Andrea Mantegna, The Dead Christ, c1490-1501,
tempera on canvas 20"x31"
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, Italy
|Form, From the left hand side of the image are the two profile
views of Mary and St. John who lean over the body of Jesus who is rendered
in an idealized and muscular fashion
The shroud which partially covers the lower part of the body accentuates the form of the anatomy beneath the drapery.
The most striking aspect of this image is the fact that the portrayal of Christ from a radical point of view. This view is called foreshortening which you have already encountered in Giotto's Lamentation. According to the Brittanica, foreshortening is a,
method of rendering a specific object or figure in a picture in depth. The artist records, in varying degrees, the distortion that is seen by the eye when an object or figure is viewed at a distance or at an unusual angle.
In fact, the draper reveals how fully human he is. To paraphrase the ideas from The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, by Leo Steinberg, images of Jesus which accentuate how earthly nature, notice how the genitals are somewhat highlighted by the drapery, are an attempt to show the dual nature of Jesus. Jesus was both of the flesh and spirit and the depiction of his ability to function fully as a carnal being is an attempt to demonstrate that Jesus made a choice to follow a more fully Platonic or ideal path.
Even though the figure is foreshortened, there is a bit of a problem in how the foreshortening is portrayed. If you compare the foreshortening in Mantegna's work to the drawing below, you may notice that the feet are a bit too small in Mantegna's work and this appears to be done on purpose. Why do you think this is so? What purpose do you think it might serve?
The body of Christ is partially covered by the shroud, it lays on a reddish stone with light white veins. (the anointing rock). . .
Although this rock is never mentioned in the gospels, it appears in Costantinopolis as a passion relic in about 1170. The description which coincides with the painting of Mantegna was transmitted in reports made by pilgrims. It was believed it came from Ephesus (Mary of Magdala took it there from Jerusalem) and the white veins were produced by the tears of Our Lady weeping next to the body of her dead son.
The boldness of the view makes the scene more dramatic; the vision from the top to the bottom and from the depth gives prominence to the nail open wounds which are no longer bleeding. The flesh beneath the torn skin is depicted by the precision of an anatomist. On the left there are some characters: Mary is weeping, John is praying and Mary of Magdala perhaps is sorrowful. On the right there is a small flask of ointment and an opening towards a dark room: both signs of the imminent burial.
Mantegna, Camera Picta (Camera degli Sposi) Ducal Palace, Mantua, Italy. 1474
|Stokstad gives a very good description and discussion of the form,
iconography and context surrounding this room. So I won't attempt
to repeat those ideas here. This section will consist of a guided
viewing of some of the more important or interesting details surrounding
Robert Hughes comments,
Taking classical sculpture as his model, Mantegna populated the new world of the RenaissanceAccording to the Brittanica,
Perhaps of even greater significance were his achievements in the field of fresco painting. Mantegna's invention of total spatial illusionism by the manipulation of perspective and foreshortening began a tradition of ceiling decoration that was followed for three centuries. Mantegna's portraits of the Gonzaga family in their palace at Mantua (1474) glorified living subjects by conferring upon them the over life-size stature, sculptural volume, and studied gravity of movement and gesture normally reserved for saints and heroes of myth and history.This image really does demonstrate many of the concepts from the above passages. Mantegna is showing off for us all of his "special effects."
We see his use of atmospheric and linear perspectives in the background as well as a bit of humanistic perspective in the gestures. His foreshortening of the horse and dogs' bodies is almost "show offy."
The landscape behind the figures is almost an attempt to show off the perspective of the land holding Gonzaga family, but, the landscape he portrays is actually a mountainous and craggy invented landscape. The landscape around Padua was flat and fairly featureless.
The putti (cherubs) surrounding the main doorway elevating the familial inscription, are references to the classical past and could almost be a reference to their lineage in much the same way was accomplished in the portrait of Augustus. In fact the Roman tradition of verism is clearly expressed throughout the room and the architectural details refer back to the ornamentation on the ara pacis.
|The images and medallions on the ceiling are also probably designed with a similar intention to the portrait of Augustus. Here is a kind of made up reference to the ancestors of the Gonzaga family, which, they would have us believe, can be traced all the way back to the Roman Republican period. Again the Roman tradition of verism is clearly expressed throughout the room and the architectural details refer back to the ornamentation on the ara pacis, to support these ideas.|
|This image is located above the mantel of the fireplace far enough
above eye level that the viewer must look up at it. From this point
of view one can almost look up the tunics of the men who stand above you.
Mantegna has also used a consistent use of chiaroscuro across the picture
plane to unify it and make it believable.
In this portrait image (see Stokstad for details) Mantegna shows both his strengths and weaknesses with the human form. In some ways he gets an excellent likeness of each of the characters and their gestures and the foreshortening of the human form is well executed. Nevertheless, there are some areas where he has some awkward patches. The troll like child (click to enlarge) to the right of Barbara von Hohenzollern is one. At times the anatomy of the figures seems a bit stiff.
||According to the Brittanica,
sotto in su (Italian: "from below to above"), in drawing and painting, extreme foreshortening of figures painted on a ceiling or other high surface so as to give the illusion that the figures are suspended in air above the viewer. It is an approach that was especially favored by Baroque and Rococo painters, particularly in Italy, in the 17th and 18th centuries.