Mantua: Sala degli Specchi

While we were in Mantua Dr. Paola Besutti took us to the Sala degli Specchi, or the Hall of Mirrors, in the Palazzo Ducale (the palace of the Gonzaga dukes). This room, constructed in the 1580s, is where musicians, including Monteverdi, rehearsed and performed many works for the Duke and his court. Monteverdi made references to this room in his letters, specifically to music being performed there. Until recently scholars believed the Hall of Mirrors was another room in the palace, despite terrible acoustics; however, Dr. Besutti discovered the actual room referred to by Monteverdi by consulting aerial views of the Palazzo in combination with other research. She explained her research and the process of finding the room while we were actually sitting in the Hall of Mirrors!


While some scholars believed the Hall of Mirrors was the room where Monteverdi’s Orfeo was performed, Dr. Besutti believes that Orfeo was rehearsed in the room but performed somewhere much larger as the performers and the audience would not have all fit in the room. One of the most interesting aspects of the room is the ceiling; it is no longer extant, but it was contoured carefully to create the best acoustics possible for the space. (You can see parts of the contoured ceiling in the reconstructed ceiling at the back of the picture)

The hallway leading to the room is covered with frescos depicting pastoral scenes of satyrs, nymphs, and other figures in a paradise-like natural landscape. The Duke had his own ornately frescoed entrance as well. The Hall of Mirrors itself was also originally decorated with frescos as well, but only parts of those are still visible. Between the early 17th century and the 20th, the room was divided into two floors when it was repurposed into an apartment- after Paola found where the room was located, the museum arranged to send a camera up through the floor dividing the room and saw the surviving frescos. This was enough evidence that the floor was taken down to return the room to its original height. You can see in the picture of us in the room that there is the corner of a building sticking out into the middle of the room (gray wall behind Devon and Ryan on the left); apparently that building was built later and, since the building is not owned by the city, they can’t tear it down to restore the Hall of Mirrors to its original size.

Overall- fantastic musicology geek-out moment!


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