One of the most original artists of the 15th Century is Andrea Mantegna, a great painting representative of the Renaissance archaeological classicism.
Besides the painting, Mantegna worked with engraving, sculpture and probably architecture, since the Mantovian house near San Sabastian church is one of his projects.

Andrea Mantegna was born to an artisan’s family in Isola di Carturo, near Padua, around 1431. His artistic skills might have been spotted soon, since his father, a carpenter called Biagio, brought him when he was 10 years to the workshop of the painter Francesco Squarcione in Padua. Andrea can be found in documents from 1442 to 1443 as one of Squarcione’s pupils, described as “painter godson”. It was an important experience in Andrea’s training, because he inherited from this master - a statue and classical relief collector – not only the pictorial technique, but also the interest for antiquity.

Andrea Mantegna’s training takes place in Padua’s lively artistic atmosphere, an important cultural centre, the headquarters of a prestigious University, where classic studies related to philosophy, literature and philology were blooming. Andrea’s archaeological culture belongs to the particular artistic movement called Preumanesimo padovano (Paduan Pre-humanism), a cultural tradition from the 15th Century, developed from the study of old texts from Lovato Lovati, Albertino Mussato and mainly Francesco Petrarca. It got later enriched by the archaeological knowledge of Giovanni Dondi and the vital contribution of artists from the first half of the 15th century, as Brunelleschi, Donatello and Leon Battista Alberti.

Mantegna remains with the Paduan master until around 1448, when he then started his independent business. It is found on documents that also during that year he started a long battle in court, where he asked his Master for the payment of works carried out during his apprentice years. His rights were recognised at the end.

The first documented and signed work by Mantegna dates back to 1448. It is the Madonna in Glory, an altarpiece for the S. Sofia church in Padua. Giorgio Vasari, first biographer of Mantegna considers this painting, unfortunately lost, a work from the younger years of the artist.

St. Mark dates back to 1448-49 and is now housed at the Stadelsches Kunstitut in Frankfurt.

Between 1449 and 1454 in Padua, Mantegna was busy painting the frescoes of the Ovetari Chapel. He painted the Stories of St. James the Elder, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the Four Doctors of the Church and the saints Peter, Paul and Christopher

His presence in Ferrara is documented in May 1449, in the court of the noble family Este, where he had the opportunity to improve his training. He got in contact with masters from Ferrara that had the same classic training, but were also experts with the making of metallic and sharp colours, with using virtuous contour lines and with characterizing the faces of the characters, of very incisive nature.

In the Este court, Mantegna got to know the work of Flemish painters documented in the court of Lionello d’Este between 1449 and 1459.

Among them was Roger Van Der Weyden, who made a Deposition for Lionello quarters, very much praised even at that time mainly for the pathos of the scene.

In 1456, Ludovico Gonzaga invited Andrea Mantegna to work for him, in order to replace Pisanello (who died sometime before 1455) as the court’s painter. Andrea accepted, but moved to Mantua some years later, because he had then just received a commission from Gregorio Correr to paint the San Zeno Altarpiece, for the San Zeno’s church in Verona, which would become one of his masterpieces. From 1460 Mantegna is documented in Mantua, where he remained for the rest of his life, combining his stay there with some trips.

During 1446 he went to Firenze and in 1447 to Toscana. Between 1486 and 1490 he is documented to be in Rome, in charge of painting the frescoes of the Chapel of Innocent VIII in the Vatican, destroyed in 1780.

Apart from these very short changes of location, Mantegna became in Mantua one of the main protagonists of the “renovatio urbi” promoted by Ludovico Gonzaga.
From 1460 he was busy with the decoration of the Castle of S. George chapel which comprised, among the most important works, the Triptych of the Uffizi, the painting the Death of the Virgin now at the Prado Museum and the frescoes of the Camera degli Sposi (bridal chamber).
Mantegna died in Mantua in 1506.

A. Cocchi

Trad.: A. Sturmer








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Andrea Mantegna

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