In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Andrea Mantegna

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Primary Sources
  • Collections of Essays
  • Major Exhibition Catalogues
  • Training and Early Works
  • The Ovetari Chapel
  • Verona and the San Zeno Altarpiece
  • Other Religious Paintings
  • The Camera Picta
  • The Triumphs of Caesar
  • Mythologies
  • Engravings
  • Late Works
  • Mantegna and Humanist Culture
  • Mantegna And Architecture
  • Script, Epigraphy, Arts of the Book
  • Other Studies

Renaissance and Reformation Andrea Mantegna
Stephen Campbell
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 April 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0480


Andrea Mantegna (c.  1431–1506) was a central figure in north Italian painting in the second half of the 1400s: his influential manner is characterized by an experimental approach to perspective illusionism and its evocation of the gravity as well as the materiality of Roman statuary and relief. Born the son of a woodworker in Isola di Carturo, near Padua, he joined the workshop of Francesco Squarcione before he was in his teens. By 1445, when he matriculated in the painter’s guild of Padua, Mantegna had been adopted by his teacher—an arrangement from which the artist sought emancipation in 1449. He was already receiving lucrative commissions of his own; an altarpiece for S. Sofia in 1448, murals and a terracotta altarpiece for a chapel in the church of the Eremitani the same year, a portrait of the marchese of Ferrara Leonello d’Este and his favorite Folco da Villafora in 1449. His painterly evocations of antique sculpture, epigraphy, and monumental architecture gave visual expression to the cultural identity of Padua, a university town highly conscious of its Roman (and legendary pre-Roman) heritage. Mantegna received more literary celebration than any other artist before Raphael, including comparisons to Virgil and Livy unprecedented for painters. After prestigious commissions for Padua, Ferrara, Verona, and as far afield as Montepeloso (Irsina) in Basilicata, in 1457 he was offered the position of court painter by Ludovico Gonzaga, ruler of Mantua, and moved there with his wife, Niccolosia Bellini (from the famous family of Venetian painters) in January 1459. In over four decades of Gonzaga service he produced a spectacular series of monumental murals, devotional paintings, portraits, and mythological works, while also designing (if not executing) a series of master engravings. A painting of St. Sebastian was dispatched to Aigueperse (Auvergne) in 1481. In 1488 he traveled to Rome to execute a chapel in the Vatican Belvedere for Pope Innocent VIII, demolished in 1780. In Mantua he lived as a courtier and entrepreneur, dealing in real estate and in textiles, and collecting antiquities, but he appears to have ended his days in financial difficulties. Mantegna was admired by Dürer, Raphael, Rubens, Poussin, and Degas, and in more recent times inspired works by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Kehinde Wiley, and William Kentridge. His recognition as a great modern painter persisted in Northern Italy and his prints spread his fame throughout Europe, while his reputation has survived Vasari’s begrudging but influential biography (1550, 1568) which reported that Squarcione and fellow artists had derided his “stony” manner, the tendency of his figures to emulate marble statuary rather than living flesh. A series of exhibitions in recent decades have brought about a re-evaluation and new appreciation of the artist and his broad impact.

General Overviews

Among the early monographs Kristeller 1902 remains the most useful. Kristeller establishes the limits of Mantegna’s oeuvre and provides an analysis of each work, framed by a well-informed account of Mantegna’s life and times. With the exceptions of Tietze-Conrat 1955 and Lightbown 1986—which incorporate documentary findings post-Kristeller, and debate the autograph status of a handful of outlier works—most subsequent monographs follow the same format, and repeat the same information. Longhi 1967, Fiocco 1927, Berenson 1952, and Agosti 2005 seek to chart Mantegna’s place on a timeline of Renaissance and modern style. New findings on Mantegna’s relation to the arts of goldsmithing, sculpture, book illumination, and engravings, are most accessible in catalogs of exhibitions held since the 1990s (see Major Exhibition Catalogues).

  • Agosti, Giovanni Su. Andrea Mantegna. 1, La storia dell’arte libera la testa. Milan: Feltrinelli, 2005.

    The first volume of a projected series, the second of which (long delayed) will bring together all documents and primary sources concerning Mantegna. Includes an extended review of the 1992 exhibition in London and New York, with supplementary facts and observations, sometimes from neglected earlier scholarship. Erudite, witty, and polemical, with an autobiographical slant, often reads like a nostalgic celebration of a lost tradition of 20th-century art history in Italy.

  • Berenson, Bernard. The Italian Painters of the Renaissance. London: Phaidon, 1952.

    A dozen caustic pages on Mantegna propagate the stereotype of the artist as an antiquarian pedant who preferred statues to real bodies and “literary content” to the proper ends of art; included here because of its influence.

  • Campbell, Stephen J. Andrea Mantegna: Humanist Aesthetics, Faith, and the Force of Images. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols/Harvey Miller, 2020.

    A revisionist account of the artist’s career and the question of his relationship to 15th-century humanism, de-emphasizing the conventional association with Leon Battista Alberti’s De pictura and focusing instead on humanist poetics, Neo-Latin tragedy and hagiography, patristic studies. Chapters on the artist’s materialist aesthetics, his Paduan formation, the St. Luke and San Zeno altarpieces, the Ovetari chapel, the Camera Picta, and Mantegna’s view of antiquity (including the Triumphs of Caesar).

  • Christiansen, Keith. The Genius of Andrea Mantegna. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2010.

    Short, well-illustrated introduction to the artist by one of the curators of the 1992 London–New York exhibition.

  • Fiocco, Giuseppe. L’arte di Andrea Mantegna. Bologna, Italy: Casa editrice Apollo, 1927.

    A meditation on artistic geography and cultural transmission, by now somewhat dated in its conviction of the inevitability of artistic progress toward a modernity with its roots in Florence. The Florentine Andrea del Castagno’s visit to Venice is taken to be the transformative event that begins the progressive Tuscanization of the Veneto even before the arrival in Padua of Donatello in the 1440s. Reprint. Venice: Neri Pozzi, 1959.

  • Kristeller, Paul. Andrea Mantegna. London: Longmans, 1901.

    Still a useful publication, drawing on a rich harvest of documentary findings from the archives in Mantua, with critically acute accounts of the major works and the painter’s career.

  • Kristeller, Paul. Andrea Mantegna. Berlin und Leipzig: Verlag für Kunst und Wissenschaft, 1902.

    The German edition of Kristeller’s monograph has a documentary appendix edited by Adolfo Venturi. It still ranks as the most comprehensive publication of primary sources on the painter.

  • Lightbown, Ronald L. Mantegna: With a Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, Drawings and Prints. Oxford: Phaidon, 1986.

    Indispensable critical evaluation of several generations of scholarship, informed by a deep grasp of Italian social, intellectual, and religious life; the acquaintance with contemporaneous Neo-Latin poetry and humanist thought is unrivaled. Lengthy treatment of each work in the main text with a catalog of paintings, drawings, lost works, and rejected attributions. Subsequent exhibition catalogs have modified Lightbown’s views on attribution in a few cases.

  • Longhi, Roberto. “Lettera pittorica a Giuseppe Fiocco.” Opere complete di Roberto Longhi II. Florence: Sansoni, 1967.

    Longhi’s 1926 published letter to Fiocco, attacking his monograph on Mantegna before its publication, and seeking to undercut Mantegna’s importance in the history of Italian painting, while elevating that of Antonio Vivarini and Giovanni Bellini.

  • Longhi, Roberto. “A ‘Pictorial Letter’ to Giuseppe Fiocco.” In Andrea Mantegna: Making Art (History). Edited by Stephen J. Campbell and Jérémie Koering, 200–224. Chichester, UK: Wiley, 2015.

    Translation by Stephen J. Campbell of Longhi, “Lettera pittorica a Giuseppe Fiocco.” Opere complete di Roberto Longhi II. Florence: Sansoni, 1967.

  • Salmazo, Alberta De Nicolò. Mantegna. Milan: Electa, 1997.

    A solid overview, chiefly grounded in the Italian scholarship on the artist.

  • Tietze-Conrat, Erika. Mantegna: Paintings, Drawings, Engravings. London: Phaidon, 1955.

    Short monograph and concise catalog that challenges the emerging orthodoxy that (in Longhi’s words) “the style of Mantegna is born from the desire to translate the sculptures of Donatello into painting.” Controversial inclusions in the catalog include a version of the Brera Dead Christ, on linen (since 2016 at Museo Soumaya, Mexico City) and a cartoon for the Madonna della Vittoria, now recognized as a work by Antonio Ruggeri from 1797 (Mantua, Palazzo San Sebastiano).

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