Andrea Mantegna & Giovanni Bellini.
The National Gallery Sainsbury Wing opens its doors to this exhibition of the work of these brothers-in-law and rivals on 1st October 2018. This is the first time anyone has explored the rivalry of these two masters of late 15th century Italy.
Andrea Mantegna (c1430/31-1506), the son of a carpenter, was born in the Venetian Republic. Apprenticed to the Paduan artist, Francesco Squarcione (1395-c1468). It was probably Squarcione who lit the fuse to Mantegna’s interest in ancient Roman remains. Squarcione’s Paduan school was famous and attracted many other would be artists from other parts of the Italian peninsula. Mantegna’s early works were often collaborations such as the decoration of the Ovetari Chapel in the 13th century Paduan Church of the Erimatmi. Despite this commission supposedly being a collaborative one, Mantegna completed most of the frescoes on his own. Unfortunately the Allied bombing in 1944 destroyed most of the frescoes. Mantegna’s work is better known through his role as court artist to the Mantuan court of Marquis Ludovico Gonzaga Mantuan court, which he joined in 1460. His Camera degli Sposi (translates as the wedding chamber) with its wonderful trompe l’oeil frescoes on the walls and ceilings has survived. The image is of the painted oculus (below) where cherubs and people alike lean over a balustrade to take note of what is happening within the chamber.
Mantegna’s images are rich with embellishments, and innovative decorations. He was a keen engraver, and we are lucky enough to have his original Triumph of Caesar in the Orangery at Hampton Court Palace. Mantegna created engravings of this enormous work and many other works of his, and these became very popular. Many of you may have seen the newly restored originals of the Triumph of Caesar in the recent exhibition of the collection of works collected by Charles I at the Royal Academicy, London. Charles I bought the whole of the Mantuan collection in 1628.
In 1453 Mantegna married Nicolisia, the daughter of fellow Venetian artist, Jacopo Bellini and sister of Giovanni (c1429-1516) and Gentile (1430-1507). It is thought that Giovanni was the older of the two brothers, but if so, then it is only by a year. Unlike Mantegna, who worked in Verona and Rome as well as Mantua, Giovanni Bellini remained in Venice. At the time his brother, Gentile, was considered the greater of the two but that opinion has now since reversed. The National Gallery is lucky enough to have quite a few paintings that are by Bellini himself, or from his workshop. These include an Agony in the Garden, which shows influence of Mantegna and the portrait of Doge Loredan (below).
Even though Giovanni remained in Venice, he trained two of the greatest 16th century artists, Giorgione and Titian.
Clearly there has been influence back and forth between these artists, and coming from the Venetian Republic they were open to many influences coming through the city from the trade with other parts of the globe. In particular we shall look at an altarpiece by Mantegna that demonstrates this. We shall look at their works and their lives and just how they influenced each other and a wider range of artists.
I shall be giving a study day on The Rise of the Venetian Republic on Saturday 6th October, details of which are shown below. This study day will examine how the Venetian Republic rose to dominate the trade of the eastern Mediterranean and how it re-invented itself after the opening up of the sea route to the exotic Spice Islands by the Portuguese at the end of the 15th century.
01372 272235 or email: email@example.com to book. Spaces limited.
£10 inc refreshments (same price since 2007).
Study Days 2018
Saturday: 6th October : The Rise of the Venetian Republic.
This study day will explore the history of the Venetian Republic from the fall of Rome to 1500, when the Venetian republic began a long decline after the discovery of the sea route to the Spice Islands.
How and why did the city of Venice rise from a salty lagoon to dominate the trade of the eastern Mediterranean? So the legend goes, the families who first hid in the lagoon were the survivor of ancient Roman families, determined to survive the raids of the Goths and the Visigoths. We will track the rise of these founding families, how the government of Venice developed and most importantly, how the republic came to be fabulously rich through trade.
The most famous trader is Marco Polo, who reached the fabled lands of Cathay and was gone for 25 years. Were there others, and if so, where did they get to?
This is an illumination from the early 15th century illuminated French manuscript of Marco Polo’s travels (BnF 12148) now held in the Biblioteque Nationale de France. The vellum is so fine the illuminated margin shows through. The book was a best seller.
From 1000AD onwards Venice spread its influence. The sons of merchant families had a training in the specialist areas of trade of their various families, and the art of negotiation. There were Venetian enclaves throughout various countries and merchants were often away for months, if not years, at a time. When Marco Polo returned after his 25 year absence, it is said he was not recognised because of his strange clothes and the fact that he had left as a young lad and returned as a mature man. Certainly his stories were never believed and on his deathbed he was asked to confess that he had been lying all these years. However, his response is said to have been that he had not told half of the marvels he had seen.
The boat building skills of the Republic were vital to the success of the Crusades, and the Arsenale was said to have been able to produce a boat in a single day because of their production process.
However, the recapture of the Holy Land by the Christians was not to last and in 1453 Constantinople fell to the Mehmet II, inhibiting the trading of the Republic. Only a few decades later Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope, opening up the sea route to the Far East and the Spice Islands, thus causing the Republic much alarm as this route meant the exotic goods from this part of the world would become much cheaper.
Not daunted by this prospect, Venice reinvented itself as a cultural and artistic centre. Titian, trained by Giovanni Bellini, became court artist to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V and his son Philip II of Spain. Murano was still the centre for exquisite glass making and Venice became a centre for book publishing.
We shall look at all of these things and hopefully share our experiences of all things Venetian.
Study days are limited to 8 people. The cost includes lunch and unlimited tea, coffee & biscuits. £27.50/head. email firstname.lastname@example.org or ring 01372 272235 to book.
27th July : Hugo van der Goes : The Gentle Painter
June 29th Sicily – a Mediterranean Jewel
Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean sits at the trading crossroads of the ancient world. The island was first settled 10,000 years ago, but we will start our exploration of the history of the island with the occupation by the classical civilisations in the 8th century BC and proceed through the succeeding occupations by the Romans, Arabs, Normans, the House of Hohenstaufen and the Spanish, up to the present day.
All of these nations have left evidence of their presence in surviving examples of art and architecture. The Valley of the Temples, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has glorious examples of Greek architecture with temples dedicated to Juno, Concordia, Aesclepius, Heracles, the twins – Castor & Pollux and not surprisingly considering the looming presence of the volcano Mt Etna, Haephestus – the blacksmith god whose forge was said to be contained within the volcano. Another Greek myth tells us that almighty Zeus confined the monster Typhon beneath Europe’s most active volcano. Below is the Temple of Hera at Selinunte, an ancient Greek city in the south-west of the island, that was destroyed by the Carthaginians as they retreated at the end of the first Punic War.
The arrival of the Arabs saw the introduction of the cultivation of lemons, rice and sugar cane. The Emirate was to last until the arrival of the Normans in the 11th century. Under the rule of King Roger II, the island saw a flourishing of the arts and peace. King Roger did not take part in the Crusades, but many Crusaders visited Sicily either on their way to, or returning from, the Holy Land. As a result of his non-participation, King Roger became the richest man in Europe and his lasting legacy seen in the surviving mosaics in Cefalu Cathedral erected in 1131. Roger’s Admiral, George of Antioch, founded the Martonara which contains a mosaic of King Roger being crowned by Christ (below left).
The Schatzkammer in Vienna still has the embroidered red silk coronation mantle of King Roger that dates from 1133-34 (below right)
As with all civilisations, there is a time when historians believe they can call a Golden Age and the relatively short time the Normans were present is what Sicilians believe was theirs.
The Normans were not run out of the island, but married into the imperial House of Hohenstaufen. Constance, the posthumous daughter of Roger II, was now queen of Sicily and married Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor, and thus the island was absorbed into the Holy Roman Empire.
During the 14th century, the island came under Spanish rule and remained so until the unification of Italy in the 19th century. The artistic remnants of the baroque period are seen in the churches and secular buildings that have survived earthquakes and war.
In 1860, Garibaldi conquered Sicily with the audacious invasion known as the Expedition of the Thousand. The island then became part of the Kingdom of Naples and Sardinia and subsequently, part of a unified Italy. The 19th century also saw the rise of the notorious Mafia.
Sicily is an island of mystery and romance. The layers of history tempt the holiday maker to explore and when the day is over, what better than to relax and discuss your adventures over a meal of traditional Sicilian fare washed down by wine made from grapes on the slopes of Mt Etna. Being an island, the sea food is amazing and the island is the third largest producer of wine in Italy. Gosh – perhaps I should organise a tour!
The local magazine, the Ashtead & Leatherhead Local, shows the evening date of 29th June, but this time is full hence the additional date of Friday 6th July at 7.30 p.m.
01372 272235 to book. Numbers limited.
Talks from earlier this year.
May: The Dawn of Flemish genius: the lives and works of Jan van Eyck, Robert Campin & Rogier van der Weyden.
Last month my art lovers group looked at the work of the three Florentine artists who would influence architecture, art and sculpture up to the present day. This month we will look at the paintings of the three painters who still cause people to weep because of their ability to capture the human condition. Van Eyck, Campin and van der Weyden were contemporaries of the Florentines, but their painting was different. van Eyck used multi point perspective, Campin portrayed the Gospel stories as part of everyday 15th century life, and Rogier van der Weyden described such intense emotion it that anyone seeing his work cannot fail to be moved.
Who were they? What was life like in northern Europe? Were they so different from their Italian counterparts and if so, why?
Here’s the link to my art history group website. http://www.ashteadartlovers.co.uk/this-month-s-talk
£10 including coffee/tea, cake & biscuits. Tel 01372 272235 or email email@example.com to book. Numbers limited.
You might be interested to read my article on the Blog page.
Brunelleschi, Donatello & Masaccio: The Florentine Masters of architecture, sculpture and painting.
Even a little knowledge of the work of these masters will help anyone to understand the leap of understanding of mathematics, perspective and portrayal religious scenes that happened in Florence in the early fifteenth century.
Donatello’s bronze David is the first bronze statue of the Italian Renaissance to be cast in a single pour.
His Mary Magdalen, carved in lime wood, has an emotional tension that is arresting when you first see it in the wood. These two pieces are intended to be viewed from the ground unlike his St Mark and St George, which are set above the crowd. Again, this requires an understanding of illusion that requires the use of single point perspective in order to create a figure that does not appear distorted and to the onlooker everything appears perfect.
March: Symbolism – an examination of how our perception of the content of paintings has changed over the centuries and how to decode a painting.
Before 1500 most art was devotional. The audiences then would have recognised many symbols that we look at and wonder why they have been included. Many manuscripts have jewelled margins, and each of the precious stones have meanings. Diamonds for constancy, rubies for sacrifice, emeralds – hope, sapphires – the colour of the Virgin’s robe. The use of these precious gems bestow status on the image, and also on the owner of any manuscript.
On this page we see St Luke, the patron saint of artists, writing his gospel, but if we look closer we see through the door that he is seated in his studio painting an image of the Virgin who stands before him surrounded by a golden light. The margin contains bejewelled treasures that appear in many of the margins created by this workshop, and also a predominance of pearls, which symbolise purity.
The margins often became a place where the artist could add a touch of humour, such as this harp playing monkey, or a mermaid playing the viol. My particular favourite is this little chap – who or what he is, I have no idea!
Often meanings have become changed over the centuries and some have even been attributed to having been used in medieval documents despite them coming from the New World. Since Señor Columbus did not cross the Atlantic until 1492, the sunflower was never a medieval symbol! This is the Burne-Jones window of St Frideswide in Christ Church College chapel, Oxford.
However, the humble European marigold was long known for its heliotropic properties and therefore because it followed the sun (i.e. the light) became associated with the divine. One of its local names is Mary’s Gold, and because of its properties was used in ointments and salves to soothe skin irritations.
Colours, gems, flowers, birds and beasts all had meanings. We will look at images and artefacts from medieval times to the 20th century to see how meanings have become changed, remained the same or even lost completely. Finally we will attempt to decode a painting as to the allegorical meaning it carried.