Mantegna and Bellini at National Gallery

  • Anne Dunhill

Andrea Mantegna and Giovanni Bellini were brothers in law. Mantegna (1430-1506) was born in Padua, the son of a carpenter, while Bellini (c.1430-1516) was the scion of the greatest artistic family in Venice. His father, Jacopo, had founded a highly successful studio in c. 1540, which was later taken over by Giovanni's brother Gentile.

Mantegna married Giovanni's sister Nicolosia in 1453, thus forming a valuable alliance with this most prominent of artistic families. The new exhibition at the National Gallery, Mantegna and Bellini, brings the two brothers in law together once more and, in showing how they depicted the same themes, reveals how each was inspired by the other's example.

Room 1 of the exhibition is entitled Beginnings and includes an early depiction by Mantegna of The Presentation of Christ in the Temple (1454: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin). Bellini tackled the same subject in c. 1470 (Fondazione Querini Stampaglia Venice). His central figures, the Holy Family and Simeon, are identical to Mantegna's and are believed to have been traced, but Bellini has added a female figure to the left of the Madonna, who is believed to be a portrait of Nicolosia, and two young men to Simeon's right who are said to be the Bellini brothers.

After working in close collaboration for seven years, Mantegna moved to Mantua to take up the post of court painter to the Gonzaga family, which he occupied until his death, while Bellini spent his whole life in Venice. Nevertheless their creative exchange continued, shaped by their years together and knowledge of each other's work and achievements. To begin with Mantegna led, with his particular brilliance at composition and knowledge of classical antiquity, but in time Bellini's passion for landscape painting was to have a deep effect on Mantegna's work.

The exhibition occupies the six great rooms of the Sainsbury Wing, each dedicated to a mainly religious theme such as Pieta, Landscapes, Devotional Paintings and Portraits, where we are lucky enough to see both artists' depictions of the same subject - for example Mantegna's Descent into Limbo (1492 private Collection) and Bellini's version of the same subject (1475-80 Bristol Museum) - side by side.

As Dr Caroline Campbell, curator of the exhibition states: "15C paintings are fragile and can't travel very often therefore Mantegna and Bellini really is a once in a lifetime chance to explore the relationship and work of these two artists who played such a pivotal role in the history of art."

Mantegna and Bellini will be at the National Gallery until 27 January 2019.

Tags: National Gallery, Mantegna and Bellini, Anne Dunhill

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