Olga's Gallery

Andrea Mantegna Biography

Together with Giovanni Bellini

, Andrea Mantegna was largely responsible for spreading the ideas of the Early Renaissance in northern Italy.

He studied in Padua under Francesco Squarcione, who also collected and sold antiquities and coins, thus introducing his pupil to this field. But most important for Mantegna’s artistic development was the sculptor Donatello, who from 1443 created the high altar for San Antonio in Padua. From him Mantegna learned how to paint anatomically correct figures, how to achieve precision when tracing details, and not least how to compose a picture with an accurate perspective view.

By 1448, the young painter showed himself almost independent in style when decorating the Ovetary Chapel of the Eremitani Church in Padua (most of it destroyed in World War II).

The Triptych that he painted for the Veronese church of San Zeno (1458) reveals clearly the character of his art. The figures possess a solemn monumental quality and are remarkably faithful to antique statues. Throughout Mantegna’s art both classical architecture and perspective were continuously explored. It was then that Mantegna’s working relationship with his brother-in-law Giovanni Bellini began, which was vitally important to the development of the Renaissance in Northern Italy. (Mantegna was married to Bellini’s sister, Nicolosia).

In 1460, Mantegna became court painter to the Gonzaga family in Mantua. After that he only left Mantua for occasional trips to Tuscany and Rome. Among his most important commissions in Mantua was the decoration of the Reggia, the ducal apartments in the Castello di San Giorgio. Only the frescoes in the Camera degli Sposi – one of the public rooms of Ludovico Gonzaga and his wife – have survived. The loss of the cycles in the other rooms is a reminder of the fragmentary and chance nature of our knowledge of the art and culture of the Early Renaissance.

In about 1490, Mantegna began to produce engravings of great artistic and technical perfection, which contributed greatly to the dissemination of the Early Renaissance innovations north of the Alps.

The so-called Camera degli Sposi (The Bridal Chamber) is situated on the second floor (first – British) of the Mantua Palazzo, in one of its oldest parts Castello di San Giorgio. In Mantegna’s time it was called ‘camera depicta’ or ‘camera magna picta’ (room with paintings). The name of ‘Camera degli Sposi’ appears in 1648 in the works of the Venetian art historian, K. Ridolgi, though the name obviously does not reflect the usage of the room. Work on the chamber’s decoration probably began in 1465 and was completed in 1474, though some art historians think that the works went on until 1488. Mantegna’s frescos represent the boldest example of “Illusionism” found anywhere in the entire 15th century.

The dome. In the center of the dome is an illusionistic ceiling painting of a window, with diameter of about 2.7 m, opening into the sky. Lower, on the dome, are 8 medallions with portraits of Roman emperors: Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba and Otton. Lower, in 12 triangles, are episodes from the myths of Hercules, Arian and Orpheus.

The walls.

In the upper parts of the walls are 12 lunettes in which the heraldic symbols of the Gonzagas are depicted.

Two walls of the room (the southern and eastern) are painted with pilasters and curtains, while the other two depict contemporary events.

The entrance wall (1) is broken by pillars painted with classical motifs behind which we see a landscape full of Roman monuments. Against this background Ludovico III Gonzaga is greeting his son Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga. To understand the significance of the subject in its own day, it should be remembered that Francesco’s elevation to the high ecclesiastical rank of the Cardinal represented an enormous honor for a family which had only relatively recently risen from being landowners and condottieri to becoming lords of Mantua. Accompanying the figures is a splendid train of pages with horses in decorative bridles and purebred dogs.

The wall with a mantelpiece (2) shows Ludovico III Gonzaga and his wife Barbara of Brandenburg surrounded by their children and court. Here Mantegna reveals his talents as a portrait painter.


Andrea Mantegna. Old Italian Masters. by V. Lazarev. Moscow. 1973.

Monumental Painting of Italian Renaissance by I. Smirnova. Moscow. 1987.

The Art of the Italian Renaissance. Architecture. Sculpture. Painting. Drawing. Könemann. 1995.

Painting of Europe. XIII-XX centuries. Encyclopedic Dictionary. Moscow. Iskusstvo. 1999.

Andrea Mantegna: Padua and Mantua (The Great Fresco Cycles of the Renaissance) by Keith Christiansen. George Braziller, 1994.

Mantegna (The Library of Great Masters) by Ettore Camesasca, Susan M. Lister. Riverside Book Company, 1994.

Andrea Mantegna: The Adoration of the Magi (Getty Museum Studies on Art) by Dawson W. Carr, Andrea Mantegna. J Paul Getty Museum Pubns, 1998.

Mantegna (Masters of Italian Art Series) by Nike Batzner. Konemann, 1998.