A highly influential painter, Andrea Mantegna’s works were a source of inspiration of the likes of Giovanni Bellini, Albrecht Durer and Leonardo da Vinci. His works were regarded as an excellent representation of a unique spatial illusion and a perspective that one can tell is experimental of Mantegna.
Andrea Mantegna grew up as an ambitious artist that blossomed only after leaving his hometown, Padua. But before he left Padua, he apprenticed to Francesco Squarcione (1397 – 1468) at the age of 11. This apprenticeship to Squarcione paved the way for Mantegna’s exceptional career in painting.
Originally came from Isola di Carturo, Mantegna was the son of Biagio a skilled carpenter. He came from a simple family and his inclinations toward the art and history was highly influenced by Francesco Squarcione, a painter from Padua. That’s why at the age of 11, he decided to leave his hometown near Padua to pursue a promising career with Squarcione.
Mantegna’s master, Squarcione, was famous for his love of the ancient art, particularly Romano-Greco art. He had traveled throughout Italy and probably Greece to visit and collect antique items like vases, paintings, statues and reliefs. And then, he will make drawings out of these collected items and display these on his studio for others to observe closely.
This started Squarcione accepting students, to help him raise as many art works as he can while teaching his students about art in return. In 1440, the Paduan painter had had 137 painters in his studio, most of which came from Veneto and Tuscany like Donatello, Paolo Uccello and Filippo Lippi. Thus, it should not come as a surprise that Squarcione was such a talented painter and a passionate patron of the art. And though this, Andrea Mantegna learned the ways to creating timeless paintings.
In stating precisely, Squarcione was a master of forced perspective, but the young Mangtegna was particularly trained to do close observation of Roman sculptures and to learn Latin. This could be one of the reasons why Mantegna’s early works were of sculptural style with emphasis on exuberance and naturalism. Consequently, he painted delineated figures, rigid details and a vibe of austerity in the paintings.
However, when he was 17, he decided to abandon Squarcione’s studio to explore other cities. But the main reason was because his master leveraged his works without paying the young Mantegna in return.
In 1448, Mantegna produced his first work as an independent artist. It was an altarpiece for Santa Sofia Church, which is now lost. Also that same period the painter was commissioned to work on decorating the Ovetari Chapel in the Chruch of the Ereminati. He did not work on this alone but alongside with Niccolo Pizolo and other painters.
The series of paintings for the said church nearly lost due to the bombing attacks in Padua in 1944. In those churches where you can find the masterpiece, St. James Led to His Execution. It was Mantegna’s signature eye-view perspective which added much drama to the scene. And then, this was followed by groundbreaking frescoes of Saints for the entranceway of the Church of Sant’Antonio and an altarpiece for the Church of S. Giustina of Saint Luke in 1452 and 1453 respectively.
These frescoes were famous for they were the first art works where Mantegna utilized a lowered perspective or horizons to add a certain level of greatness in the painting. This technique definitely classicized the structures, figures and landscapes. In addition to this, he also applied the worm’s-eyed view technique in St. John and Two Donors and The Holy Trinity with the Virgin.
In 1453, Andrea Mantegna married Jacopo Bellini’s daughter while being a student in his studio. Under Jacopo’s mentorship, the Paduan painter accomplished a few masterpieces such as the Madonna with Angels (an altarpiece) and the Saint in the San Zeno Maggiore Church in 1459.
Later on that year, he worked for Ludovico Gonzaga as a personal artist. He went to Mantua to fulfill this duty for the Gonzaga’s, and one of which was painting them family portraits. It became a collection that is now entitled as the Camera degli Sposi. Apparently, his career stint with Ludovico was a lucrative one, but he found himself in distress when his patron and some of the family members died.
Andrea Mantegna grieved for this loss for several years, crippling him up to do some work. However, fortunately, Francesco Gonzaga came along to hire the grieving painter and start living again. So in 1488, Pope Innocent VIII contracted Mantegna to do some frescoes in Vatican, Rome. Although this work was quite strict, a challenge that he had to face after having some creative leeway while working in Mantua, he re-discovered himself through it.
As a result, Mantegna returned to being the court artist of Francesco Gonzaga and his wife, Isabella d’Este in 1490. He built them a house near the Church of San Sebastiano and he was also responsible for decorating its walls with paintings.
Before he left Rome for Mantua, Mantegna first completed the 9 tempera panels of the Triumphs of Caesar in 1492. It was considered as a Mantuan art treasure though that got sold to King Charles I of England. Therefore, it is now one of the Mantegna paintings that can be seen in Hampton Court Palace in UK.
The 16 years of his life were dedicated to engravings, according to Vasari. His collaboration with Niccolo during the early stages of his career might have prompted him to do engravings, of about 30 plates, that he further honed while he was in Rome. Mantegna lived and died as an artist, indeed. He died on September 13, 1506 in Mantua.
Today, majority of Mantegna’s works are now in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence while some are restored and available for viewing in The Louvre Paris, The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, The Dresden Gallery and some selected museums in Berlin, Verona, Milan, London, Copenhagen, Madrid and Venice.