Andrea Mantegna was a Paduan painter who is considered one of the first fully-fledged Renaissance artists of northern Italy. He is known for his experimentation with landscape art, perspective and accuracy of Roman archaeology in his paintings.
During his time, he was a celebrated and sought-after artist that was commissioned by high profile clients such as the Marquis of Mantua and the Pope. Today he is renowned as a master of his craft and demonstrated unprecedented accuracy and painstaking attention to detail in his technique. Below are some facts about his life and career.
Mantegna was a professional painter by the age of seventeen
After attending the Fragilia dei Pirroti e Coffanari (Paduan Artist’s Guild) at age ten, he became the adopted son and apprentice of Francesco Squarcione, the Paduan painter, at age eleven. Mantegna was one of the most successful students of Squarcione, who had gained the title “father of painting” because of his many mentees. However, he grew weary of the semi-legitimate business and Squarcione profiting off of his commissions. He saught emancipation from his mentor, claiming exploitation and fraud.
The legal battle ended in Mantegna’s favor, and in 1448 he became an independent painter. He honed and perfected his artistic skill throughout his teen years and became a professional painter after his emancipation. He was commissioned for an altarpiece for the Church of Santa Sofia in Padua.
Although the Madonna altarpiece does not survive today, Giorgio Vasari described it as having ‘the skill of an experienced old man,’ an impressive feat for a seventeen-year-old. He was also commissioned with a fellow student of Squarcione, Niccolò Pizzolo, to paint frescos within the Ovetari Chapel in the Eremitani Church in Padua. However, Pizzolo died in a brawl, leaving Mantegna in charge of the project. Many of Mantegna’s works during this time in his career were of a religious focus.
The Paduan school influenced his artistic career
Padua was one of the early hotbeds for humanism in northern Italy, encouraging an intellectual and international school of thought. The local university provided the study of philosophy, science, medicine and mathematics and numerous scholars from Italy and Europe moved to Padua, providing an influx of information and a wider cultural breadth.
Mantegna befriended many of these scholars, artists and humanists, and as their intellectual equal became immersed in this cultural revival. His work reflected his interests gained from this climate, depicting historically accurate and humanist elements.
He demonstrated an interest in ancient art and archaeology
Mantenga’s adoptive father, Squarcione, while not known for his successful painting career, had a large collection of ancient Greco Roman antiquities. Squarcione passed this interest in ancient Greco Roman culture onto his students by teaching them to adopt the style from antiquity. The attitude of the Paduan school, which was on par with the Florentine reiteration of classical culture, was also a large influence of Mantegna and his interests.
The most famous demonstration of his classical interests in his art was seen in his Triumphs of Caesar (1484-1492), a series of nine frescoes that displayed Caesar’s military triumph in the Gallic war. He also decorated his Mantua home in Gonzaga Court with ancient art and antiques, so he could be surrounded by the classical influence while he created art.
He married into a family of artists
Mantegna married Nicolosia Bellini, daughter of the Venetian painter Jacopo Bellini and sister of Giovanni Bellini. He met Jacopo Bellini when he was visiting Padua. Bellini was eager to expand the vernacular of his painting school, recognizing the talent of young Mantegna. Jacopo’s son, Giovanni, was the contemporary of Mantegna and the two worked alongside one another early in their careers. Mantegna was a great influence on Giovanni’s early work.
Mantegna had mastered the art of landscape art, the technique of coloration and attention to detail and had already gained fame and recognition in Padua when he and Bellini were working together. Giovanni adopted some of the techniques of the Paduan school to create his own recognizable style.
He moved to Mantua on commission for the Gonzaga Court
By 1457, Mantegna’s career had reached maturity and he was a celebrated painter. His reputation drew the attention of the Italian prince and Marquis of Mantua, Ludovico III Gonzaga of the Gonzaga Court.
Ludovico III sent multiple requests beckoning Mantegna to relocate to Mantua for a commission, but he refused. However, Mantegna eventually agreed to relocate to the Gonzaga Court in 1459 to paint for Ludovico III. Mantegna was a demanding employee, and after numerous complaints of his working conditions Ludovico III constructed Mantegna and his family their own house on the grounds of the Court.
Ludovico III fell victim to the plague in 1478. After his death, Federico Gonzaga became the head of the family, followed subsequently by Francesco II six years later. Mantegna continued to work at the Gonzaga Court under Francesco II, producing some of his most famous works in his career. His work in Mantua propelled his career even further than his work in Padua, leading to a commission by a Pope in Rome and being knighted in the 1480s.