The Central Panel of Polyptich of St. Luke.

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The Central Panel of Polyptich of St. Luke.

Andrea Mantegna  >  Polyptych of San Luca

The central panel of the San Luca Polyptych, made by Andrea Mantegna, is dedicated to St. Luke the Evangelist, who is also the biggest figure on the whole polyptych.  His identification has not been immediate, since the bull, a symbol usually connected to St. Luke, is missing, and also reference to the activity of painter. Initially it was thought to be St. Matthew, but mainly taking in consideration the objective of the San Luca Chapel and recognising the small red bottle as a typical instrument of a miniaturist, it was concluded that it was St. Luke.

The prospective effect on the central panel has a great effect, much more than in the other panels and the low point of view emphasises the image of the saint making it monumental. The architectonic plan of the throne and the writing desk, the still life with books on the lower plan, the steps where St. Luke's feet rest, the floor and scattered fruit are all instruments the artist uses to build the space. The full-bodied and contrasting colours, the warm and diffused light, together with the double effect of emergency and depth of the scene catch the attention of the spectator giving the sensation of being able to enter that space.

The evangelist is represented with a strong physique, a face very close to those portrayed in busts of the Imperial Roman times. Under the old fashioned cloak he wears a Renaissance blouse with rolled up sleeves. St. Luke is absorbed in his work, with a focused but serene expression, and transmits a comfortable and stable pose.

Also the furniture was chosen with great care. St. Luke is not writing on any desk. He is sitting on a sophisticated and elegant marble throne of Renaissance taste, with classic architectural shape. The semi circular back of the throne is covered by a green cloth and the whole decoration is inspired in the antiquity, like the cones on the lateral balusters, the dolphins of the armrests, the polychromatic inlay and the rosette on the lateral supports of the chair. The wood writing desk is a functional piece of furniture, well equipped and it looks like it was designed on purpose for the work a miniaturist. It is equipped with a comfortable inclined top and bears a small glass vase resembling an inkpot inserted in the structure, from where a red pigment is seen dripping. The writing desk is resting on a round table supported by a marble polychrome column.

Mantegna paints a modern saint, seen according to a very humanistic view like a studious man, whose intellectual activity is indicated by the books, by the red bottle that emerges from below the shelf and by the meticulous insistence of the artist on the "work" of the office, i.e. the numerous strings that hang from the book as bookmarkers. Similar elements were already present in Mantegna's Saint Mark, from 1448-49, housed in Frankfurt. 

The subject of the humanistic desk had already been seen on the painting Padri della Chiesa (Doctors of the Church) by Nicolò Pizolo for the Ovetari Chapel in Padua. The work took place during the same years (between 1450 and 1453) that Mategna was involved with the frescoes from his Stories of St. James. Also Nicolò interpreted the subject inserting his thoughtful characters in rooms furnished with shelves and books with low point of view prospective. In both cases, both artists linked to the medieval "scriptorium" and particularly to the cultural model of the Studiolo of Petrarch, located in the Palazzo dei Carraresi from Padua.
But the choice of Mantegna refers in particular to the study and to the ascetical life typical from the Monastery of Santa Giustina where the new rule of Ludovico Barvo was being followed. According to this principle, the meditation and the intellectual dedication represented the path to reach Christ's experience. It is not a coincidence that the Pietà is placed exactly in axis and on the top of the polyptych, seen as the "highest point" in the spiritual sense.

A. Cocchi

Trad.: A. Sturmer




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Tags:Alessandra Cocchi, A. Sturmer, Mantegna, St. Luke, perspective, painting, polyptych, Renaissance, .

Stile:Quattrocento, Rinascimento.

Per saperne di più sulla città di: Milano, Brera


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Andrea Mantegna. Polyptych of St. Luke. Central panel showing St. Luke. 1453-55. Tempera on wood. Milan, Brera.

Andrea Mantegna. Polyptych of St. Luke. Central panel showing St. Luke. Detail. 1453-55. Tempera on wood. Milan, Brera.


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