Dining in the Gonzaga Suburban
Palaces : The Use and Reception of
Lisa Boutin Vitela
This article explores connections between istoriato (narrative-painted) maiolica dishes created for marchesa Isabella d’Este and her son duke Federico II Gonzaga and dining rituals at their suburban palaces. Due to its low intrinsic value, maiolica was especially well-suited for use at their suburban palaces, as these retreats were usually expected to be less ostentatious than the court in Manuta. These palaces outside the Mantuan city limits, such as Isabella’s palazzo di Porto, were places of learned discussion, lush gardens, and outdoor dining. The decoration of the Gonzaga maiolica dishes, which included imprese of the marchesa and duke, stories and characters from classical literature, musical motifs, and verdant landscapes, would have resonated with visitors to the palaces, who would have viewed similar iconography in the palace decoration and enjoyed the suburban palace gardens. Therefore, the Gonzaga maiolica dishes served as an important part of the dining rituals that took place at these retreats by inspiring discussions and reinforcing the palaces’ visual messages.