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Curt Veeneman, Ph.D.

Italy

Andrea Mantegna Part 2

8 March 2013

From Padua to Verona 

 

A view of the Adige River and the Castelvecchio from Ponte Scaligero in Verona, Italy

 

Read Part 1

Although Andrea Mantegna had been chiefly influenced by Francesco Squarcione since his youth, he found other inspiration as well in Padua.  Padua since 1222 had been a university town that was brimming with opportunities.  The centuries before and after Mantegna have witnessed many great names who had come there as students — the poet Dante (c. 1265–1321), the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543), and the composer Giuseppe Tartini (1692–1770) — or teachers — the poet Petrarch (1304–1374), the astronomer Galileo (1564–1642), and the inventor of the battery, Alessandro Volta (1745–1827), for example.  Even two famed tubes are named after Paduans:  Gabriele Falloppio (1523-62) taught there, and Bartolomeo Eustachi (1520-74) was a student there.

But Padua was also an artistic crossroads in the fifteenth century.  Donatello (c. 1386 –1466), Paolo Uccello (1397–1475), and Fra Filippo Lippi (c. 1406–1469) created art there, just as Giotto (1266/7–1337) had the previous century.  Donatello, in particular, had a considerable impact on Mantegna’s development as a painter.

Even greater was the effect on Mantegna of the Renaissance painter Jacopo Bellini (c. 1400 – c. 1470), who, in addition to having traveled from Venice to Florence, Verona, and Ferrara on commissions, also spent time in Padua.  Bellini appreciated Mantegna’s youthful talent and encouraged him, instructing him in the new science of linear perspective.

Encountering Bellini had provided Mantegna with a sort of bonus, too.  Jacopo had two sons, Giovanni and Gentile, both well-known painters today.  But he also had a daughter, Nicolosia, whom Mantegna married in 1453.  By this point, Mantegna’s original teacher and adoptive father, Squarcione, evidently grew tired of Bellini’s influence, and so Mantegna left Padua in 1459.

 

Giovanni Bellini (c. 1430 – 1516): Self-portrait, 1500, Musei Capitolini, Rome.  While Mantegna was influenced by Jacopo Bellini, he in turn had an effect on Jacopo’s son — and Mantegna’s brother-in-law — Giovanni Bellini.

 (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}

 

1. Giovanni Bellini (1430 – 1516): Presentazione al Tempio (Presentation at the Temple), 1460 – 1464, tempera on wood, Pinacoteca Querini Stampalia, Venice

In this work by Giovanni Bellini it is believed that he included his self-portrait and a portrait of his brother Gentile in the right margin, and portraits of his sister Nicolosia and his mother in the left margin.

*           *            *

[roll cursor over above image to see the following:]

2. Andrea Mantegna (1430/31 – 1506): Presentazione di Gesù al Tempio (Presentation of Christ in the temple), 1465-1466, tempera on canvas, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

By rolling your cursor over the above image you will see the same theme treated by Mantegna, created somewhat later and in similar fashion, in which it is believed he painted his self-portrait in the right margin and a portrait of his wife Nicolosia Bellini, Giovanni’s sister, in the left margin.

 (photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}

 

Upon leaving Padua, Mantegna’s first stop was Verona.  There he painted the altar-piece of the Basilica of San Zeno, a triptych demonstrating many of the same techniques seen in the St. James cycle, including the all’antica setting — the use of classical architectural structures.  (Incidentally, the crypt of this church is where Romeo secretly married Juliet in Shakespeare’s play.)

 

In Mantua: The Camera degli Sposi

 

A causeway leads into Mantua, with water on either side of the narrow strip of land.  The city is surrounded on three sides by lakes:  Lago Superiore, Lago Inferiore, and in the middle, Lago di Mezzo, which means just that:  middle lake.  These lakes were created in the twelfth century by altering the course of the Mincio River, which flows out of Lago di Garda in the Italian Alps.

A frescoed map, below, of the Duchy of Mantua, by Ignazio Danti (1536-1586), can be seen in the Maps Gallery of the Vatican.

 

The Marchese (Marquis) of Mantua, Ludovico II Gonzaga, had been for some time inviting Mantegna to serve at his court. Mantegna was finally persuaded to move to Mantua in 1459, and it was here, except for a short stay in Rome and possibly a journey to Florence and Pisa, that he would spend the rest of his life, serving three generations of Gonzaga rulers. In 1460 he was appointed court artist (being among the first in the Renaissance) at a salary of 75 lire a month, which was a considerable amount.  However, as much as he was respected and admired, he couldn’t always count on being paid regularly.  At the same time, as methodical as he was, Mantegna was a rather slow worker and Ludovico in turn had to be patient with him.

Mantua was famous for having been the birthplace in 70 B.C. of Publius Virgilius Maro — probably better known as Virgil — who wrote The Aeneid, which Purcell set so beautifully to music.  Most likely unknown to him at the time, he would also be Dante’s guide to hell in l’Inferno.  Virgil also discovered that tempus fugit ("time flies," which is his coinage), and by 1328 the Gonzagas were ruling Mantua and would continue to promote the arts and culture for 300 years.

Ludovico, who in addition to being a marchese (ranked just above an earl but beneath a duke), was also a condottiere (a mercenary military leader — the thing to do in Italy at the time) and with the intense competition among the courts in the quattrocento (the fourteen hundreds), he was intent on giving his palace a face-lift.  One of the halls at the palace, the Sala del Pisanello, was decorated with murals by Pisanello (Antonio Pisano) in 1447-48.  Ludovico’s  court architect was the Florentine Leon Battista Alberti, a Renaissance polymath who was also an author, poet, artist (he authored the treatise Della Pittura [On Painting]), linguist, philosopher, and cryptographer. He designed two churches in Mantua, San Sebastiano and Sant'Andrea.

Mantegna played an integral role in these home-improvement efforts.  He ended up serving the Gonzagas for forty-six years as court artist, supervising the decoration of their palaces, painting portraits, designing sculptures, vases, tapestries, embroidery, and scenery for Latin plays, and even being declared cavaliere (knighted) by Ludovico’s son Federico I in the 1480s.

Ludovico commissioned Mantegna to create a portrait gallery in the north tower of the Castello di San Giorgio which, due to his combining the use of oils with fresco technique, took him nearly ten years to paint (1465–74).  This room came to be called the Camera Picta (painted chamber), or later, the Camera degli Sposi (wedding chamber), and illustrates Ludovico and his wife Barbara of Brandenburg, along with their children, friends, courtiers and animals.  The idea was to present the Gonzaga dynasty as successful and on top of things, and in these frescoes Mantegna, a master of perspective and foreshortening, took the use of trompe l'oeil (French for "deceive the eye") to great lengths.  Because of Mantegna's illusionistic perspective, there are times when one isn’t certain where the walls and ceiling end and the painting begins.

This room is such a big hit today that only 20 people are allowed in at a time, for an all-too-brief 10 minute period.  The room is square (8.1 meters) and painted to give the impression of a loggia.  Each wall is divided into three arches, through which appear landscapes framed by curtains appearing to blow in the wind. On the north wall over the fireplace (which seems to serve as a platform on which everyone poses), in the Court Scene, sits Ludovico talking with his secretary, Marsilio Andreasi, who has just delivered a letter. (Some believe the man whispering in Ludovico’s ear is actually Leon Battista Alberti.)  The news is that Francesco Sforza (of whose army Ludovico is in charge) is very ill.  Ludovico is surrounded by his family — including sons Ludovico, Paola and Rodolfo.  Rubino, the family dog, snoozes under the marchese’s chair and various courtiers stand nearby among the painted piers which have actual stone corbelling that supports the ceiling vaults.  This last trick is what makes it difficult to know what is illusionary and what is not.

 

The Court Scene on the north wall of the Camera degli Sposi features Ludovico II Gonzaga, his family, and courtiers.

 (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}

 

On the west wall, in the Meeting Scene, Ludovico travels to Milan (where the Castello Sforzesco is located) and on the way meets his son Francesco, who has just become a cardinal.  Standing by are the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III and Christian I, King of Denmark (also the brother-in-law of Ludovico’s wife Barbara of Brandenburg).  On the other walls are images of Hercules, Arion, and Orpheus.

 

The Meeting Scene on the west wall of the Camera degli Sposi portrays a meeting en route to Milan between Ludovico II Gonzaga and his second son, Cardinal Francesco.

 (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}

 

This dream-like, frescoed loggia is crowned with a Classical oculus, open to an imaginary sky and populated with mythical putti, women courtiers, and a peacock, bemusedly gazing over the balustrade.  Here the foreshortening is extreme, in a spatial effect known in Italian as di sotto in su — "from below, upward."  This technique in perspective was to reverberate throughout the Italian Baroque and beyond.

 

The oculus of the Camera degli Sposi features — di sotto in su — putti, women courtiers, and a peacock.

 (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}

 

What appears to be graffiti near the north window of the room is really an inscription that reveals the date on which Mantegna had begun the fresco: 1465.d.16.iunii (16 June 1465).  Also, on the west wall above the doorway are putti who struggle to lift a stone slab in which Mantegna inscribed the date 1474 and the humble words OPVS HOC TENVE — “this slight work” — a dedication to Ludovico and Barbara.  Nearby, somewhat hidden and posing as a grotesque among the vines, is a self-portrait of Mantegna.

 

 

(photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}

 

 

NEXT:

Art, Literature, and Music at the Palazzo Ducale 

 

 


The photographs used in this blog, unless otherwise noted, are by Curt Veeneman.

Related Posts (Italy)

Who started Travel Con Brio®?

Composer, scholar (in music theory, ethnomusicology, and music history), performer, educator, conference organizer, and entrepreneur, Curt Veeneman received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

His additional interests, subsumed in wonder at the beauty of God’s entire creation, include art (he was an art major before the balance tipped ever-so-slightly toward music), literature, architecture, photography, mathematics, history, languages, cultural studies, world-cuisines, and, of course, travel.
photograph by Colleen Veeneman

In founding Travel Con Brio®, Curt was eager to synthesize all of these interests to create imaginative, stirring, and enlightening experiences to be enjoyed by both young and mature travelers alike.  The tours that he organizes reflect his extensive travel experience and familiarity with the art, music and culture of numerous countries, with each tour being richly enhanced by local experts.

Curt and his wife Colleen live near San Francisco.  They have three children.

What is this blog about?

Culled from a number of trips abroad, this blog compiles various experiences in an attempt to reveal the cultural nuances of places visited on Travel Con Brio® tours.  Sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, Curt’s observations are intended to describe and appreciate the personalities, character, idiosyncrasies, conventions, mood, and ambiance of places visited.  Contemplations of topics ranging from language and customs to climate and bureaucracies are freely offered alongside art and music reviews.  Any cultural issue, if illuminating, can become the focus.

These musings on the personal impact of various cultures are offered so that you, as a traveler, may compare and contrast your own impressions with them.  Do you share a similar interest?  Do you agree with a specific conclusion?  Or is there a fine distinction to be made regarding a particular point?  You are invited to leave your comments; please, however, be respectful of other readers.

And last, a caveat:  flukes, asymmetries, and twists of fate may suggest more about Curt than about any foreign culture under discussion.

What are some of Curt Veeneman’s musical activities?

As a composer, Curt has spoken and/or his works have been performed throughout the United States, in Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Bulgaria.  He is the winner of several awards, including the ASCAP-Hubbell Award for composition.

Curt Veeneman's compositions include Les Cloches, inspired by the life of Joan of Arc (premièred by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra), The Wiry Concord for 5-string banjo, dulcimer, cimbalom, harp, harpsichord, piano, viola and percussion (available on Capstone Records), Mountain Thyme, based on Bulgarian folk music (recorded by the Sofia Symphony Orchestra), Alcuin's Riddle, for orchestra and 15 soloists who cross the “audience-river,” Hommage for voice, flute, 'cello, piano, and percussion, Windmills, computer music featuring sampled wind turbines on California's Altamont Pass, and Pneuma for solo flute, (also available on Capstone Records).

Of this last work, the following comments have been made:  “J’ai beaucoup apprécié le lyrisme et la rigueur de Pneuma pour flûte de Curt Veeneman”  (I greatly appreciate the lyricism and the precision of Curt Veeneman’s Pneuma for flute) —Gérard Condé, Le Monde, Paris, 29 August 1996; “a well written piece”  — Robert Dick, flutist, author of The Other Flute; “it is quite exciting!” — Molly Alicia Barth of eighth blackbird; and “strong and imaginative” — Jules Langert, San Francisco Classical Voice, 13 March 2006.

As a new music promoter, he directed the new music ensemble Sonor Borealis at University of Alberta, Canada, and founded and directed the concert series, PACIFIC MARKET: Fresh Music From Around The World, at the University of the Pacific.  As a performer, Curt Veeneman is recorded on Music and Arts.

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