Francesco Squarcione. 1394-1474.
Andrea Mantegna. 1431-1506.
Squarcione, who was the teacher of many pupils from all parts of Italy, has left few indications of artistic ability, and is believed by recent critics to have been rather a contractor for artistic undertakings than an artist. He was an ardent collector of antiques, the study of which influenced a wide circle of younger men.
Andrea Mantegna, adopted by Squarcione while a child, at seventeen painted an altarpiece he was proud to sign, and soon after was carrying out his original and independent work in the Church of the Eremetani. He freed himself from Squarcione’s control in 1456, having been for some years in close association with Jacopo Bellini, whose daughter he had married in 1453, and from whom he gained much help in his art, as from the son Giovanni. His altarpieces of this period are patterned after early Venetian examples, and there are a number of similar pictures painted by Mantegna and Giovanni Bellini, one of them after a sketch by Jacopo.
In 1459 Mantegna went to Mantua as painter at the Gonzaga court, a position which he retained throughout his life. Altarpieces, decorations of the palace, family portraits, and the superintendence of artistic under-takings occupied his time. Two years, 1488-1490, were spent in Rome decorating the Pope’s private chapel.
His love of the antique, as well as the perfection of his draughtsmanship, are seen in the ” Triumph of Scipio,” a painting in monochrome having the effect of bas-relief, one of his latest works remaining in his studio in Mantua at the time of his death in 1506.
NOTES ON THE PICTURES.
No. 293. Crucifixion.
Attributed to Squarcione, but more probably a school piece. The landscape is that of the country just south of Padua. The statuesque figures and the treatment of the drapery and hair suggest a forerunner of Mantegna.
No. 294. Madonna and Child. Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin.
Tempera on wood, a signed work sold by the Lazzara family of Padua to the Berlin Museum in 1882. Believed by Kristeller the only authentic work by Squarcione except a damaged St. Jerome in Padua. Considered spurious by Kugler.
The child recalls the putti, 445, by Donatello, who worked in Padua 1444-1449. The candelabrum and the garlands show also the influence of the metal worker.
Notice the different way in which the Madonna and the Child are painted, the flatness of the former, the exaggerated modeling of the latter. Consider reasons for this difference.
No. 295. Condemnation of St. James. Chapel of SS. James and Christopher, Eremetani, Padua.
Fresco, painted 1448-1455. The chapel was bequeathed in 1443 by Ovetari to Jacopo Leone on condition that he should spend 700 ducats in its decoration. The commission was given to Squarcione, who employed several of his pupils in the work. The general design of the decoration is credited to Mantegna, though he actually painted but six of the scenes, four on the left wall given to the history of St. James, and the two lower ones on the right wall, the Martyrdom and Burial, of the St. Christopher series. The two upper scenes on the right, seen in 315, were long attributed to Marco Zoppo, but are given by Kristeller to Ansuino da Forli, a pupil of Piero della Francesca.
The Condemnation of St. James shows the severe drawing, the classical interest, and the power of characterization which mark Mantegna’s work throughout his career. The contrast between the exaltation of spirit of the saint and the judge, whose head seems copied from a Roman coin; the roguish face of the small boy who has appropriated the soldier’s helmet and shield, both wrought with all the craft of the goldsmith; the grace and strength of the soldier leaning on the parapet at the right; the dignity of the one at the left, called Mantegna himself; the careful skill of the classic arch and the distant scene of the Euganean hills; all these are elements of great interest and beauty, and note-worthy as the work of a young man in the early twenties. The frescos do not, however, possess beauty of color.
No. 296. Madonna and Child with Saints.
National Gallery, London.
Canvas, 4 1/2 feet by 3 feet 9 inches. The saints are John the Baptist and Mary Magdalen.
Compare in construction and sentiment with other representations of the Madonna by Mantegna. The figure of the Magdalen is of great dignity and beauty; the pose and drapery might have been studied from a classic statue.
No. 297. Portrait of Cardinal Scarampi.
Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin.
On wood, painted in 1459. Cardinal Lodovico Scarampi, archbishop of Florence and patriarch of Aquileia, had led the papal troops against the Turks, defeating them near Rhodes in 1457.
Mantegna’s uncompromising pencil is well adapted to the portrait of this ” man of iron.” We may not admire the man, but we must admire the artist’s power of characterization.
No. 298. Circumcision.
Three figures from the lower part of the right wing of a triptych painted about 14601464 for the chapel of the Castello Vecchio, Mantua. The central panel, shorter than the wings, and concave, represents the Adoration of the Magi, the Madonna being seated in a grotto surrounded by cherubs; on the left wing is the Ascension. The color is clear, from deepest blue to brightest red, yet harmonious. The Circumcision takes place in a lofty pillared hall elaborately decorated with Renaissance ornament in gold. The high lights of the drapery are brought out with gold. The whole is painted with miniature like delicacy. The appeal of the child is a phase of that close relation between Mother and Child which is a frequent theme with Mantegna. The figure of the old priest recalls the saints of the Vivarini. The figure of the little attendant is of perfect beauty. Mantegna’s ability to drape his figures is already shown. Cf. 296, 305, 306.
No. 299. St. George.
Panel 2 feet 1 inch by 1 foot, painted about the time of the Mantuan frescos.
Mantegna’s color was not always agreeable, but in this picture he has secured a harmony of great beauty. The reflections, the light on the bronze plate armor and on the chain armor beneath, are painted with absolute perfection in harmonious tones of green and greenish blue that accord with the familiar landscape and with the cold blue of the sky. St. George is here the ideal mediaeval saint, seldom so completely and charmingly realized. The contrast between this conception and that of the St. George of Donatello is that of different epochs. Compare 434.
Ghiberti has been called a ” painter in bronze “; Mantegna might be called a sculptor with brush and pencil, and St. George a statuette in bronze standing in its niche.
No. 300. Court of Lodovico Gonzaga.
No. 301. Ceiling Decoration.
Camera degli Sposi, Castello di Corte, Mantua.
Frescos, series completed in 1474. This apartment in the Gonzaga palace was decorated with family groups set against a background of tapestry or landscape. The ceiling has in its center the illusive opening to the sky with playful faces looking over the parapet, an example of foreshortening which prefigures Correggio’s work at Parma.
Mantegna’s method was not that of true fresco, painting on wet plaster; he painted on dry plaster, a secco, a less durable process, and his Mantuan frescos have suffered much from time and repainting. His decorations in the Camera degli Sposi made the rather small low room into a large and airy apartment. Consider the painter’s task as aiding or counteracting the work of the architect.
Nos. 302-307. Triumph of Caesar.
Hampton Court, England.
A series of nine paintings in tempera, on paper stretched on canvas, each about nine feet square, completed in 1492. A letter of 1501 describes a performance of plays from Plautus and Terence in the theatre of the Castle of Mantua, when the stage was hung with the pictures of the Triumph of Caesar. In 1629 they were bought by Charles I of England and placed in Hampton Court. In the eighteenth century they were injured by a restoration. They deserve a better position than the narrow hall in which they are now hung.
The general theme is a triumphal procession with the spoils of war. 302. The Gods; a colossal statue of Jupiter, of fine statuesque quality, carried on a chariot, and the realistic bust of Cybele. 303. Trophies of arms, vases, and silver pitchers. 304. Temple treasures, a wonderful metal vase carried on the shoulder of an old man. 305. Sacrificial beasts led by a youth, one of the most beautiful figures in the whole series. 306. Elephants carrying baskets and torches with the sacred fire, led by a youthful figure of much beauty. 307. Musicians and the insignia of Rome preceding the chariot of Caesar.
The scenes are too large and too grandiose to be compressed into a few inches, but something of the majesty and pomp, the onward sweep of the procession, can be appreciated.
No. 308. Presentation of Christ. Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin.
Canvas, 2 feet 9 inches by 2 feet 2 inches. An early work. Mantegna’s easel pictures were painted in tempera glazed with varnish. The mother’s reluctance to give the child to the hands of the priest is subtly expressed. Compare with the Circumcision, 298.
No. 309. Madonna with SS. Joachim and Anna.
Royal Gallery, Dresden.
2 feet 5 inches by 1 foot 11 inches. Painted about 1497. Kristeller thinks the saints are Joseph and Elizabeth. The beauty of the Madonna and the perfection of the child’s form mark this as one of Mantegna’s more developed half length panels. The attendant saints crowd the composition, but act as foils to the beauty and sentiment of Mother and Child.
Compare the Child with those by Perugino, Francia, and Raphael.
No. 310. Dead Christ.
A work that was found in Mantegna’s studio after his death, but probably done as a study in perspective at the time of his Mantuan frescos. It was not intended for sale or exhibition, but was the artist’s close study of nature, purely for himself.
No. 311. Madonna of Victory.
Canvas, 9 by 5 feet, painted in 1496 to commemorate the victory claimed by Francesco Gonzaga over the French at the battle of Fornovo, July 1495. The marquis kneels in the foreground. The archangel Michael and St. George hold the Madonna’s mantle; behind are St. Andrew and St. Longinus, patrons of Mantua; in front, St. Elizabeth and the little St. John.
The design of the bower of fruit and flowers with singing birds and a great spray of coral is to increase the sense of richness of this votive offering. Without it the group builds itself up with great dignity. The center of attention is at once the gracious Madonna, who blesses her adoring worshipper. Compare with 309.
No. 312. Wisdom victorious over the Vices.
No. 313. Dancing Muses: detail of Parnassus.
These pictures, on canvas, 6 by 5 feet, were painted early in the sixteenth century for the ” Studiolo ” of Isabella d’Este, wife of Francesco Gonzaga, in the Reggia, Mantua. The subjects and details were dictated by Isabella.
312. Minerva, goddess of wisdom, drives from her pleasant bowers the herd of vices; their helpless king Ignorance is carried away by Avarice and Ingratitude. The armless being is Sloth; Venus standing on the Centaur’s back, and the female satyr with the swarm of doves stand for sensuality. The Virtues watch approvingly from Heaven.
313. The theme of the Parnassus is the triumph of Venus over Mars. The two deities stand on the summit of the rock around which dance Apollo and the Muses.
The first shows how difficult was the painter’s task in devising an artistic presentation of themes chosen by his erudite patrons. The second shows the delight and ability of the artist in representing those portions of the themes which came legitimately within the field of art, not allegory abstruse and complicated, but beautiful human forms, joyous movement and fluttering draperies.
No. 314. Judith. Uffizi, Florence.
Drawing in water-color, executed in 1491. Owned by Vasari and described by him. A ” superb drawing.”