Artists Illustrating Boys' Fashions: Andrea Mantegna (Italy, 1431?-1506)

Figure 1.--Mantegna painted this image of Italian court life in 1474. It was the court of Lodovico III of Mantua. Here we see Lodovico and his German wife. It was painted for a decorated room, the manificent Camera degli Sposi in the Palazzo Ducale. Click on the image to see the rest of the painting.

Andrea Mantegna was a noted Italian painter and engraver of the High Renaisance. Mantegna was noted for his depictions of heroic figures. He is especially known for his foreshortening technique to give dramatic perspective in wall paintings that were viewed from below. He was adopted by an art teacher, butvbroke with him at age 17 to open his own work shop. His career is associated with the Gonzaga family in Mantua where he worked as court painter. Some of his work provides fascinating glimses of Renaissance court life.


We know nothing about his parents.


Andrea was born some time around 1431 near Vicenza. Andrea at about 10 years of age was adopted by Francesco Squarcione who was an art teacher in Padua.


Andrea's artistic skills developed under the tutalage of Squarcione. Andrea while not trained by Donatello was signidficantly influenced by his work. Andrea not only learned painting, but he also became a skill engraver. His engravings are said to have influenced Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528).


Mantegna at 17 years of age established his own workshop. This was a youthful age to venture out on his own, but apparently relations between him and Squarcione were broken in a celebrated case. Manegna insistede that he would not permit Squarcione to profit by exploiting his abilities.


Renaisance scholars were fascinated by clasical Greece and Rome. Italian Renaisance artists studied Roman ruins and surviving sculpture. Mantegna was especially interested in Roman antiquities. Here Squarcione who was interested in archaeological was an influence. The local ruins around Padua and the work of scholars at the university of Padua were other factors. He knew many of the Padua scholars and antiquarians involved in classical study and relics. He developed a considerable understanding of Roman art that is observeable in his work. His paintings in turn help fuel the developing interest in of classical forms. His first independent commission was a fresco for the Ovetari Chapel of the Eremitani Church in Padua (1459). This work was unfortunately virtually destroyed in World War II. In it Mantegna displays his virtuosity in anotaomical detail and his foreshortening technique for paintings tio be viewed from below.


Mantegna married Nicolosia Bellini, the sister of impportant Renaissance artists Giovanni and Gentile Bellini (1453). Art scholars believe that their work was influence by Mantegna.

Mantua (1459-1506)

Mantegna worked successfully in Padua until 1459. Ludovico Gonzaga of Mantua wanted to build the reputation of his family as an important Italian princely family. Impressed by Matengna's work, especially his heroic style, Ludovico convinced Mantegna to come to Mantua and work as court painter. This was a life long decession and Mantegna spent the remainder of his life in the service of the Gonzaga family. It was for the Gonzaga that Mantegna produced his greatest paintings. In perhaps his most famous work,he painted the walls and ceolings of the Camera degli Sposi (wedding chamber) in the Palazzo Ducale. It is a masterpice of perspective and portraiture. A portion of that work is seen here (figure 1). He transforned this interior room into what seemed like an open-air pavilion. In addition to the artistic merits of this work, it provides a wonderful glimse of an Italian Renaissance court including the fashions of the day. Not seen here is the ceiling. There a painted dome opens onto a brilliant painted sky, with painted men and women looking down on the viwer below. These effective illusion seen here was not again accomplished until Raphael's work in the Vatican and Correggio at Parma. These were the predecessors of the magnificent l7th century Baroque ceilings.After Ludovico's death, Mantegna worked for his son Federico and later Francesco Gonzaga. Mantegna retained his interest in Rome througout his life. The culmination of this interest was a series of nine paintings showing the triumphs of Julius Caesar. Important works were for Francesco's wife Isabella d'Este, a notable patroness of the arts, the Madonna della Vittoria (1495-96) and the Parnassus.

Final Years

Mantegna still in Mantua died in 1506. He was much revered by the Gonzaga and the people of Mantua.


Camesasca, Ettore. Mantegna (The Library of Great Masters).

Christiansen, Keith. Andrea Mantegna: Padua and Mantua (The Great Fresco Cycles of the Renaissance).

Greenstein, Jack M. Mantegna and Painting As Historical Narrative.


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Created: March 31, 2004
Last updated: March 31, 2004