Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mantegna, Andrea

Samson and Delilah
c. 1495
Tempera on linen
47 x 36.8 cm (18 1/2 x 14 3/8 in.)
National Gallery, London, England

This picture is based on the biblical story of Samson and Delilah. It is painted to look like a cameo - a miniature relief in the different strata of a precious stone. Such carvings by Roman gem-cutters were admired and collected in Mantegna's circle. In the biblical story, Delilah reveals the secret of Samson's strength (his uncut hair) to his enemies, and he is captured. This was sometimes seen as an example of a woman's treachery: Delilah betrayed her lover for money.

Andrea Mantegna (c. 1431 - 1506) was an Italian painter, born near Padua, a student of Roman archeology, one of the foremost north Italian painters of the 15th century. A master of perspective and foreshortening, he made important contributions to the compositional techniques of Renaissance painting. He painted heroic figures, often using a dramatic perspective that gives the viewer the illusion of looking up from below. The effect is somewhat the same as looking up from ground level at statues mounted on a pedestal, creating a sense of greater monumentality. His flinty, metallic landscapes and somewhat stony figures give evidence of a fundamentally sculptural approach to painting. He also led a workshop that was the leading producer of prints in Venice before 1500. Together with Giovanni Bellini, he was largely responsible for spreading the ideas of the Early Renaissance in northern Italy.

His first important commission came in 1448, painting frescoes for the Eremitani Chapel in Padua. He worked in Padua, Verona and Venice before moving to Mantua in 1460, where he spent the rest of his life. The great paintings by Mantegna date from his years in Mantua as court artist to the Gonzaga rulers of Mantua. He was knighted by 1484, a rare honour for an artist. Mantegna was also important as a graphic artist, his many engravings exerting a powerful influence on Durer.