The Holy Family – Andrea Mantegna

This picture entered into the arena of modern discussion in 1904 with an article by Wilhelm Bode in the Kunstchronik, reviewing Paul Kristeller’s book on Mantegna. In this article was given a reproduction of our picture, which Dr. Bode there pronounced to be a genuine work of the later time of the master. In 1902 the painting was sold out of the collection of Count Agosto d’Aiuti in Naples and was acquired by Consul Eduard Weber of Hamburg. The Weber Collection was sold in 1912 and soon afterward the Mantegna passed into the possession of Mr. Altman.

It is painted in tempera on canvas. The four figures fill the panel in the manner of a bas-relief; the background of lemon branches on a single plane immediately back of the heads strengthens the similarity. The Virgin, seated, holds the nude Christ Child, who stands with one foot on a cushion on her lap. Saint Joseph at the left and Saint Mary Magdalen at the right look out of the picture at the spectator. Of almost identical arrangement is a much-restored picture in the Dresden Gallery, the so-called Eastlake Mantegna, where Saint Elizabeth is introduced in the place which the Magdalen occupies in the Altman picture and the infant Saint John is added. Our painting also has marked analogy with a work of doubtful authenticity in the Verona Museum, representing the Virgin and Child, Saint Joseph, and Mary Magdalen. The accepted date for these compositions is placed at about 1495, toward which time the Altman picture can safely be assigned.

Seymour de Ricci points out that our work corresponds with the description of a painting, since disappeared, which was mentioned in Ricche Miniere della pittura Veneziano by Boschini, published at Venice in 1674. A picture by Mantegna, The Ma-donna and Child, Saint Joseph and Saint Mary Magdalen, is there spoken of as being in the Hospital for Incurables in Venice. “As no genuine Mantegna but the Weber (Altman) picture shows the same subject,” says Mr. de Ricci in disposing of the question, “we may confidently identify the two paintings and can thus establish the original provenance of this Holy Family.”