At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Andrea Mantegna – artist

Genius led the way with his use of perspective


The painter Andrea Mantegna died on this day in 1506 in Mantua.

Mantegna's San Sebastian is at the Louvre in Paris
Mantegna's San Sebastian is at
the Louvre in Paris
He had become famous for his religious paintings, such as St Sebastian, which is now in the Louvre in Paris, and The Agony in the Garden, which is now in the National Gallery in London.

But his frescoes for the Bridal Chamber (Camera degli Sposi) at the Palazzo Ducale in Mantua - Mantova in Italian - were to influence many artists who followed him because of his innovative use of perspective.

Mantegna studied Roman antiquities for inspiration and was also an eminent engraver.

He was born near Padua - Padova - in about 1431 and apprenticed by the age of 11 to the painter, Francesco Squarcione, who had a fascination for ancient art and encouraged him to study fragments of Roman sculptures.

Mantegna was one of a large group of painters entrusted with decorating the Ovetari Chapel in the Church of the Eremitani in Padua.

Much of his work was lost when the Allied forces bombed Padua in 1944, but other early work by Mantegna can be seen in the Basilica of Sant’Antonio and in the Church of Santa Giustina in Padua.

Mantagna's Miracolo di San Giacomo in the Ovetari  Chapel of the Church of the Eremitani in Padua
Mantagna's Miracolo di San Giacomo in the Ovetari
Chapel of the Church of the Eremitani in Padua
The artist later came under the influence of Jacopo Bellini, the father of Giovanni and Gentile Bellini, and in 1453 he married Jacopo’s daughter, Nicolosia.

By 1459 he had moved on to Verona, where he painted a grand altarpiece for the Church of San Zeno and the following year he was appointed court artist by the Marquis Ludovico III Gonzaga of Mantua.

Mantegna’s frescoes for the Camera degli Sposi are considered among his best works and include portraits of members of the Gonzaga family.

The artist went on to paint nine pictures of the Triumphs of Caesar, drawing on his classical knowledge, which are also considered by experts to be among his finest works. These were sold in 1628 to King Charles I of England and are now in Hampton Court Palace.

After his death at about the age of 75 in Mantua, Mantegna’s sons set up a monument to him in the Church of Sant’Andrea.

Mantegna's ceiling of the Camera degli Sposi shows how he created an illusion of depth through his use of perspective
Mantegna's ceiling of the Camera degli Sposi shows how he
created an illusion of depth through his use of perspective
Mantegna’s main artistic legacy is considered to be the introduction of spatial illusionism, as exemplified by the ceiling cupola of the Camera degli Sposi, which although flat appears concave. This use of perspective was followed by other artists for centuries.

Travel tip:

Mantua is an atmospheric old city in Lombardy, to the south east of Milan, famous for its Renaissance Palazzo Ducale, the seat of the Gonzaga family between 1328 and 1707. The Camera degli Sposi is decorated with frescoes by Andrea Mantegna, depicting the life of Ludovico Gonzaga and his family. The beautiful backgrounds of imaginary cities and ruins reflect Mantegna’s love of classical architecture.

The Basilica of Sant'Andrea in Mantua.
The Basilica of Sant'Andrea in Mantua.
Travel tip:

The 15th century Basilica of Sant’Andrea, which houses Andrea Mantegna’s tomb, is in Piazza Mantegna in Mantua. Mantegna was buried in the first chapel on the left, which contains a picture of the Holy Family and John the Baptist that had been  painted by him. The church was originally built to accommodate the large number of pilgrims who came to Mantua to see a precious relic, an ampoule containing what were believed to be drops of Christ’s blood mixed with earth. This was claimed to have been collected at the site of his crucifixion by a Roman soldier.

(Photo of the Basilica of Sant'Andrea by Geobia CC BY-SA 3.0)

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