Mantegna, Andrea (1431-1506),
one of the foremost north Italian painters of the 15th century. A master
of perspective and foreshortening, he made important contributions to
the compositional techniques of Renaissance painting.
at Isola di Carturo, between Vicenza and Padua) in 1431, Mantegna became
the apprentice and adopted son of the painter
Francesco Squarcione of
Padua. He developed a passionate interest in classical antiquity. The
influence of both ancient Roman sculpture and the contemporary sculptor
Donatello are clearly evident in Mantegna's rendering of the human figure.
His human forms were distinguished for their solidity, expressiveness,
and anatomical correctness.
works in Padua were religious. His first great success was a series of
frescoes on the lives of St. James and St. Christopher in the Ovetari
Chapel of the Church of the Eremitani (1456; badly damaged in World War
II). In 1459 Mantegna went to Mantua to become court painter to the ruling
Gonzaga family and accordingly turned from religious to secular and allegorical
subjects. His masterpiece was a series of frescoes (1465-74) for the Camera
degli Sposi (“bridal chamber”) of the Palazzo Ducale. In these works,
he carried the art of illusionistic perspective to new limits. His figures
depicting the court were not simply applied to the wall like flat portraits
but appeared to be taking part in realistic scenes, as if the walls had
disappeared. The illusion is carried over onto the ceiling, which appears
to be open to the sky, with servants, a peacock, and cherubs leaning over
a railing. This was the prototype of illusionistic ceiling painting and
was to become an important element of baroque and rococo art.
works varied in quality. His largest undertaking, a fresco series on the
Triumphs of Caesar (1489, Hampton Court Palace, England), displays a rather
dry classicism, but Parnassus (1497, Louvre, Paris), an allegorical painting
commissioned by Isabelle d'Este, is his freshest, most animated work.
His work never ceased to be innovative. In Madonna of Victory (1495, Louvre),
he introduced a new compositional arrangement, based on diagonals, which
was later to be exploited by Correggio, while his Dead Christ (Pinacoteca
di Brera, Milan) was a tour de force of foreshortening that pointed ahead
to the style of 16th-century Mannerism.
One of the key
artistic figures of the second half of the 15th century, Mantegna was
the dominant influence on north Italian painting for 50 years. It was
also through him that German artists, notably
Albrecht Dürer, were made
aware of the artistic discoveries of the Italian Renaissance. He died
in Mantua on September 13, 1506.