The baronial hall at Manta Castle, on the hillsides in the province of Cuneo, is home to one of the most astonishing testaments of international Gothic painting: a cycle of frescoes depicting “Heroes and Heroines” contrasting, on the opposite wall, with the mysterious depiction of the “Fountain of Youth”.
The Manta Castle complex is the result of a series of buildings beginning with the original stronghold of the XIII century; it was embellished in the 1500s by the elegant “Grotesque” hall and a delightful gallery with frescoes. The nearby parish church as precious 1400s frescoes.
Manta Castle View
An initial fortified core, standing on the top of the Manta Hill, with a view of the Monviso group, already existed in the XIII century.
The Manta Castle began to take on its present day appearance under the Saluzzo della Manta in the early 1400s. The present day appearance is therefore the typical outcome of the gradual metamorphosis of a Mediaeval castle into a complex of buildings of different periods having different styles, with the progressive loss of almost all fortification features to become an aristocratic residence.
Manta Castle Baronial Hall
Valerano, lord of Manta from 1416, commissioned organic projects to build his castle as a residential structure in keeping with the functional and decorative styles of the late Gothic period. The most significant testimony of this period is the cycle of frescoes that entirely covers the large baronial hall. The series of nine heroes and nine heroines of Antiquity and the scene of the Fountain of Youth were frescoed shortly little after 1420 by an anonymous painter known as the “Master of Manta”. No other works by this “master” are known.
The cycle of heroes and heroines
The social and political message entrusted to the sequence of eighteen heroes and heroines greeting everyone who entered the hall to meet Valerano was clearly self-celebratory. The figures, examples of virtue and heroism inspired by classic, Hebrew and Christian traditions, have precious clothes closely linked with the fashion of international courts in the early 1400s and presumably refer to the protagonists of the noble Saluzzo della Manta family.
Manta Castle Grotesque Hall
The “Grotesque” Hall, in the courtly apartment commissioned by Michelantonio in 1560, is one of the most significant settings in the castle thanks to its testimony of mannerist artistic culture. The vault is a kind of crown canopy entirely decorated with paintings and stucco-work with various themes: the phytomorphic fantasies typical of the grotesque, scenes of classic ruins or great Renaissance architecture, as well as the allegories of the Virtues in the ovals between one pendentive and another.
Manta Castle Church
The castle church has two particularly prestigious chambers, in harmony with the two most significant moments in the pictorial decoration inside the castle itself. The apse has an important cycle of frescoes depicting episodes in the life of Christ, painted almost simultaneously with the cycle in the baronial hall. The funeral chapel of Michelantonio has a square central ground plan and is surmounted by an elegant octagonal dome; nevertheless, it has the same rich stucco and fresco decoration as the vaults in the “Palazzo di Michelantonio” – probably by the same artists.
Courtesy of FAI Fondo Ambiente Italiano