Mterials and technique of Polyptich of St. Luke.

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Mterials and technique of Polyptich of St. Luke.

Andrea Mantegna  >  Polyptych of San Luca

The restoration carried out in 1988 by Paola Zanolini allowed highlighting precisely several interesting elements regarding the technique and the materials chosen by Andrea Mantegna for the San Luca Polyptych.

This work has brought the signature of Mantegna to light, found on the writing desk of St. Luke, in the main panel of the polyptych.
The materials chosen are not best quality, as he probably couldn't afford expensive materials at the beginning of his independent life as a painter.
The wooden panel, with knots and horizontal grains was cut without too much precision and taken from the worst part of a trunk. At the time, the panels had suffered from warping and were infested with woodworms, and the insertion of wedges was needed, as well as the replacement of parts of the wood.

The colour "felt" the low quality of the wood. Due to bad preservation the pictorial film detached from the wood surface, cracks and horizontal fractures opened, several pictorial fragments fell down, not to mention the holes caused by woodworms. The colours suffered also some alteration because of dust, smog and oxidised paint used on repainting along the centuries.  Mainly the blue shades suffered a chromatic toning. The most damaged parts were the upper compartment, while the lower part the painting was better preserved.

The modern frame has also contributed to the damage since it hasn't been made as just one piece. The panels were fixed with nails in a fitted support.
The analysis of the pigments, preparation, gilding and the photographic documentation using sidelight, infrared, ultraviolet, and x-ray allowed to go back to the technique used by Mantegna.
The drawing that surfaced from under the layers of colour were sketched with extreme precision. The master has defined each detail of the characters, from the faces to the drapery and up to the last detail, with an almost minimalist care.
As for the chosen colours, the temperas applied as a transparent layer is a technique that was typical in his earlier years, since he started using oil on canvas mainly later in his career.
Despite having said in the commission document that he used azurite only for the decorative parts of the frame, and the finer ultramarine (extracted from lapis lazuli) for the illustrated compartments, in reality the chemical analysis showed that Mantegna used azurite in the whole polyptych.
The contrast between the precision and high quality work and the choice of less expensive materials reveal the difficult financial situation of the young artist.
The restoration revealed also the gilding work on the little bricks which had been hidden by a layer of glitter and grey, laid down during the fitting of the modern frame.
Mantegna gave some shine on the final painting, by means of laying a transparent gloss over it.

A. Cocchi

Trad.: A. Sturmer




Lionello Puppi Cianfrusaglie reperti e un talent scout in: Il Romanzo della pittura. Masaccio e Piero. Supplemento al n° 29 de "la Repubblica" del 2.11.1988
Claudia Cleri Via Mantegna. Art eDossier n.55. Giunti, Firenze. 1991
M. Bellonci, N. Garavaglia L'opera completa di Mantegna. Classici dell'arte Rizzoli, Milano 1966
La Nuova Enciclopedia dell'Arte Garzanti.
AA.VV. Moduli di Arte. Dal Rinascimento maturo al rococò. Electa-Bruno Mondadori, Roma 2000
A. Blunt Le teorie artistiche in Italia dal Rinascimento al Manierismo. Piccola Biblioteca Einaudi, Giulio Einaudi Editore, Torino 1966
G. Cricco, F. Di Teodoro, Itinerario nell’arte, vol. 2, Zanichelli Bologna 2004
G. Dorfles, S. Buganza, J. Stoppa Storia dell'arte. Vol II Dal Quattrocento al Settecento. Istituto Italiano Edizioni Atlas, Bergamo 2008


Tags:A. Cocchi, A. Sturmer, polyptych, St. Luke, painting, Renaissance, restoration, technique.


Per saperne di più sulla città di: Milano, Brera


Per informazioni su questi dipinti clicca qui.


Andrea Mantegna. San Luca Polyptych. Central Panel with St. Luke. Detail. 1453-55. Tempera on wood. Milan, Brera.

Andrea Mantegna. San Luca Polyptych. St. Prosdocimus. 1453-55. Tempera on wood. Milan, Brera.

Andrea Mantegna. San Luca Polyptych. Detail of the central panel. 1453-55. Tempera on wood. Milan, Brera.



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