Andrea Mantegna
Biography of Italian Renaissance Painter to Ludovico Gonzaga.

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Lamentation Over The Dead Christ,
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan (1490)
An iconic work of Christian art
from the Italian Renaissance.

Andrea Mantegna (c.1431-1506)


Training as a Painter
Early Works
Court Painter to Ludovico Gonzaga in Mantua
Lamentation over the Dead Christ
Triumph of Caesar
Other Paintings

Ceiling oculus, part of Mantegna's
Camera Degli Sposi frescoes on
the ceiling of Ducal Palace Mantua.
Example of di sotto in su, quadratura.


One of the most outstanding figures in Early Renaissance painting, the Italian painter and engraver Andrea Mantegna is best known for his large paintings of realistic figures, often viewed from a low perspective in order to a create greater monumentality. Along with the architect Filippo Brunelleschi and the sculptor Donatello, Mantegna is considered to be one of the most important Old Masters of the Early Renaissance (1400-90), being noted in particular for his illusionist trompe l'oeil painting techniques such as foreshortening and linear perspective. In addition, he produced some of the greatest Renaissance drawings.

His most notable works include the tempera masterpiece Lamentation over the Dead Christ (1470-80, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan), the fresco painting Camera degli Sposi (1465-74, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua) and The Family and Court of Ludovico Gonzaga (1474, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua) as well as Triumph of Caesar (1480-6, Hampton Court Palace, England).

Louis III Duke of Mantua (1471-74)
Detail from The Family and Court of
Ludovico Gonzaga (1474)
Palazzo Ducale, Mantua.

For an idea of the pigments
used by Andrea Mantegna
in his colour painting, see:
Renaissance Colour Palette.

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.
For the greatest view painters, see:
Best Landcape Artists.
For the greatest portraitists
see: Best Portrait Artists.
For the greatest genre-painting, see:
Best Genre Painters.
For the top allegorical painting,
see: Best History Painters.

Training as a Painter

Born around 1431 near the city of Vicenza in Northern Italy, he was the son of a carpenter. At about the age of 10 he became apprenticed to the antiquarian Francesco Squarcione (1395-1468), an art teacher in Padua. Squarcione ran an art school, and as many as 137 painters passed through his door. He was a great fan of ancient Rome, and the art of perspective. He passed this enthusiasm on to the young Mantegna. The latter quickly learned his craft and at the age of 17 was in a position to set up his own workshop, convinced that Squarcione was the only one who had been profiting from his artistic talent. Mantegna married Nicolosia Bellini in 1453. Her brothers were the renowned artists Giovanni Bellini and Gentile Bellini, and both artists went on to have an influence on the early painting of their new brother-in-law.

Early Works

One of Mantegna's earliest known religious paintings is St. Jerome in the Wilderness (1448-51, Sao Paulo Art Museum). The figures are boney, gritty and quite realistic. In his younger years he tended to paint using neutral colour, but as he matured his palette became slightly more colourful.

His first major work was for an altarpiece in 1448 for the Church of Santa Sofia, unfortunately this work is now lost. The same year he worked with a group of artists on the decoration of the Ovetari Chapel, Padu. This work was almost lost in 1944 through the Allied bombings. Other important works from his early period were the frescoes of two saints over the entrance porch of the church of Sant'Antonio in Padua, 1452 and an altar-piece of St Luke and other saints for the church of Santa Giustina, now in the Brera Gallery in Milan, 1453.


Court Painter to Ludovico Gonzaga in Mantua

In 1459 Mantegna moved to Mantua, where Ludovico Gonzaga, the Marquis of Mantua, employed him as court artist. He remained with the family for the rest of his life. He created some of his best works for this family including the trompe l'oeil Camera degli Sposi (Wedding Chamber), where he painted the walls and ceilings of an interior room. In his most famous mural painting, he painted a sky on the ceiling with men and women looking down. Two centuries later, in the Baroque era, this became a popular form of decoration. He went through a difficult personal period when his son Bernardino and the Marquis Gonzaga died. It took some time to develop a connection with the new Marquis, but when he did, he was a strong and lasting one.

Lamentation over the Dead Christ

One of the great Renaissance paintings of the 15th century, Lamentation over the Dead Christ (c.1470-80, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan) is probably the most celebrated example of foreshortening in all Renaissance art. It depicts the corpse of Jesus on a marble slab, watched over by the weeping Virgin Mary and Saint John. Unlike most religious art of the quattrocento, this is hardly an idealized portrait of Christ: the holes in the hands and feet, the discolouration of the skin, and the dramatic linear perspective of the foreshortened body give it a cold and morbid realism, as well as a sculptural three-dimensionality. Mantegna obtained his feeling for sculpture and consequent skill in modelling figures from his teacher Francesco Squarcione (1395-1468), who had been a painter and antiquarian, and who instilled an interest in Greek sculpture in his young pupil. Exactly when Mantegna painted The Lamentation is not known. It was discovered in his workshop after his death and was sold off to pay his creditors. It ranks alongside Masaccio's Brancacci Chapel frescoes, Roger van der Weyden's Descent From the Cross (c.1435-40, Prado, Madrid), and Piero Della Francesca's Flagellation of Christ (1450-60, Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino) as one of the greatest paintings of the 15th century.


Triumph of Caesar

At the height of the Renaissance in 1486, he started a series of 9 paintings depicting the Triumph of Caesar, which showed his continued interest in ancient Rome. He finished the series in 1492 and they are considered some of his finest works. They were sold in 1628 to King Charles I of England and rest today in Hampton Court Palace. In 1488 he painted a series of frescos in the chapel Belvedere at the Vatican. The series included a praised depiction of the Baptism of Christ - but Pope Pius VI later destroyed it in 1780.

Other Paintings

Other major works include Madonna della Vittoria in commemoration of the Battle of Fornovo (1495, Louvre); Death of the Virgin (c.1461, Museo del Prado, Madrid); St. George (c.1460, Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice); Adoration of the Magi (1462, Uffizi, Florence); The Ascension (1462, Uffizi); Madonna of the Cherubim (1485, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan); Holy Family (c.1495, The Dresden Gallery); Judith and Holofernes (1495, National Gallery of Art, Washington) and Parnassus, Mars and Venus (1497, Louvre, Paris). Mantegna also made a few engravings, but as he never signed or dated any of his plates, there remains some controversy around authenticity of some works. His workshop produced over 30 engravings but it is considered that he himself was only responsible for 7 or less of those.

His personal life continued to be turbulent. After the death of his wife, his son Francesco was banished from the city of Mantua after he incurred the new Marquis's displeasure. Mantegna died in Mantua in 1506 and was honoured by the city when they held his funeral in the Church of Santa Andrea. He was admired by his contemporaries such as Paolo Uccello, Filippo Lippi, Donatello and Botticelli, and went on to influence other important artists including Albrecht Durer (1471-1528), Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Michelangelo (1475-1564). His tradition of ceiling painting had a following for almost three centuries.

Works by Andrea Mantegna can be seen in the best art museums across Europe.

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