It may be that the old man is the Mincio, as you say, and the lake the one next to Mantua. The swan is a good association. However this interpretation does not exclude the one I advanced, using Dante. Dante, like Virgil, was a son of Mantua. Both are appropriate. And otherwise the scene I have excerpted (from the much larger fresco, to which you provided a link) is full of mythological details. The child on a goat still suckling its nurse is probably Dionysus fleeing the Titans; he even changes into a goat in his attempt to elude them. Above the nurse is a bacchanale, with revelers blowing trumpets and one carrying the Dionysian liknon, as seen on Roman-era sarcophagi and depicted by Mantegna in Mantua earlier. It is as Sonia Cavicchioli says in Cupid & Psyche: An Illustrated History, p. 137:
By the "west wall" Cavicchioli means the same fresco that the Web Gallery, http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/g ... 4east.html, calls the "east wall."The first impression is that of a bacchanal: on the west wall we see mainly satyrs and goats; on the south wall are Bacchus and his train, with the drunken Silenus and exotic animals, while in the background, behind the figures of Cupid and Psyche, other satyrs prepare a sacrifice to Bacchus.
In the detail I selected, there is more than just "satyrs and goats." Romulus and Remus are in the foreground, next to their she-goat foster-mother. In the left background is the then newly appreciated statue in the Parthenon of Hercules or more likely Dionysus (
who would have once held a bunch of grapes in the hand now absent from the statue and its painted representation.
The swan, for its part, is reminiscent of Zeus, who took the same position between the other's legs in Renaissance representations of him with Leda (e.g. http://www.bodkinprints.co.uk/product.php?id=38). Cavicchioli notes that some scenes on the walls of the "Room of Psyche" are borrowed from the Hypnerotomachia. It has an illustration of Leda and the swan. I will see if I can post a copy. Perhaps the swan's pose comes from there.
The rest of the fresco, to the right of my excerpt, and extending to the other wall on its left, portrays one or more banquets. On the west wall, besides "satyrs and goats" are also Venus and Mercury. Between the two scenes, and my detail between them, these mythological details serve to situate Mantua, by the references you point out, in the realm of the gods.
As for the second stream, in relation to Mantuan geography, I notice on the map you posted, Marco, that there are two small rivers running through the middle of Mantua from either side, one from Lago Superiore and the other from Lago Inferiore, making the old part of Mantua (but not the part where the Palacio Te is) almost an island. That situation is duplicated in the fresco, if the nymph is seated on the part that connects the "island" with the mainland.
Cavicciolli says that the Palacio Te (which contain the frescoes) is itself on an island. I do not see that on the map.
For Cavicciolli, there is some ambiguity about where the banquet scenes are located, whether on earth or in heaven. She writes
Well, if not in heaven, it is at least in mythological space. It is not in a Neoplatonist heaven, given all the sensuality. In October of 1527, Cavicciolli tells us,When we come to the great banquet illustrated on the south and west walls (figs. 80, 81), not only the difficulty of deciphering the subject but also the ambiguity of the location strike the observer. If we admit that it depicts the conclusion in heaven of the myth, this is in contrast with Raphael's logical choice to place the final scenes at the highest point of the ceiling. In any case, it proposes a promiscuous representation of divine and mythological loves marked by a strong sensual content on the remaining two walls of the room. (p. 157)
He was referring to a planned statue, not the voluptuous figure in the center of the "west wall" fresco; but the general spirit is clear. Federico awaited the statue "with devotion."Pietro Aretino wrote to Federico II: "I believe that the very excellent Messer Jacapo Sansovino will decorate the room with a Venus as real and alive that she will fill the minds of all who see her with libidinous thoughts."
While Cavicciolli goes on in a similar vein for two pages about the "west wall" fresco, all she has to say about the detail I posted is "bacchanal" and "satyrs and goats."
Now Marco has found indications that Mantua itself is part of that scene. In this frame of mind, I can almost imagine myself sitting on a cafe terrace sipping a drink, waiting for some excellent food, and looking out on the Lago di Mezzo. I hope someday. Thanks for situating the banquet scene geographically, Marco.
In the mythological space, there are some other details I'd like to discuss.
The girl next to Love/Cupid, in the green dress, would seem to be Cupid's bride Psyche. Psyche is portrayed in a green dress numerous times in this "Room of Psyche." Admittedly, this one has a different hair style. Perhaps a different assistant did this scene. If indeed it is Psyche, that does not exclude either her or the nymph with the two jars as Mantua. But I am not sure what the allegorical significance of identifying Mantua with Psyche would be.
The coin you found is impressive. But I notice that it was done at least 50 years after the fresco. Could the identification of Mantua with a girl looking at an old man, the river, have come somewhat later than the fresco, and perhaps even been suggested by it, although it had never occurred to the original artist or program-writer?
I am not sure what the looks are about, but I don't see why it should be a love story. It may have to do with time and getting old. Psyche and Cupid can look at the old man without fear, because Psyche has conquered death. The other, a nymph, is naturally immortal; perhaps she looks with disdain at the old man, in the way of youth, who think they will always be as they are now. Otherwise, I don't know what her look is about. Perhaps all of them are looking in fascination and horror at what the old man and the swan are up to. Is it a female swan, about to get pregnant with Virgil, the one "born among the swans"?The fresco depicts a love scene, based on the gazes of the characters:
* Love (on the right) looks at Mincio
* the girl (Mantua?) next to Love also looks at Mincio
* Mincio looks at the girl with two jars (another allegory, likely, another river with a feminine name and two sources)
* the girl with two jars looks back at Mincio (and seems to be afraid)
I think we are dealing with multi-layered allegory, some details fitting one, some another, some more than one. And some, perhaps, found by a later generation.