By Anne Leader and Maria Alambritis

On 13 September 1506, Andrea Mantegna died at Mantua. One of the most successful and respected painters of his time, his work is characterised by an innovative use of perspective and foreshortening, a sharp, almost severe style, and a fascination with the art of classical antiquity.

Mantegna began his training in Padua, where he was apprenticed to the painter Francesco Squarcione in 1442. Padua’s avid intellectual and cultural climate, which fostered Mantegna’s interest in classical civilisation and the arrival to Padua of the Florentine sculptor Donatello in 1443-1444, were two of the major influences on his work during this early stage of his career.

His first major fresco commission came in 1448 for the Orvetari Chapel in the church of the Eremitani in Padua (mostly destroyed by bombing in 1944). Early panel paintings of this time include the The Adoration of the Shepherds (shortly after 1450) and the Saint Luke Polyptych (1453-1454). By the end of the 1450s, Mantegna had established himself as an independent, successful painter, having separated from Squarcione’s studio and forming an alliance with the Bellini family via his marriage to Giovanni Bellini’s sister Nicolosia.

Lodovico II Gonzaga, the Second Marchese of Mantua invited Mantegna to become his court painter and from 1460-1488 Mantegna worked exclusively for three generations of Gonzaga patrons.

Mantegna’s masterpiece at Mantua was the Camera Picta, also known as the Camera degli Sposi, in the ducal palace in Mantua (1465-1474). His most significant commission for Lodovico, this mural series depicts the Gonzaga family in various scenes at court and leisure, while the ceiling oculus presents an astounding achievement in perspective and painterly illusion, opening up to a view of the sky.

Mantegna’s late devotional works are imbued with sombre feeling and striking use of composition and foreshortening, as in the Virgin and Child (1490-1500) and The Dead Christ and Three Mourners (c. 1500). In his printmaking, Mantegna was a pioneer in the technique of copper-plate engraving and his Virgin and Child (1485-91) is one of the most tender depictions of this motif.


Finaldi, Gabriele. “Mantegna, Andrea.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. .

 Lucco, Mauro ed. Mantegna a Mantova 1460-1506. Exhibition catalogue. Milano: Skira Editore, 2006.

The Adoration of the Shepherds, shortly after 1450, tempera on canvas, transferred from wood, 40 x 55.6 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Saint Luke Polyptych, 1453-1454, tempera on panel, 177 x 230 cm, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

Camera Picta: Ceiling oculus, 1465–74, fresco, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua.

Camera Picta: Court Scene, (1465–74), fresco, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua.

Madonna and Child with a Choir of Cherubs (Madonna of Cherubs), tempera on panel, 1485-1490, 88 × 70 cm, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

Virgin and Child, 1490-1500, tempera on canvas, 45.2 x 35.5 cm, Museo di Poldi-Pezzoli, Milan.

The Dead Christ and Three Mourners, c. 1500, tempera on canvas, 68 × 81cm, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

The Virgin and Child, engraving, about 1485–91, 26.2 x 23.3 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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