for the dancer who is standing at the centre.

In this work, that dates to 1917, the attention given to still life, both by Impressionists painters and by Zandomeneghi, becomes manifest. Although this is not one of the main themes to be found in the paintings of the period, it is a subject that allows, as is visible in the work of Manet, to focus on the appearance of objects. Things seem to become undone, here the vegetables are almost an excuse to experiment with strokes and colour, and such a familiar object seems to be ennobled.

This work pays much more attention to the formal aspects of painting. Here the fruit is used, as for example happens in Cezanne, to create volumes and create contrast between different areas of the painting where different colours are used. Zandomeneghi is often criticized for a certain stiffness. His art does however also consist in immobilizing some aspects of life, setting them inside an endless mirror. Also, by looking closely at the canvas it is possible to make out rapid strokes that continuously recompose colour and play with light, a light that is more Venetian than Parisian.

The Florentine Armando Spadini is considered to be the founder of the Roman School. In his short life he took part in an important series of exhibitions in Italy; furthermore, he held a solo exhibit at the International Exhibition of Art in Venice in 1924. Mother and child is a recurring theme in Spadini’s work: he portrays them with a post-Impressionist touch, creating figures from almost nothing, enriched by a superb chromatic quality. In this work, completed in 1911, a dozing child leans on the bosom of a happy mother, in a bourgeois setting that makes the depiction of intimacy his strong point.

Family Group
Even Spadini, despite the few exchanges with foreign artists, is well aware the importance of Impressionist painting. In this group of mother, son, daughter and maid, bodies and dresses seem to come undone in a vortex of sensations, that evokes the paintings by Renoir. We are however already in the second decade of the twentieth century. The artist creates strokes and movements typical of post-impressionism, in the long arms of the mother and in the pattern of the floral decorations of the tapestry, which twist in an unnatural way to embrace the characters.

Boy with a plate of fruits
With Spadini it is difficult to distinguish between sketches and finished works. What becomes evident here, however, is the ability to portray childhood for what it is, a continuous mix of sincere emotions, including happiness and bewilderment. Here, the child seems to explore with vivid eyes the surrounding reality, while stiffening his body, sitting next to a beautiful plate full of fruit, which illuminates the painting with its bright colours. The work is dated 1913.

Girl amongst flowers
Here is one of the painter’s masterpieces, probably dating to the years around 1915. On the back of the canvas there is sketch of a hen. Again, Renoir is the name that comes to mind. We could talk here about Panic Impressionism, because the image of the little girl is wonderfully blended with the flowers that she is about to grasp, and they seem to caress her youth. In the triumph of colours, we notice the magnificent ear ornament that seems to be flourishing while it emerges from under her hair. Eyes and lips are painted as splits on a gently smiling face, lost in an expression made almost entirely of light.

Boys in the open air
What is expressed here is the painter’s love for childhood, portrayed with no rhetoric. Spadini stays in close contact with reality. This is demonstrated by this work, that dates to 1915, in which two children are portrayed, one smaller and the other one a few years older, while pensively wondering through a park. The trees behind them provide the perfect setting, a green light and purple shadows, to finely represent this difficult age. The child on the left puts his little hand on his chin, while holding what is perhaps a ball with his other hand, looking away, as if to try and guess what the future has in store for him.

Boy with green
The child seems to explore with his hands the various types of vegetables that someone has left on the table. Here the colours become strong, the red is visible in many areas of the canvas, also on the baby’s cheeks, contrasting with the blue eyes and the thick dark hair which also shows some blue reflections. This painting can be rightly defined as Expressionist, because in the top left corner there is an area where colour takes over: it is perhaps a closet, but it is difficult to make out what the object is, because there is no longer any figurative reference typical of Impressionism.

The Morning
Another masterpiece dating to 1918. The artist made a preliminary sketch of the painting that bears the same name. In it the flowers that in part cover the mother are missing. The painting is quite large and impressive: a well-built child turns towards an audience admiring him. The woman is sitting on a beautifully decorated bed with flowery curtains, the dark blanket seems to unfold in ripples; she is hugging and caressing her son. The painting depicts the force of an unquestionable and intact bond. The critics of the time spoke of the influence of Rubens and of Renoir, because the features of Spadini’s characters sometimes bring to mind the over-abundance of the Flemish painter. The sweetness of the scene is however conveyed in a direct and sincere manner.

Trees in Villa Borghese
The great park in Rome is here painted in a very expressive way. The green grass and leaves seem to melt in the almost autumnal foliage of the tallest trees. Spadini is not concerned with the volumes or with the exact representation of things. What counts most is expression, the liveliness and the truth of feeling. Thus, his paintings are often little miracles of compositional balance.

This work, dating to 1918, reflects the great revolution taking place in European contemporary art at the time. The painter’s involvement in this movement is visible in the grace and simplicity of this naked woman, in the tapestry and in the bed dispersed in waves of colour, in the extreme synthesis of the fruit bowl: here it is evident that Spadini had not only learned the great lesson of Manet, but that he had also come into contact with the work of Henri Matisse. A gentle sensuality appears in the naked forms, which also conveys the absorbed expression of the young girl who shows herself to us in a simple and genuine way.

Study figure
Anna, Andrea and Maria, three of Spadini’s children, are the protagonists of this work, composed in the last years of the painter’s life. Boys who are no longer children, look at something or someone we cannot see. They seem to be concentrated, as if listening to a story or to music, we don’t know exactly what. The painter gives movement to the group, transforming the immobility of the three boys into a small whirlwind of sensations that also seems to cross the walls of the room they are sitting in. In some places the details of bodies and of robes vanish, in other places they stand out forcefully, as is the case with the dark ribbon in Anna’s hair that is also the centre of the composition.

The cat is perhaps the pet that can better enter into contact with the emotions and feelings of men. Here the painter, two years before his death, depicts a feline mother and child scene with the same grace used in many of his paintings portraying mothers and children. The three kittens crowd around the mother cat, who remains apparently impassive in her silent pride. They have different colours and different poses, the three kittens are a masterpiece of liveliness and triumphant life.

Woman’s head
Already ill, Spadini composed this work depicting his wife Pasqualina. This painting can be defined as representing a sacred theme, in fact years earlier the painter had worked on a Finding of Moses that must be seen in relation to this head. The style here is severe and fading, and it seems to indicate the acceptance of the end of life. A beautiful and sad face expresses the ability to portray emotions, the main talent of Spadini, master of touch and colour.

Palazzo Te
The Palazzo Te is a historic and monumental building in Mantua. a fine example of the mannerist style of architecture, Built between 1524 and 1534 on commission by Federico II Gonzaga, it is the most famous work of the Italian architect Giulio Romano. The complex is now home to the civic museum and, since 1990, the International Center for Art and Culture of Palazzo Te which organizes exhibitions of ancient and modern art and architecture.