After continuous invitations from Ludovico II Gonzaga (recorded from 1456) and after concluding the works of the San Zeno Altarpiece, Andrea Mantegna finally moves to Mantua where he spends the rest of his life.
His presence in Gonzaga's city is recorded on a document dated 7th August 1460, but according to scholars, he moved probably at the end of 1459.
One of the first works that he was requested to do was to decorate the Chapel of the Castel of St. George, designed by the Florentine architect Luca Fancelli. Based on historians' reconstruction of the facts, the decoration should not have been made with frescoes but with a series of panel paintings. This affirmation comes from a letter written by Mantegna on the 26th April 1464 to the Marquis of Goito, which contains a reference to some panels with golden frames, almost finished, to be placed in the chapel.
These paintings were already dispersed one century after, following the restoration of the chapel and only through complex research was it possible to identify them.

Based on such studies, it turns out that the Triptych of the Uffizi and the Death of the Virgin, now in the Prado Museum were part of this group of paintings.
Other paintings were only known through old evidence and copies, for example the Resurrection, the Noli me Tangere and the Three Marys housed in the National Gallery in London. All the paintings that are believed to be for the chapel, had focused on the redemption theme, and developed through the mystery of the Incarnation, Passion and the Resurrection of Christ.

It was therefore a programme adapted specifically for a chapel to be used as a mausoleum for Ludovico.
But apart from the private motivation, there was also a political one, of greater cultural scope. The decoration of the chapel was only one part of the vast programme of redecoration of the Gonzaga's house, closely linked to an important historical event: the Council of Mantua.

The medieval Castel of St. George had to lodge the Christian princes that were meeting to organize the liberation of Constantinople, conquered by the Turks in 1453, and therefore had to be transformed into a modern and welcoming refined palace. In another words, it had to be brought up to the occasion and become a prestigious symbol of the splendour of the Gonzagas.

The decoration of the chapel should follow consistently the Renaissance transformation, both in style and iconographic themes. Because of the early scattering of the paintings, it is very difficult today to try and reconstruct the order that Mantegna had chosen for the paintings in the chapel. The only convincing evidence is the concave support for the Adoration of the Magi, which indicates its position in the apse.

A. Cocchi

Trad.: A. Sturmer.

 


 

Bibliography:

Lionello Puppi Cianfrusaglie reperti e un talent scout in: Il Romanzo della pittura. Masaccio e Piero. Supplemento al n° 29 de "la Repubblica" del 2.11.1988
Claudia Cleri Via Mantegna. Art eDossier n.55. Giunti, Firenze. 1991
M. Bellonci, N. Garavaglia L'opera completa di Mantegna. Classici dell'arte Rizzoli, Milano 1966
La Nuova Enciclopedia dell'Arte Garzanti.
AA.VV. Moduli di Arte. Dal Rinascimento maturo al rococò. Electa-Bruno Mondadori, Roma 2000
A. Blunt Le teorie artistiche in Italia dal Rinascimento al Manierismo. Piccola Biblioteca Einaudi, Giulio Einaudi Editore, Torino 1966
G. Cricco, F. Di Teodoro, Itinerario nell’arte, vol. 2, Zanichelli Bologna 2004
G. Dorfles, S. Buganza, J. Stoppa Storia dell'arte. Vol II Dal Quattrocento al Settecento. Istituto Italiano Edizioni Atlas, Bergamo 2008

Chapel of St. George, Mantua


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