Andrea Mantegna and the Italian Renaissance
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187 pages

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Mantegna; humanist, geometrist, archaeologist, of great scholastic and imaginative intelligence, dominated the whole of northern Italy by virtue of his imperious personality. Aiming at optical illusion, he mastered perspective. He trained in painting at the Padua School where Donatello and Paolo Uccello had previously attended. Even at a young age commissions for Andrea’s work flooded in, for example the frescos of the Ovetari Chapel of Padua. In a short space of time Mantegna found his niche as a modernist due to his highly original ideas and the use of perspective in his works. His marriage with Nicolosia Bellini, the sister of Giovanni, paved the way for his entree into Venice. Mantegna reached an artistic maturity with his Pala San Zeno. He remained in Mantova and became the artist for one of the most prestigious courts in Italy – the Court of Gonzaga. Classical art was born. Despite his links with Bellini and Leonardo da Vinci, Mantegna refused to adopt their innovative use of colour or leave behind his own technique of engraving.



Publié par
Date de parution 04 juillet 2023
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781783107544
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 3 Mo

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Joseph Manca

Andrea Mantegna
and the Italian Renaissance

Mantegna as Artistic Revolutionary
The Debut of a Prodigy: Mantegna’s Early years in Padua
Mantegna as Court Painter in Mantua
Piety and Passion in Mantegna’s Later Religious Works
The “Triumphs of Caesar” and Other Visions of Antiquity
Mantegna and the Art of Printmaking
Patroness and Painter: The “Studiolo” of Isabella d’Este
Mantegna’s Place in History
List of Illustrations
1. The Holy Family with St Elizabeth and the young St John , c. 1485-1488.
Tempera and gold on canvas, 62.9 x 51.3 cm.
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth.

Mantegna as Artistic Revolutionary

The art of Andrea Mantegna (born c.1431, died 1506) has long maintained a broad and deep appeal. From the impressive illusionism of his earliest works ( Fig. 4 ) to the narrative power of his mature paintings ( Fig. 2 ), Mantegna’s art remained vivid and heroic, dramatic and emotional. They are also painted in stunning detail: pebbles, blades of grass, veins, and hair are rendered with excruciating care, and he depicted even in his great narrative works the mundane particulars of earthly existence, showing laundry hanging out to dry and buildings fallen into disrepair. He had a deep interest in human nature and issues of moral character. Perhaps most strikingly, Mantegna’s pictures are filled with references to classical antiquity. No other painter of the fifteenth century so thoroughly understood and abundantly included in his art the costumes, drapery folds, inscriptions, architecture, subject matter, ethical attitude, and other aspects of ancient classical civilisation. And instead of the cool classicism of later centuries, his vision of Greco-Roman civilisation is lively and has a familiar and nostalgic air about it. For him, antiquity was a near, palpable presence, one which he sought constantly to bring to colourful existence in his pictures. It is this thirst for a vanished classical past that places Mantegna most firmly in the context of his time, as his art was favoured most warmly by Renaissance contemporaries who shared his visionary quest to revive the moral strength and naturalism which marked the art of antiquity.
Mantegna was a leader in the renewal of culture occurring during his time, a movement we call the Renaissance, or “rebirth.” In the fifteenth century, classical civilisation was a whole universe open to rediscovery. It offered an alternative to the confining, medieval world of scholastic thought and Christian theology. Classicism meant the liberation of the mind and the joys of literary study. The writers and artists of antiquity indulged freely in the delights of the material world, an attitude shared by Mantegna and many of his contemporaries. Renaissance men found spiritual ancestors from centuries past who had similar ideas about virtue and vice, and whose secular sensibility embraced a naturalistic art that was idealised in its formal perfection and its harmonious proportions. Mantegna painted his classical visions for enthusiasts, men and women who were dilettantes in the original sense of the word, delighting in their new discoveries. His life and works contributed to the air of celebration and self-congratulation characterising much of Renaissance culture. Some modern scholars avoid using the word “Renaissance” and, rather than see the period as being an age of confidence and a glorious rebirth of values, they describe Italian culture from 1400 to 1600 as one of conflicting interests, a hesitant and contradictory world in which the men and women cautiously “negotiated” their places in society. Period texts, however, reveal a mentality not as tentative and fearful as modern scholarship would have us believe. To be sure, the Renaissance had its political crises and social dislocations. It is important to bear in mind the larger picture: leading patrons, intellectuals, and artists in Italy felt they were living in a period of rebirth, and were forcibly helping to shape a new order of things. In the visual sphere, Renaissance writers about art – Lorenzo Ghiberti, Leon Battista Alberti, and Giorgio Vasari, for example – were quite clear in seeing the Middle Ages as a dark period, and their own age as one of enlightenment and human improvement. They looked back with admiration towards the achievement of the Greeks and Romans, and called for, not a bland imitation of antiquity, but an embracing of the ideals and values which made ancient societies superior to the cultural decline that followed: reason, an acceptance of natural law, and ethical moderation.
2. The Descent into Limbo , c. 1490.
Tempera on panel, 38.2 x 42.3 cm. Private collection.

The rebirth of the art of painting was one of the major aspects of the Renaissance period. Mantegna’s pictures – embracing a vivid realism and a learned antiquarianism – epitomised the art of the Early Renaissance period perhaps better than the works of any other artist of the fifteenth century. This is an extraordinary claim to make for a painter who was born, trained, and lived in the relatively provincial cities of Padua and Mantua, removed from the flourishing cultural centres of Florence, Venice, and Rome. But somehow Mantegna managed to seize on the avant-garde intellectual ideas of his time and forge a style which set him apart from his contemporaries. His greatest achievement was that he did not accommodate medieval tradition in his art; he fought against it. The older Gothic painters, active in the early fifteenth century, clung to the dreamy, soft, gentle vision we associate with the late medieval world. Moreover, many of the so-called Renaissance painters of the fifteenth century chose not to eradicate this idyllic and elegant tradition. Painters such as Fra Angelico, Alessandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, and even Leonardo da Vinci continued to incorporate some of the elegant and decorative aspects of the Gothic manner in their artistry. But Mantegna confronted the medieval style, and he set out already at an early age to destroy an older tradition and create a new one. Soft surfaces and languorous movement gave way to sharp definition and virile action.
Mantegna had other painters in his camp who were revolutionaries, some of whom preceded him. Masaccio, Piero della Francesca, and Andrea del Castagno are among the central Italian artists who first turned to a new tough and monumental style. These painters also reacted against the sweet Gothic manner, and Mantegna was greatly indebted to several older masters for blazing a trail. Yet, Mantegna was more thoroughly engaged than any previous painter of the Quattrocento (1400s) in archaeological study and a conscious revival of Greco-Roman civilisation. The result of this historical attitude made Mantegna’s art striking for his contemporaries, as it is for us. Mantegna neglected no detail in his art, and his works are based on intense and enthusiastic study. The young painter from Padua created a manner which epitomised the Early Renaissance, combining a plausible realism and cogent narrative style with a thoughtful attempt to re-create the visual world of antiquity. His special achievement as an antiquarian-painter was recognised by many observers, including Giovanni Santi, the father of the painter Raphael, who said observantly of Mantegna: “No man ever took or used the brush or other pencil, who was a clear successor of ancient times, as he is, with such truth.” [1]
3. Sandro Botticelli, St Augustine in his Cell, 1494.
Tempera on panel, 41 x 27 cm. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

Why was Mantegna among the revolutionaries of his time, so intent on establishing a new artistic vision? For many Renaissance artists it would be difficult to guess the origins of their style, because we lack sufficient biographical information or documentation. Yet, we do know a great deal about Mantegna’s personality, artistic training, and social relations; it is possible to hypothesise why Mantegna’s art looks the way it does. For example, it is telling that he was known to have been argumentative, territorial, and sometimes cruel; surely the stony, incisive, and at times violent world he created as an artist is appropriate for one with such a temperament. It is difficult to imagine Mantegna having embraced the languid narrative and sweet lyricism that remained in vogue throughout the fifteenth century in many quarters. On the whole, both his personality and his art were hard-edged and aggressive. Renaissance viewers who wanted prettier, less detailed, or less historical pictures could have found them elsewhere, and there were surely many who disliked Mantegna’s art. He was not interested in painting slender angels with pink cheeks, long blonde hair, and pious, vapid expressions. His art is rarely charming, and those who favoured the suave elegance of Alessandro Botticelli or the gentle piety of Pietro Perugino perhaps found little to enjoy in Mantegna. Nor did he, like some of the painters in the northern Italian court at Ferrara, establish an extravagant and self-conscious manner; his paintings are more straightforward and naturalistic than that. Avoiding both the pedestrian naturalism of a Domenico Ghirlandaio and the sweet or fantastic style, Mantegna – strong willed and tough minded – developed a manner based on incisive narrative and classical revivalism.
It is also clear from the begi

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