Andrea Mantegna

Andrea Mantegna was an Italian painter, a student of Roman archeology, and son in law of Jacopo Bellini. Like other artists of the time, Mantegna experimented with perspective, by lowering the horizon in order to create a sense of greater monumentality. His flinty, metallic landscapes and somewhat stony figures give evidence of a fundamentally sculptural approach to painting. He also led a workshop that was the leading producer of prints in Venice before 1500.

Mantegna was born in Isola di Carturo close to Padua, at that time part of the Republic of Venice. At the age of eleven he became the apprentice of Francesco Squarcione who taught him the Latin language, and instructed him to study fragments of Roman sculpture. The master also preferred forced perspective, the lingering results of which may account for some of Mantegna's later innovations.

His first work, now lost, dates back to 1448 was an altarpiece for the church of Santa Sofia. The same year he was called, together with Nicolò Pizolo, to work with a large group of painters entrusted with the decoration of the Ovetari Chapel in the transept of the church of the Eremitani. This series was almost entirely lost in the 1944 allied bombings of Padua.

The sketch of the St. Stephen fresco is the earliest known preliminary sketch which still exists. Among the other early Mantegna frescoes are the two saints over the entrance porch of the church of Sant'Antonio in Padua, 1452, and an altarpiece of St. Luke of the church of S. Giustina, now in the Brera Gallery in Milan (1453). As the young artist progressed in his work, he came under the influence of Jacopo Bellini, father of the celebrated painters Giovanni and Gentile. In 1453 Jacopo consented to a marriage between his daughter Nicolosia and Mantegna.

Trained as he had been in the study of marbles and the severity of the antique, Mantegna openly avowed that he considered ancient art superior to nature as being more eclectic in form. As a result, the painter exercised precision in outline, privileging the figure. Overall, Mantegna's work thus tended towards rigidity, demonstrating an austere wholeness rather than graceful sensitivity of expression. He never changed the manner which he had adopted in Padua. One of his great aims was optical illusion, carried out by a mastery of perspective which, though not always mathematically correct, attained an astonishing effect in those times.

When Mantegna left Padua he never resettled there again. He spent the rest of his life in Verona, Mantua and Rome. In 1460 Mantegna was appointed court artist by The Marquis Ludovico III Gonzaga of Mantua. His Mantuan masterpiece was painted in the apartment known as Camera degli Sposi : a series of full compositions in fresco including various portraits of the Gonzaga family. In 1488 Mantegna was called by Pope Innocent VIII to paint frescos in a chapel Belvedere in the Vatican. This series of frescos, was destroyed by Pius VI in 1780.

The nine tempera pictures of the Triumphs of Caesar are considered Mantegna's finest work. In spite of declining health, he continued to be active. Other works of this period include the Madonna of the Caves, the St. Sebastian and the famous Lamentation over the Dead Christ, probably painted for his personal funerary chapel. After 1497 Mantegna was commissioned by Isabella d'Este to translate the themes written by the court poet Paride Ceresara into paintings for her private studiolo in the Palazzo Ducale. One of them, the legend of the God Comus, was left unfinished and completed by his successor as court painter in Mantua, Lorenzo Costa.

After the death of his wife, Mantegna became at an advanced age the father of a natural son, Giovanni Andrea. He died in Mantua. In 1516, a handsome monument was set up to him by his sons in the church of Sant'Andrea, where he had painted the altar-piece of the mortuary chapel.

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