The early masterpiece of Andrea Mantegna

back: San Zeno Altarpiece

The early masterpiece of Andrea Mantegna

Andrea Mantegna  >  San Zeno Altarpiece

One of the greatest masterpieces of Andrea Mantegna, the San Zeno Altarpiece, was carried out presumably around 1457-1460, for the church of Saint Zeno in Verona, commissioned by the Abbot Gregorio Correr, in order to be placed on the main altar.
The expert had also carried out the choir for the monks in the presbyter and the architectonic context where the altarpiece would be inserted. That included a window purposely open on the right, so the natural light could merge with the light from the painting.

The work, made with tempera on wood, has great dimensions (4.80x4.50m) and is formed by a triptych with the Madonna and saints and a predella (1)  of three compartments, the Resurrection, the Agony in the Garden and the Crucifixion. The predella is currently dispersed between the Louvre and the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Tours. In 1797 the painting was taken by the Napoleon troops and returned in 1815, without the predella. Therefore, copies were arranged to replace the originals and these were carried out by Paolo Caliari.

The polyptych included a golden wood frame, carried out by the painter himself. The composition of the several elements got inspiration from The High Altar of Saint Anthony by Donatello, in the Basilica of Sant’Antonio in Padua, today lost.

Based on a letter sent by Ludovico Gonzaga to Andrea Mantegna, it is deduced that the commissioning of the altarpiece dates back to 1456, and that by 1460 the painter should have finished the work. The high pictorial quality and the innovative idea in which it is based, make this painting one of the masterpieces of the early years of Mantegna.

Compared to the previous Polyptych of San Luca, the San Zeno Altarpiece represents an important evolution regarding spatial planning. The saints in the Polyptych of San Luca where individually isolated, even if united by the prospective of the whole, whereas here they are introduced all together, gathered around the throne with the Virgin and Child. The altarpiece is conceived as single space, true and truly theatre of the sacred representation, in a spectacular classic stage design.

A. Cocchi

Trad.: A. Sturmer



1)   Altar step.




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Tags:Alessandra Cocchi, A. Sturmer, altarpiece, St. Zeno, renaissance, painting.


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