MANTEGNA (1431-1506)

 

     Andrea Mantegna was the first major north Italian artist to experience the foil force of the Florentine Renaissance. In 1454, the year of Donatello's departure from Padua, Mantegna began, with several older artists, a series of frescoes in the Chapel of the Overati family in Padua. He finished the frescoes himself in 1457 when he was twenty six years old.

      The air-raid on March 11, 1944 completely destroyed the chapel containing Mantegna's early works. Only, two of the frescoed panels on the lower part of the right wall were saved the Martyrdom and the Burial of St. Christopher, and the Assum­ption in the apse. Almost all the colour is gone from the two frescoes the Martyrdom and the Burial of St. Christopher, but one can still detect the novelty of the background perspective. In the middle of the cove of the apse, the Virgin Mary disappears behind a high archway lifted up towards the sky in all her physical presence. We follow her as she rises slowly along with the Apostles who stand below against the sides of the arch. The upturned face seen from below with the eyes raised is extremely beautiful.

The few small fragments of the Martyrdom of St. James (1454—56) collected from the pile of ruins and put together in a photomontage have been placed on the left wall. The photomon­tage of the Martyrdom of St. James demonstrates the high level of perfection achieved by the young Mantegna in rendering the three-dimensional illusion.

      Saint James Led to Executionis a triumph of Renaissance spatial construction and Renaissance Classicism. The perspective is calculated for the eye level of a person of average Height standing on the floor below. The effect of figures moving in an actual space is startling. The ground disappears and the figures recede. Within Mantegna's carefully constructed space, the figures look like animated statues, carved rather than painted. But their marmoreal hardness only intensifies the drama. James on the way to martyrdom, turns to bless a kneeling Christian who has broken through the Roman guards. The movements of the figures, the gentleness of the saint, and the emotion of the moment are as severely controlled as the perspective.

      In 1474 Mantegna finished the. frescoes for the castle of the Gonzaga family, marquises of the principality of Mantua. The Gonzaga frescoes are continuous around two sides and over the vaulted ceiling of a square chamber. They present scenes from contemporary court life. The frescoes have been painted in such a way that the fireplace and other architectural elements of the room are incorporated into the composition. The scene with the family surrounding the ruler and his wife, which is painted over the fireplace, appears to have the figures actually standing and seated upon the mantelpiece, and the leather curtains which were part of the original hangings of the room are echoed in the painted curtains that close off some scenes. In one fresco Francisco Gonzaga is greeted by his father, the marquis, and by the bishop of Mantua, other dignitaries and some charming children on his return from Rome, where he had been made a cardinal. The background is not Mantua, but an ideal Italian city on a hill, the circular walls are seen in perspective. Outside them can be seen Roman ruins and statues. The colouring was undoubtedly more brilliant before certain portions peeled off in the course of time.

       The centre of the ceiling is Mantegna's most astonishing perspective prank. We seem to be looking up into a circular parapet as up through the mouth of a well, above which are sky and clouds. Winged children clinging to the parapet are seen in I sharp perspective from front and rear, and across one end runs a pole, which if it rolled a bit, would allow a large tub of plants to fall on our heads. Ladies-in-waiting, including one black ser­vant, peer over the edge, smiling at our discomfiture. With this odd beginning commences the long series of illusionistic ceiling and dome paintings that continued for three centuries and spread from Italy throughout Europe.

       In the long bas-relief-like painting the Introduction of the Cult of Cybele into Rome Mantegna reveals his sculptural tendencies and grave attitude to classical antiquity. His figures take on the rigidity of stone. The Madonna and Child with Magdalen and S. John the Baptist Mantegna painted with a simulated marble framing. As through a window the observer meant to look at these statue-like figures whose draperies fall into heavy folds.

       Late in life Mantegna painted the Dead Christ on canvas and in scurto (extreme foreshortening), intended not as a trick in this case but as a device to bring home to the observer the personal meaning for him of Christ's sacrificial death. The weeping Mary and John are likely later additions.

       Mantegna was a printmaker. Seven engravings by his hand and many by his followers established a graphic art tradition in the late fifteenth century in northern Italy.

 

 

Notes

Saint James Led to Execution— «Шествие Святого Иакова на казнь»

Martyrdom of St. Fames«Мученичество Святого Иакова»

Burial of St. Christopher«Перемещение тела Святого Христофора»

Assumption— «Вознесение Марии»

Dead Christ— «Мертвый Христос»

Introduction of the Cult of Cybele into Rome —«Учреждение культа Кибелы в Риме»

Madonna and Child with Magdalen and S. John the Baptist— «Мадон­на с Младенцем, Магдалиной и Святым Иоанном Крестителем»

Crucifixion— «Распятие»

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