The Models of San Zeno Altarpiece

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The Models of San Zeno Altarpiece

Andrea Mantegna  >  San Zeno Altarpiece

As stylistic models, Andrea Mantegna’s San Zeno Altarpiece offers several references, belonging both to the late Gothic and Renaissance styles, although restrained between the pictorial experience of the 13th Century and the Venetian region

The first among these is the example offered by The Altarpiece of the Four Church Fathers made by Antonio Vivarini and Giovanni d’Alemagna in 1446 and today housed at the Accademia of Venice. This late Gothic style painting about the holy conversation, was developed on three major panels with Madonna Enthroned, four musical angels and four saints. Even the golden frame and the division of the space in three sections seem to have been taken from Mantegna’s, to keep a certain link with the tradition of the medieval Polyptych. 
But next to these, the reference to the Altar del Santo made by Donatello for the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua emerges in an evident way.

Scholars still don’t have it very clear if the connection between the young Andrea and the great Florentine master, working in Padua from 1443 to 1453, has been a direct one or rather mediated through his pupils. Surely the work left by Donatello in Padua must have been studied and analyzed with great attention by Mantegna, who was completing his training in this city, and was starting his first works. In any case, it is interesting to consider that while Andrea was engaged in the making of the frescos of the Ovetari Chapel, Nicolò Pizolo, in 1448, was planning an altarpiece for the same see, which was carried out in bas-relief by Giovanni from Pisa, a sculptor pupil of Donatello. It was a terracotta covered in bronze

But the link of the San Zeno Altarpiece with the Altare del Santo is even more impressive if the whole composition of Mantegna’s painting is compared to the reconstruction that the scholars made (specially Heidenreich) of the whole sculpture from Donatello.  In both works, the figures are placed in a classical architectonic space and share the same perspective settings, according to the new renaissance vision of the holy conversation. Such solution will have an important development during the Renaissance, interpreted by artists with a great quality personal vision. Among the most extraordinary examples, Mantegna’s model will be found, for example: in Brera Altarpiece, carried out in 1474 by Piero della Francesca; in San Giobbe Altarpiece, from the Accademia of Venice, dating back to 1487, by Giovanni Bellini; and in the San Zaccaria Altarpiece, from 1505, in the homonymous church in Venice.  

A. Cocchi

Trad: A. Sturmer



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Tags:Alessandra Cocchi, A. Sturmer, altarpiece, St. Zeno, renaissance, painting, models, .


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