In December, our History of Art A level students attended the Mantegna and Bellini exhibition at the National Gallery in London. Upper Sixth student Megan gives a review here of the exhibition and her response to the work shown. Images are taken from the National Gallery and Sao Paulo Museum of Art.
‘From the vast mountainous landscapes of Andrea Mantegna to the rich realism of Giovanni Bellini, the National Gallery’s Exhibition on these influential Renaissance brothers provides “the tale of two artists” in a story of art, realism and family rivalry. The exhibition in collaboration with the British Museum provides “a once in a lifetime opportunity” to view works of art and sketches in the same exhibition space by arguably two of the most influential Renaissance artists.
‘Mantegna, the son of a carpenter, was an artistic prodigy. He went on to master linear perspective, creating a three dimensional space which was so convincing to the onlooker that his paintings almost receded into the walls themselves. Bellini had a much more distinctive style. He was renowned for his use of colour and his ability to depict different textures to the highest degree. Although linked through brotherhood by marriage, this exhibition proves that these two characters were also linked by art through their similar subject matter and exploration of c
olour and form.
‘Upon entry into the exhibition, multiple rooms are filled with a plethora of detailed and highly influential and symbolic pieces. The show is in chronological order, starting with works by Mantegna, produced impressively when he was just seventeen years old. The humanist poet “St Jerome” inspired his 1448 painting (St Jerome in the Wilderness, left) which would go on to define his career as a painter. Even at such a young age, Mantegna demonstrates a vast knowledge of structure and a clarity of perception. The teenage Mantegna utilises the shifting nature of light, using deep shadow to give the whole painting its sense of structure and form. Each object appears highly calculated and accurate. The figure of Jerome appears recumbent and pensive, showing Mantegna’s accuracy both in structural techniques, but also in emotional perception.
The exhibition is both engaging and informative, allowing both artists to showcase their talent, but also highlighting their differences in style, composition, choice of subject matter, and medium. A key highlight for me was viewing Doge Leonardo Loredan (left), as we have have previously studied it in class. The difference between seeing a reproduction on screen and being able to view the work in your own eyes was vast. The sunlit quality of light was emphasized, the soft rendering of the Doge’s facial features and skin was perfectly achieved through Bellini’s use of oils, a medium which Mantegna never graduated to. It is clear through the richness of the surface, the bright gold brocaded fabric that the introduction of oils was a key distinction between the works of Mantegna and Bellini.
‘Mantegna’s pièce de résistance is undoubtedly Minerva expelling the Vices from the Garden of Virtue, normally located in the Paris Louvre Museum. Unlike Bellini, Mantegna uses Tempera on canvas, yet he still manages to convey a sense of depth and realism, arguably not to the same degree as Bellini however. The scene depicts a marsh enclosed by a tall fence, ruled over by the Vices, who are portrayed as hideous and deformed creatures. The character of Idleness is chased by Minerva, Roman goddess of warfare rescuing Diana, goddess of chastity from being raped by a Centaur, a common symbol of concupiscence. The figures depicted high in the clouds are the three primary moral virtues required to live a perfect life: Justice, Temperance and Fortitude.
‘The show displays both the limitations and the mastery of Renaissance art. Not only is strictly Italian art shown, but global themes and motifs transcribe into many of the works, such as the inclusion of Pietas, the other-wordly, Hieronymus Bosch aspect to Mantegna’s Minerva, and the clear Northern European influences shown in Doge by the use of oils, a ¾ profile view, the graduated background and the use of a parapet and cartilino. This global influence is due both to the nature of the Italian Renaissance and its links with Europe, Constantinople and the Ottoman Empire, but also the exquisitely crafted curatorial work of the National Gallery. The exhibition is on till the 26th of January 2019 so make sure you grab a ticket if you want to experience the mastery of Andrea Mantegna and Giovanni Bellini.’