Paduan, c. 1431 - 1506
Born in or around 1431 in the small town of Isola di Carturo, near Padua, Mantegna is known for the linear sharpness and rigorous attention to detail of his art. Mantegna also stands out among Italian Renaissance painters for his complete dedication to classical antiquity. At an early age the artist was apprenticed to the painter Francesco Squarcione, who later adopted him. However, the young Mantegna soon left his master's studio for an independent career that began when, in 1448, he was awarded part of the commission for the fresco decoration of the Ovetari chapel in the Church of the Eremitani, Padua (now mostly destroyed). Perhaps the single most significant influence on Mantegna's style was the sculpture of Donatello in Padua. Also important was the luminous art of Giovanni Bellini, whose sister, Nicolosia, married Mantegna in 1453.
In 1459, persuaded by the Marquis Lodovico Gonzaga, Mantegna moved to Mantua. With the exception of a stay in Rome in 1488-1490, Mantegna spent the rest of his life in the service of three generations of Gonzaga patrons in Mantua. He died there in 1506 as one of the most highly respected artists of the Renaissance. As official painter, Mantegna's reputation reflected positively on the status of the patrons for whom he executed his greatest works. The famous Camera degli Sposi, or Camera Picta, in the ducal palace in Mantua (1465-1474), is his most significant commission for Marquis Lodovico. The innovative spatial construction of the frescoes, particularly the oculus in the ceiling, had a profound effect on Correggio who, though probably too young to have been a pupil, must have studied Mantegna's works very closely. The dignified yet engaging family portraits on the walls of the Camera Picta also had a strong impact on other artists. Lodovico's grandson Francesco II Gonzaga was probably the patron of Mantegna's series of monumental canvases of the Triumphs of Caesar, now at Hampton Court. Though quite damaged, they are key examples of Mantegna's use of the technique of distemper on canvas. Mantegna's religious works reflect the range of his patron's needs from small devotional paintings to great altarpieces--such as the Madonna della Vittoria (Musée du Louvre, Paris), painted for Francesco Gonzaga in 1496.
While Mantegna must have had a large workshop to help with his numerous commissions, he had few pupils of note: Bonsignori and Caroto are usually cited, in addition to the lesser talent of his son, Francesco. Mantegna's influence was wide, but nowhere more so than in the field of engraving, which he raised to a high art. [This is the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]