Italian painter and engraver Andrea Mantegna was one of the most famous and celebrated Northern Italian Renaissance painters of the 15th century. Best known for his heroic figures and his dramatic use of perspective, he was the first painter in history to produce scenes with landscapes and architectural settings.
Andrea Mantegna was born in 1431 near Vicenza, Italy, the son of a carpenter. Recognizing the potential talent in Andrea, local painter Francesco Squarcione adopted the ten year old boy to better hone and develop his skill as an artist. Andrea entered the painter's guild at fifteen years old and soon realized (as other students of Squarcione had done) that he was being exploited by his master. Squarcione was gaining a fortune by collecting and selling art. This angered the artist, and at seventeen, he terminated his apprenticeship with Squarcione and set up his own workshop.
Andrea Mantegna was strongly influenced by the works of sculptor, Donatello. He practiced precision and perspective, and brought art to a whole new level. His works gave the viewer the impression of looking up at the subject, as if the subject was on a pedestal. Art pieces such as ‘Madonna in Glory’ (for the church of S. Sofia at Padua) and ‘The San Zeno Altarpiece’ displayed the prevalence of Donatello’s influence.
As Mantegna progressed as an artist, he came to know and admire Jacopo Bellini, a pictorial rival of Squarcione. Their association caused a permanent rift between the artist and his adopted father which would never be reconciled. Mantegna married Bellini’s daughter Nicolosia in 1453, and before long, his work and that of his new brother-in-law Giovanni was establishing the early Renaissance style of Northern Italy. They used a drawing of Jacopo Bellini as a basis for ‘Agony in the Garden (1455).
Andrea Mantegna remained in Padua until 1459. That year, Ludovico Gonzaga persuaded him to move to Mantua in order to become the court painter for the Gonzaga family. There he spent the rest of his life. Some of his best works were created during this time. The famous wedding chamber (Camera degli Sposi) was changed into an open-air pavilion by transforming the ceiling into the illusion of a dome that opened up to a painted sky. This mastery of perspective was one of his most spectacular achievements. He created several portraits during this time, mainly of the Gonzaga Family and its court.
During the late 1480’s Mantegna worked on a more monumental scale when he created a series of nine paintings for John Francis 3rd consisting of the ‘Triumphs of Caesar’. In 1497, he was commissioned to paint these two large paintings for the studio of Isabella d'Este in Mantua: ‘Il Parnaso’ and ‘Trionfo della Virtu’.
The artist’s health began to decline in the early 1500’s and he died September 13th 1506 in his home, surrounded by the antique findings he loved so much. Andrea Mantegna’s greatness was rightfully acknowledged when a funeral chapel in the church of Santa Andrea was dedicated to his honor.