March 12, 2011

The Art of Andrea Mantegna

Andrea Mantegna (1430-31 – 1506) was born in Isola de Carturo, close to Venice, during the Gothic and Early Renaissance Era. His art is characterized by brilliant compositional solutions with the bold use of perspective and foreshortening. His innovative approach to composition was based on diagonals rather than traditional symmetry, which gave his paintings a certain emotional intensity.

(Mantegna, Andrea. The Lamentation over the Dead Christ. c. 1480. tempera on canvas. Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.)

Mantegna was the second son to a carpenter named Biagio. He became the apprentice and adopted son of the painter, Francesco Squarcione from Paduan at the age of eleven. Squarcione taught him Latin and he became enthusiastic about the civilization of ancient Rome and was also became a student of Roman archaeology.

(Mantegna, Andrea. The Agony in the Garden. c. 1457-1459. oil on canvas. Louvre, Paris.)

Mantegna eventually had a falling out with Squarcione and decided to seek work elsewhere. He is then appointed as the court painter for the ruling Gonzaga family in Mantua, Italy. Here is where he spent the rest of his life producing work as one of the leading artist of his time.

(Mantegna, Andrea. Madonna of Victory. c. 1496. tempera on canvas. Louvre, Paris.)

His use of foreshortening in the “The Lamentation over the Dead Christ” would have been a startling composition to the viewers of this painting at that time. Foreshortening makes an object look shorter than it really is to create the illusion of recession. The term is often applied to the human body when shown in poses that compress its length. It makes the part nearest to the viewer look larger than the parts farther away (i.e. the feet are larger than then head).

(Mantegna, Andrea. Ceiling Oculus. c. 1471-74. fresco. Camera degli Sposi, Ducal Palace, Mantua.)

Mantegna was brilliant at creating the illusion of depth at a time when the system of perspective was newborn to Western Civilization and his work is much appreciated here!

Enjoy! :)

Reference: King, R. Art. New York: Dk Publishing. 2008.