Search on the site:
Cerca nel sito
Tempio Leon Battista Alberti

Occasio et Poenitentia

This work is a fresco that adorned the hood of a fireplace in a private home in Mantua; the use of a single colour in imitation of sculpture and ancient art is evident in it.

The scene depicted is quite unusual, it is a real cultured invention, which has triggered a long interpretative debate over time. On the left we find a female figure balancing on a sphere, leaning her torso and head back and looking towards the couple standing next to her. She has wings on her feet, fluttering robes, is bald and a thick tuft of hair covers her eyes. The female figure standing next to her is depicted on a rectangular pedestal and holds a boy who advances towards the moving figure in an attempt to grasp it.

If we wish to understand the meaning of this depiction, we have to rely on literary sources: an epigram from the 4th century A.D. by the poet Ausonius and a letter from Mario Equicola to Francesco II Gonzaga from 1503 come to our aid. The figure on the left represents the Opportunity, the opportunity that must be seized. The female figure on the right is Paenitentia, a virtue similar to Wisdom, which helps to foresee the consequences of hasty and impulsive action. The young man who is detained is urged to reflect, not to be too hasty in his decisions and at the same time to seize the opportunity without letting it slip away.

This is the theme of the crossroads between virtue and vice, which we can sum up in the Latin saying ‘Festína lente’: ‘hurry slowly’: act early but with caution! The striking fresco was executed in the early 16th century by an artist, whose name has not yet been identified, in tune with the language and style of Andrea Mantegna.

Dove vedere quest’operaWhere to see this work of art

late 15th century
fresco torn and mounted on honeycomb panel

Other Works of art from this Exhibition

Our Lady of Victory

The busts of Virgil, Francesco II Gonzaga and Battista Spagnoli for the Arch of Battista Fiera

The Triumphs of Caesar