On 7 October 1473, sculptors Cristoforo and Antonio Mantegazza were commissioned to work at the Chartreuse of Pavia on the facade of the monastic church. The birth and death dates of the two brothers are unknown, and no works signed with their names survive. However, the importance of this and other commissions demonstrates that they counted among the major Milanese sculptors of the late fifteenth century.
The Carthusian monastery of the Certosa of Pavia was founded by Giangaleazzo Visconti, 1st Duke of Milan, in fulfilment of his wife’s will of 1390. Its consists of a grand church dedicated to Santa Maria delle Grazie, and monastic buildings arranged around two cloisters. The monastery’s foundation stone was laid on 27 August 1396, yet construction proceeded slowly until the 1450s. Architect and sculptor Guininforte Solari managed the construction during the second half of the fifteenth century, when the Mantegazza brothers were also active at the site.
Joined by Giovanni Antonio Amadeo in 1474, the Mantegazzas sculpted marble reliefs representing Old Testament events and the Doctors of the Church for the lower part of the monastic church’s façade. Modern scholars have long tried to identify each brother’s individual style in these and other works. The debate continues, although the general consensus associates Antonio with angular, flattened figures and drapery, and Cristoforo with softer, fuller figures.
Cristoforo and Antonio were commissioned to work on the facade thanks to the powerful recommendation of the Duke. He continued to protect them in the following years: in 1477 and 1480 he wrote to the monastery’s prior to remind him to pay the sculptors promptly.
The last documentary mention of Cristoforo Mantegazza dates to February 1482, when his brothers Antonio and Giorgio and his daughter Costanza where paid for his work at the Chartreuse, suggesting that he had died in the preceding months. Although there are no certain dates, Antonio probably survived until 1495, when Cristoforo Solari substituted him as ducal sculptor.
While the renowned sculptor brothers disappear from the documentary record at the close of the fifteenth century, the construction of the Chartreuse’s facade continued in the sixteenth century under the direction of Cristoforo Lombardo. His death in 1555 halted the project, which in fact remains unfinished: a crowning section with shaped gable and candelabra was never executed.
References: Andrea S. Norris. “Mantegazza.” Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T053900; Sarah Morgan, et al. “Pavia.” Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T065853.
The Charterhouse of Pavia. Photo: Sergio D’Afflitto on Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0.
The Charterhouse of Pavia, details of the facade. Photo: Carlo dell’Orto on Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0.