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Zelotti's Epic Frescoes at Cataio

The Obizzi Saga

Irma Jaffe

Publication Year: 2008

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.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 9-10

List of Illustrations

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pp. 11-14

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pp. 15-16

In the course of carrying out research, Gernando Colombardo and I have had the generous assistance of the staffs of many libraries. In the United States, we want to thank particularly JamesMcCabe, director of Fordham University Libraries; Linda Lo Schiavo, director of Fordham’s Quinn Library; and David Vassar, Charlotte Labbé, and DebbieWinkler, also on the Fordham University Library staff. Our thanks go to the New York Public Library, especially to ...

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Author's Note

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pp. 17-17

The cracks of history opened wide around the so-called castle of Cataio, built by Pio Enea Obizzi between 1570 and 1573 (illus. 2). The Obizzi name is no longer remembered, since the family became extinct in the early nineteenth century and the castle passed into other hands. The writer Giuseppe Betussi (ca. 1520–75), who conceived the saga on which is based the extraordinary cycle of forty frescoes on the walls of the castle’s six great galleries on the piano nobile, and the artist Battista...

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pp. 18-22

The smell of wet plaster is sharp. It catches the back of the throat with a metallic click. Plaster is not an inert substance. It is, in its damp state, an active mass of molecules, all arranging and rearranging themselves to eventually become the basis for the material that has for centuries been used to shape moldings or slide onto walls. When it eventually dries and is sanded, it glows with some inner light that separates it from mere white paint. In...

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Chapter One: Peering Through the Cracks of History

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pp. 23-36

Cataio lies within the borders of Battaglia Terme, a town about forty miles from Venice in the province of Padua (illus. 5). Documents show that “ca’ tajo” designated the cutoff where the land was excavated during the thirteenth century to make one of the canals that slice through the area. Legend had it that the name derived from Cathay, made famous in Italy by Marco Polo, and that the great castle that dominates the town was...

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Chapter Two: Forerunners of Betussi's Obizzi Saga

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pp. 37-44

Betussi did not exaggerate when he told his fictive tourists that the frescoed galleries of the castle at Cataio were unique.1 It was true, he explained as he guided them through the six great salons painted by Zelotti and assistants between 1570 and 1573, that many princes had brought their ancestors to life with portrait statues and paintings, and true, he acknowledged, that Cosimo I commissioned decorations that honored his family in the Palazzo ...

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Chapter Three: Zelotti's Frescoes at the Castle of Cataio

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pp. 45-132

At the entrance to the Grand Salon (illus. 17), Betussi establishes the context immediately, bringing to visitors’ attention three oil paintings on the ceiling that he identified as Democracy, Aristocracy, and Monarchy, “the three kinds of government.”1 In each painting a group of figures in meaningful poses—standing, sitting, kneeling, reclining, turning this way and that—surround a principal figure at the center, personifications, respectively...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 133-136


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pp. 137-143

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780823248704
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823227426
Print-ISBN-10: 0823227421

Page Count: 144
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 811403284
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Zelotti's Epic Frescoes at Cataio

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Subject Headings

  • Zelotti, Gian Battista, 1526-1578.
  • Betussi, Giuseppe, 16th cent.
  • Mural painting and decoration, Italian -- Italy -- Battaglia Terme -- 16th century.
  • Mural painting and decoration, Renaissance -- Italy -- Battaglia Terme.
  • Mannerism (Art) -- Italy -- Battaglia Terme.
  • History in art.
  • Obizzi family.
  • Painting -- Italy -- Battaglia Terme.
  • Cataio (Battaglia Terme, Italy).
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