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Christmas in Mantua: Santa (Lucia) is coming to town!

In Italy Santa Claus is not the only Christmas gift-giver. In many cities of Italy the kids have their presents delivered by other legendary beings, who visit different areas of Italy in different occasions.
The Christ Child (Christkind) delivers his presents in the area of Milan, and in the northen part of Lombardy, close to the Swiss canton Ticino.
Saint Nicholas visits the area of Friuli on December 6th, and the famous Befana is awaited in many areas, mostly in the central and southern Italy, on January 6th.
In the area of Mantua (and in Brescia, Bergamo, Verona, Parma and Modena as well). the kids are awarded with gifts by Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy).
According to the tradition, in the days before her feast, Saint Lucia descends from heaven and visits the humans. Escorted by a faithful donkey, Lucia goes around every house, and observes the behavior of every child. The children have to be careful: it is forbidden to see the Saint! So Lucia warns the kids about her arrival, ringing a small bell during every visit. If children break the ban and look to the Saint, they will be punished: Lucia will throw some ash in their eyes, making them go blind.
Eventually, during the night between the 12th and 13th December, Santa Lucia pays her last yearly visit to earth, entering in all the houses. Here the Saint finds a little breakfast, prepared for her by the kids, and a bowl of hay for her donkey. In return, Lucia leaves some gifts and sweets for the nice kids. But those who have been naughty will find just ash and coal.

Laura Pausini chooses Mantua

Laura Pausini, the most famous Italian singer in the world, has just released the official video of her brand new single "Se non te"  ("Sino a ti" in the Spanish version).
The music video for the song, recorded in September 2013, shows the love story of Pausini's parents. Although the plot is set in Solarolo, in Emilia-Romagna, the filming was actually shooted in Castiglione delle Stiviere, Medole, and Gastel Goffredo, three villages in the province of Mantua.

The scene in which Pausini's father works in chemist's shop was shooted in the "Farmacia Romagnolo", in Castiglione delle Stiviere.

The scene in which Pausini's mother is sewing, was filmed in the "Casa-Sartoria Pezzini", a tailor's house in Castel Goffredo.
The wedding party scene is set at the "Ristorante da Laura" in Perosso, a suburb of Castel Goffredo.

The theatre shown in the music video is the Theatre of Medole.

Thank you Laura, for loving Mantua!

Scenes in Castiglione delle Stiviere

Scenes in Medole

Corte Eremo: a Haunted Halloween in Mantua

Halloween is not a local tradition in Mantua, or, more generally speaking, in Italy. But this year a great Halloween Party is going to rock the scene in Mantua. The mind behind the party is Clark Lawrence, president of the  "Reading Retreats in Rural Italy", a cultural association based in Corte Eremo, Mantua.
Corte Eremo is a very special place: everything a travelling art lover is looking for, is here to be found: thousands of books, some of which antique and rare, beautiful paintings, and even three pianos! And – this is the real Clark’s signature! – hundreds of different plants and flowers, growing and blooming in the garden.
But, on Halloween, Clark is able to transform this place in something completely different: a cimitery, many scares, and dozens of monsters, zombies and vampires will be waiting for the guests of Corte Eremo.
Want to join this Haunted Halloween? Contact info@corteeremo.com

Halloween 2013 will be also the last chance to see the amazing photography exhibition of Sven Fennema, "Poetry of Yesteryear" at Corte Eremo!

Maybe it is not a painting by Leonardo, but it is certainly a portrait of Isabella

As an art historian, specialized on Isabella d'Este, I've been asked by the local press to share on the "Gazzetta di Mantova" my first opinions about a recently found painting, thought to be a portrait of Isabella painted by Leonardo. Here's a translation of my article in English. 

Lorenzo Bonoldi

It is well known that Leonardo da Vinci had started working on a portrait of Isabella d'Este. And, thanks to ancient documents, we also know that in the year 1500 Leonardo created two preparatory drawings, and a third version of the sketch was requested - and probably made - in 1501. 

THE COPIES OF THE DRAWING - Today six copies of the drawing are known: one in the Louvre, one in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, one in the British Museum, one in the Uffizi, and  two other copies of the Staatliche Sammlung Graphisches of Monaco of Bavaria.

However, amongst all many copies, only the one preserved in the Louvre in Paris is unanimously attributed by critics to the hand of Leonardo.

Such abundance of copies should be able to satisfy all the “fans of the Marchioness” – an expression created by Giovanni Agosti to describe all those scholars – like me –  madly in love with Isabella d'Este. But, actually, this is not enough: all of us, Isabella’s fanatics, are keeping a secret dream in our hearts. The same dream that Isabella d'Este pursued for so many years: see that profile, drawn by Leonardo da Vinci in charcoal, eventually turned into a real painting. 

THE PAINTING  - And what’s the better place to hold a secret dream, if not a security storage in Switzerland? And so, right there, in a Swiss deposit, amongst a collection of hundreds of pieces, the dream - or perhaps a mirage? – has come true. The news is fresh, and from the Italian press it was spread on the international newspapers. A sensational title was on “Sette", the magazine of Corriere della Sera: "Found after 500 years, the wonderful portrait by Leonardo da Vinci did for Isabella d'Este." And many people ask: "Really?". According to Carlo Pedretti the answer is "Yes". It has been reported that the opinion of this expert of Leonardo is favorable: the scholar sees with certainty, at least in the face of the portrait, the hand of the master. 

SURVEYS - The originality of the painting would seem to be also proven by scientific investigations. Amongst them also the famous test on carbon 14. However, in this case, cautions  are a must: the C14 dating indicates a very extensive period of time, between 1460 and 1650. And the examination provides with a dating of the materials with which the painting was done, not its execution. To put it briefly: the examination shows that the plants from which the oils used to paint the picture were derived, as well as the fibers of the canvas on which the portrait is painted, were alive between 1460 and 1650. 

A PORTRAIT TURNED INTO A SACRED IMAGE - Let's have a look at this mysterious portrait of Isabella. Same pose of the preparatory drawing, same profile, same type of dress. But there are also some differences:  a crown on her head, a palm leaf in her hand and a foreground object that looks like a wheel. In short: all the iconographic attributes of Saint Catherine of Alexandria.  The only missing thing is the halo. So this is a painting of Isabella d’Este dressed as Saint Catherine on the occasion of a strange Sacred Representation on Carnival? No: it seems that the palm leaf, the crown and the wheel - if it is a wheel – have been overpainted details, added at a later time in the aim to turn the portrait into a sacred image. This a practice it is pretty frequent in the history of art. An element proving this is an examination of the fluorescence, which – according to what the press reported  - has shown a closed book, painted under the added Saint Catherine’s wheel. This is an extremely interesting element: a closed book, in fact, is barely visible in the cartoon of the Louvre.

It’s good to remind that the drawing in the Louvre is more properly a cartoon in as much as the lines of the design are covered in a thick series of pinpricks which demonstrate how it had been prepared to transfer its outline onto another surface, using the technique of the 'spolvero' (pouncing).

THE CLOSED BOOK – With the passing of time, unfortunately, many details of the lines drawn by Leonardo went fading, but the series of pinpricks has preserved a clear trace of the original design by Leonardo: the closed book (a symbol of full knowledge),  that scientific investigations have shown under the " wheel "of the painting Swiss cardboard is also present in the Paris cartoon. And in the Oxford replica as well.

This is not the only element "disappeared" from the Louvre cartoon that comes back in the painting recently rediscovered. The lines of holes in the sheet also show that in the Paris cartoon the head of Isabella was covered by a veil. As in the Swiss painting. 

Also the v-neck shirts in a thin semitransparent fabric, covering the chest of the Marchioness appears in the Louvre cartoon. All these elements not only prove that the painting found in Switzerland comes from Leonardo's cartoon, but also that his maker has had in his hands the carton in ancient times, before these details started fading. 

PUPILS OF THE MASTER – This does not means that the painting recently found in Switzerland has been painted by Leonardo da Vinci. As I have recently demonstrated in my article appeared in the September issue of “Art and Dossier”, the italian magazine directed by Philippe Daverio, the Parisian cartoon has been used by one of the pupils of Leonardo to create one of the two musician angels, painted in the side panels of the Virgin of the Rocks. This clearly demonstrate that Leonardo's pupils had access to the cartoons of the Master, and in particular to the one for the portrait of Isabella d'Este.

Considering all of these elements, I do not think that, today, it is possible to say certainty “this painting is by Leonardo da Vinci”: the evident connection with the preparatory drawing, is not enough.

Along with the rest of the scholarly community – and with all the "fanatics of Isabella" – I will be patiently waiting for the opportunity to know all the results of the scientific investigations, hoping that others detailed images of the painting will be soon published, accompanied by x-rays, reflectographies and luminescence exams. 

NEC SPE NEC METU What, however, I feel I can say without hope and without fear (Nec spe nec metu, to quote one of the mottos of the Marchioness) is that the profile in the Swiss painting is the profile of Isabella d'Este.

And to, tell the truth, I have a hope in my heart: that this portrait of Isabella - if not by Leonardo, at least leonardesque - can soon arrive in Mantua for an exhibition. This would be an excellent opportunity, both for scholars and tourists. And the Marchioness would be very happy: the most ancient of her mottos, whose a record is preserved, is “so that I will live after death”. And, after centuries, we are still here, talking about her, and hoping to see - in Mantua! - her portrait. 
Lorenzo Bonoldi 

Helvetia: a Mantuan dessert with a Swiss name

A strong xenophilia is typical in the Mantuan gastronomic tradition. The historical links between the city and the rest of Europe have left strong marks in the local cooking.
A very good example is the Helvetia cake (also spelled Elvetia or Elvezia). Although 'Helvetia' is the Latin name of Switzerland, this cake is typical of Mantua. The dessert was invented at the end of the XVIII century, by the Putscher family. The Putschers were Swiss pastry-chefs, who moved into Mantua from the Graubünden, the largest and easternmost canton of Switzerland. As soon as they opened a shop in Mantua, the Putschers created this recipe, mixing the Swiss pastry techniques and the local ingredients (such as butter, almonds and sabayon). And they decided to call this cake "Helvetia", as a tribute of fame to their ancient land.
The Helvetia cake is a dacquoise made with layers of almond-meringue, buttercream and sabayon.

A spoon of Belgium in Mantua: the "Budino Belga"

There are some things you can easily imagine about the "Belgian Pudding": it is soft, it is delicious, it has a great taste of chocolate... but there is one thing you probably can not imagine: it is not Belgian!
The "Budino Belga" or "Dolce Belga" (i.e. "Belgian Pudding" or "Belgian Dessert") is a typical dish of the Mantuan gastronomic tradition, made with cream, eggs, vanilla, sugar, chocolate and a glass of cognac.
It is sure it has appeared in Mantua between the 20s and the 30s, but several different versions of the story go about its origin. Maybe it was invented by a belgian pastry chef, who moved in the city. Or maybe it was created for a visit of a Belgian Ambassador. According to the most trustable theory, the recepy was invented by the wife of a Mantuan horse trader, who was dealing for his business with belgian clients (yes: Mantua has a strong connection with horses, since the years of the Gonzaga Family!).
Whatever version of the story you prefer, this is something not to be missed!

The Duke of Mantua appreciated big melons. As today tourists do!

Francesco III Gonzaga appreciated big melons.

Amongst the many vegetables and fruits, who are grown with love in the land of Mantua, the melons (Cucumis melo) are surely the most famous. The flat territory of the province of Mantua perfectly matches the needs of melon plants.
At the time of the Gonzagas, the melons were quite often on the table of the Dukes of Mantua.
On 3rd August 1548, for example, four big, beautiful, juicy melons were sent as presents from the people of the village of Viadana to the Palace of Mantua.
The four pulpy gifts were presented the young Duke, Francesco III Gonzaga, his mother the dowager duchess Margherita Paleologo, and the Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga.
The Duke of Mantua, Francesco III, and his family were great appreciators of the Mantuan melons. And still today melons are often on the tables of Mantuan people, mostly in the summertime.
Want to try them? Visit Mantua and enjoy the fruits of our land!

"Mantua" or "Mantova"?

Dozens of stories go about that couple of foreign tourists, lost in Firenze, desperately looking for “Florence”. It’s an old joke, known in many different variants: sometimes they are in Venezia, looking for “Venice” or in Napoli, searching “Naples”.
To be honest, I have never had this kind of experience: all the tourists I met in my career were smart people, and they knew that “Mantua” was the English name of Mantova. But quite often they asked me what was the right name of the city. Of course you can use both of them, since “Mantua” is the exonym for “Mantova”. And “Mantua” is the word used also in the local dialect and in Latin. So, don’t worry: you can not go wrong using it.
Another frequent question is about the reason of this… in general, many people wonder why the name of some Italian cities are translated in English.
You can find many posts about this topic on Tripadvisor’s forums. And many people blame it on the colonialism of the British Empire.
Actually it has nothing to do with British colonialism... It started centuries before. For example Shakespeare mentions the city of Mantova using the name "Mantua".
The reason is that – during the Middle-Ages and the Renaissance – many diplomatic links have been bound amongst the powerful Italian city-states and foreign countries, so the names of the historic Capitals of the Italian states started to pass the borders, being changed according to the languages of the different countries.
If you notice, for example, only the cities who were VERY famous during the Renaissance have a 'foreign' name: Florence, Milan, Rome, Naples, Mantua, Turin, Venice, Syracuse.
Due to their past glories, all these cities gained the honor of an exonym. And - in my opinion - in sign of respect to history, it is right to use it. A nice way to pay a tribute to the past glories.


Here’s a list of the main Italian exonyms

Florence - Firenze
Genoa - Genova
Leghorn - Livorno
Mantua - Mantova
Milan - Milano
Naples - Napoli
Nursia - Norcia
Padua - Padova
Rome - Roma
Sienna - Siena
Syracuse - Siracusa
Trent - Trento
Turin - Torino
Venice - Venezia

Let's Visit Mantua via Instagram!

VisitMantua is keen  on the social networks… we do love to keep in touch with our customers, recurring clients and friends. And with all the people who are visiting Mantua as well! So we have added a new widget to our blog! A virtual window on Mantua, overlooking the city via the eyes of Instagram. All the pics tagged as “#Mantova” on Instagram will appear on our blog in real-time!

Enjoy the show, and follow us @visitmantua!
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