Nicola Maffei (1487-1536) was a Count in the Mantuan aristocracy and an art collector. He was member of the wealthy Maffei family, which had been established in northern Italy since the thirteenth century. Nicola was close with the Gonzagas, who seized control of Mantua, and developed a close relationship with Federico Gonzaga in particular. Nicola served as a military captain and a part-time diplomat for Federico in the 1520s. He undertook several trips to the court of Charles V to successfully establish a positive relationship between the Hapsburg emperor and the Gonzagas; one of these trips brought him to Naples and Rome shortly before his death (brought on by illness).
Nicola was an avid collector of paintings, sculptures, and jewelry. He commissioned many works—including Titian’s Supper at Emmaus, an early version of a work often reproduced—and gifted pieces to his friends. He also imported a great deal of antiquities from throughout the Italian peninsula; in doing so, he occasionally competed with other noble families over the collection of antique art. He was very close with local artists in Mantua and personally kept correspondence with more distant artists, like Titian. The Supper at Emmaus contains the Maffei coat of arms and, most likely, portrait likenesses of Nicola and Federico Gonzaga.
Nicola had established a large and varied collection by his death, including works by Titian and Correggio. A 1589 inventory of the Maffei collection after the death of Nicola’s grandson counted 129 paintings and 31 sculptures. Of these paintings, 79 were religious works, 26 were portraits, and 8 had mythological subjects. After Nicola’s death, many of the works collected by him and his sons were sold and dispersed; several were absorbed into the Gonzaga collection.
Rebecchini, Guido. Private Collectors in Mantua, 1500-1630. Rome: Ed. di Storia e Letteratura, 2002, pgs. 52-85, 278, 287.