- Zelotti's Epic Frescoes at Cataio: The Obizzi Saga
This book brings to readers many color images of the scenes depicting the saga of the Obizzi in Giambattista Zelotti's impressive paintings at the Castello del Cataio, and it sets the crafted history of the Obizzi family in its historic context. The program was developed by Giuseppe Betussi for Eneo Pico degli Obizzi and is explained at length in Betussi's Ragionamento sopra Cathaio, Padua, 1573. Betussi's preface says he wrote the Ragionamento as a dialogue to further insure the fame of the family. While the existence of the Cataio series and its painter were not as unknown as the press release for the book claims, the Castello was until recently only rarely open to visitors. These included both authorities of the Soprintendenza del Veneto and scholars, even (despite contrary publicity) at least one American scholar.
The Jaffe-Colombardo text does not discuss the condition of the frescoes, which appear to have been refreshed recently. The full cycle is assigned to Zelotti, which fits with Betussi's identification of him as author of both ceiling paintings and wall frescoes, and it is noted that he must have had assistants. In 1962 Crosato (cited below) considered the presence of assistants at Cataio and identified the hand of Girolamo Pisani, shortly thereafter active at the Villa Verlati.
The book's first chapter offers background on the Obizzi family, on Betussi, and on Battista Zelotti. The Obizzi are briefly traced from their appearance in Northern Italy in the Middle Ages to the building and furnishing of the Castello in the Cinquecento. Giuseppe Betussi of Bassano worked as a writer and editor working inter alia on famous families of Italy. In the brief review of Zelotti's work, his extant fresco cycles at Villa Emo and Villa Godi are rightly stressed; his tondi in the Libreria Marciana are reported as six instead of three (of which one was later replaced). It would have been useful to mention his contemporary work in fresco and on canvas at the Abbey of Praglia (near Cataio), his surviving fresco fragments from the Villa Soranzo, and his lost façade frescoes in Venice, known from engravings.
Chapter 2 addresses the question of precedents to the narrative program at Cataio and its function in celebrating and enhancing the fame of a family. Betussi himself cited Vasari's frescoes in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Bertoia's fresoes at Palazzo San Secondo, Parma, and Zuccaro's frescoes in the Palazzo Farnese, Rome, as thematic precedents, clearly aiming to top them. Rodolfo Pallucchini wrote in [End Page 1253] 1968 of the importance of the cycle's theme and suggested that Betussi's elaborate program may have constrained Zelotti's style by necessitating so many "personaggi . . . cavalieri, soldati" ("Giambattista Zelotti e Giovanni Antonio Fasolo," Bollettino del Centro Internazionale di Studi Andrea Palladio 10:203-28, especially 221-22).
Chapter 3 turns to the Zelotti paintings at Cataio, taking the frescoes and the stories through six halls, room by room. Shown in a small ground plan, the piano nobile halls are titled Genealogy, Popes, Ferrara, Prudence and Peace, San Marco, and Florence. In each instance Jaffe, with Colombardo, describes the scene (each incorporating an inscription in Latin), referring to Betussi's description and sometimes pointing out an historical error. Occasionally a brief quote from Betussi is included. The history of the Obizzi is told mainly in political terms. Most subjects in the wall frescoes are battles, surrenders, or victories, or moments of merit recognized. Some ceiling paintings in oil are described and illustrated, and frescoed allegorical figures over doors are selectively illustrated and described. The relationship, clearly intended by Betussi, between the allegorical works and the histories is touched upon in these instances.
The complex was catalogued in Luciana Crosato's Gli affreschi nelle ville venete of 1962 (cited by Jaffe and Colombardo, but with the author given as Lucio); it was briefly considered in Gisolfi...