We The Italians | Italian art: The reunited Mantegnas

Italian art: The reunited Mantegnas

Italian art: The reunited Mantegnas

  • WTI Magazine #108 Oct 20, 2018
  • 86

Andrea Mantegna is unanimously considered one of the fathers of Renaissance painting in northern Italy. His attention to archeology and his great ability to elaborate classical themes in Roman finds led him to open up one of the great stylistic currents that would contribute to the formation of the Venetian Renaissance, thanks to the closeness and continuous exchange of ideas that he had with his wife's family: the Bellini family.

His father-in-law Gentile Bellini left him half of his precious notes on painting, while the other half went to his brother-in-law Giovanni Bellini, the father of Venetian tonalism that led to Giorgione, Titian and the great artists of the 16th century Serenissima Republic. The small painting of “Christ with the Animula of the Virgin”, which is now kept in the Civic Museum of Ferrara, shows how crucial and important is the work of Mantegna and how he is still seen today as a leading artist in the permanent exhibitions of museums around the world. Consequently, any news about him and his works is taken into account.

In 1934 Roberto Longhi recomposed two parts of the Altarpiece of the “Death of the Virgin”, recognizing the small painting in the Civic Museum of Ferrara as the upper part of the altarpiece preserved at the Prado in Madrid. The two pieces met for the first time in the great exhibition in Mantua in 1961 and then in the sensational exhibition of the Louvre on Mantegna held in 2008. But the pieces around Europe of the mythical painted apparatus in the chapel of Ludovico II Gonzaga in the Castle of San Giorgio are not just two, but five. In all probability, the series also included those corresponding to the so-called Triptych of the Uffizi consisting of the “Ascension of Christ”, the “Adoration of the Magi” and the “Circumcision”. The two side panels have the same dimensions as the intact Death of the Virgin and the question of the reconstruction and placement of the chapel within the great manor of the Gonzagas is still open, even if we are increasingly inclined to believe that it corresponded to the lower floor of the famous Chamber of the Spouses.

If in the case of the death of the Virgin the detail of the side pillars has led to the recomposition of the work, another detail, even more imperceptible, was the protagonist of a second resounding discovery and the consequent new attribution to Mantegna. The “Resurrection of Christ” preserved at the Carrara Academy in Bergamo, considered a copy of a Renaissance original, has been attributed to Andrea Mantegna. That is because, among other things, of the signature drawn in pen or with a thin brush on the back of the painting: nevertheless, over the centuries the panel has been considered made by an anonymous in the shop or by the son of the master or as a contemporary copy.

Recent studies, however, have confirmed the authorship of the work, made around 1492-93, linking it to the fate of another masterpiece by Andrea Mantegna: the “Descent into Limbo” of 1492, preserved in Princeton in the collection of Barbara Piasecka Johnson. Observing the small cross on the lower edge of the panel depicting the Resurrection of Christ, to be precise under the stone arch, scholars have noted that the cross had to find a continuation in a missing portion of the painting. It has been established that the lower half of the Resurrection is the “Descent into Limbo”, auctioned at Sotheby's in 2003 for $30 million and kept at Princeton in Barbara Piasecka Johnson's collection. The Resurrection, on the other hand, was purchased in 1842 by Count Lochis for 24 gold coins and only today do we know to be two parts of a single painting.