The engravings of Andrea Mantegna were the most influential prints produced in 15th-century Italy. Motifs from his creations appear in works by every major early Italian printmaker, and it was through Mantegna's prints that Albrecht Dürer made his first acquaintance with the southern Renaissance. Mantegna developed a passion for ancient works of art early in his career when introduced to classical antiquity, and their study profoundly influenced his paintings and engravings. The idealized form of his figures, their monumental scale and dynamic movement, as well as their sculptural clarity and definition can all be traced to his involvement with ancient architecture and reliefs.
This print is the left-hand portion of a two-sheet composition, intended to join the right half and create a unified image after printing. The subject appears to be an allegory of the destructive forces of human envy—perhaps between artists—and centers on the emaciated woman at the left. She clearly represents the vice of Envy (her tablet is inscribed with the Latin word for envy), a theme to which Mantegna would return later in a painting for Isabella d'Este's private study. The artist probably borrowed some of the specific motifs in the engraving from a fragmentary ancient relief now in the Villa Medici in Rome. The bold foreshortenings of the forms, the forceful movement of the figures, and the sophisticated light created by the subtle gradations of tone indicate that this is a fully mature invention by Mantegna.
(This text is based on Jay Levenson et al., Early Italian Engravings from the National Gallery of Art (Washington, 1973), 165–169, 188–193.)