Last week we went to the excellent Mantegna show at the Louvre.
This head of San Marco is the first picture you see and it is quite staggering in the flesh. The saint’s expression is completely human, the hand in a wholly natural pose as if Mark is pausing to think of something crucial while you are having a conversation. He’s leaning on the windowsill, his arm resting in your space drawing you into his space, the book there so that you could reach out and pick it up. Glorious.
There are also sketches and intimate pieces, like this book with a tempera sketch of the infant Jesus in his crib, which are delicate and give on a picture of the artist less as Great Man and more as someone drawing in a quiet corner of his workshop.
The exhibition is also good on placing Mantegna within his world, especially with the Bellinis:
In 1453, Mantegna married Nicolosia, Giovanni Bellini’s sister, thus forming close links with the most important painting workshop in Venice, run by his father-in-law Jacopo Bellini. The intense exchanges of ideas between the two brothers-in-law and the resulting influences were to have fundamental repercussions on the destinies of painting in Northern Italy.
One of the best pictures in the show for me was this wonderful little study, again in a book, of the Congress of the Order of the Crescent by Giovanni Bellini – tiny but gorgeously jewel-like.
There are also pieces by Donatello (and I can’t wait for his forthcoming show — at the V&A, I think) and various others.
I confess that I don’t care too much for Mantegna at his mature ‘peak’. The works are too monumental, too ‘constructed’, too massive. Of course, they were made to be seen in certain contexts and walking around and seeing them at close quarters is probably a million miles from their original setting.
Other things I was particularly drawn to:
* the gentle lion grasping the arm of Sta. Euphemia
* the delicately beautiful Sta. Giustina
* the Holy Family by Correggio
Somewhat to my chagrin, I also have to reveal that this is the first time I have ever been to the Louvre. And that Vermeer’s Lacemaker was not on display.