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Andrea Mantegna was born in 1431 in Isola di Carturo, a town close to Padua, as son of a carpenter Biagio. He was only ten years old when he was adopted by painter Francesco Squarcione. He started to study in his workshop in Padua and he was already registered in Padua’s painters’ guild in 1445. In Padua Mantegna found a vibrant humanist-antiquarian atmosphere, which was influenced by Paolo Uccello and Filippo Lippi’s works. He was given a classical artistic education influenced by the Paduan works of Donatello. At the time of his graduation in 1457, he was given the decoration of the Ovetari chapel in the church of the Eremitans. Mantegna painted the Stories of St. James and St. Christopher, which were later almost completely lost due to the bombings of Padua in 1944. Thanks to the ancient copies and photographs Mantegna’s works can be memorized.
Following the decoration of the church of the Eremitans, Mantegna realized the polypych of San Luca for the church of Santa Giustina, which is nowadays kept in Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan. The painting represents his first step towards combined perspective of space, which culminates in the altarpiece of San Zeno church in Verona. In 1453 Mantegna married Niccolosa Bellini, daughter of Jacopo Bellini and sister of Gentile and Giovanni Bellini, who were among the most important and famous Venetian painters at the time.
In 1460 Ludovico III Gonzaga invited Andrea in Mantua, where he became a court painter. In four years he executed the internal decorations of the castle of San Giorgio, particularly the so-called Triptych of the Uffizi and the altarpiece with the Death of the Virgin, where all the ancient quotations were banished. Mantegna continued to work in the castle at least until 1474 decorating the Camera Picta for the marquis’s wife, Barbara of Brandenburg, which was one his greatest masterpieces involving the observer in the illustrative space. He also painted the portrait of Cardinal Ludovico Trevisan (1459-1460) and the portrait of Francesco Gonzaga (1461) during the years in Mantua. Under Federico II Gonzaga, who was a successor of Ludovico, between 1497 and 1502 Andrea begins to paint the nine canvases with the Triumph of Caesar in Gaul, a cycle of paintings where the painter interprets the ancient subject celebrating his patron as the new Caesar.
In 1487 Mantegna went to Rome to work in the papal court of Innocent VIII, who wanted to entrust him the decoration of the chapel in Beldevere in Vatican. He returned to Mantua three years later, in 1490. His production in the 1490s’ was characterized by the influence of the Thriumps and realized the Dead Christ and Three Mourners, located today in the Pinacoteca di Brera, the highlight of his years of perspective studies and an example of extreme naturalism. Madonna della Vittoria was commissioned by Francesco Gonzaga to celebrate the victory of the battle of Fornovo in 1495 against the French and the altarpiece of Trivulzio (1497) for the church of Santa Maria Ornago in Verona, situated today in the Pinacoteca of the Sforzesco Castle in Milan.
Mantegna returned to the court of Mantua in 1490 after the marriage of Francesco II Gonzaga and Isabella d’Este. As a gift, Mantegna decorated the studio of Francesco’s wife, but he only finished it in 1502. Isabella commissioned a cycle of mythological and allegorical subjects and Mantegna painted two canvases of Parnassus (1497) and the Triumph of Virtue (1499-1502) with complex compositions of characters and allegories, that took a lot of time.
The works of the last years, 1505-1506, were characterized by almost melancholic nuances, dark tones and skillful and innovative use of light and movement. The two canvases destined for his burial chapel in the church of Sant’Andrea in Mantua, the Baptism of Christ and the Holy Family with the family of St. John the Baptist as well as the St. Sebastian in the Galleria Franchetti of Venice were all attributed to this phase.
Andrea Mantegna died in Mantua on 13 September 1506. He was buried in the church of Sant’Andrea in Mantua, where the mortuary chapel was decorated by his students and young Correggio.