My Daily Art Display today focuses on a painting, the subject of which has many similarities to the Hans Holbein painting The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb by Hans Holbein, which was My Daily Art Display of the day on February 20th. Today’s painting is entitled Lamentation of the Dead Christ and was painted by Andrea Mantegna around 1490.
Andrea Mantegna was born in Isola di Carturo a small village close to Padua which was then within the Republic of Venice. His father, Biagio, was a carpenter. When he was eleven years of age he started an apprenticeship with Francesco Squarcione, an Italian painter from Padua. His school was very popular at the time and over a hundred painters passed through the school. Padua at the time was looked upon as a great place to be if you were and aspiring artist and the likes of Uccello, Lippi and Donatello spent time in the city. Mantegna stayed with his tutor for six years.
Mantegna’s first work of art was an altarpiece for the church of Santa Sofia in 1448. Although he gained a great reputation as an artist and was admired by many, he left Padua and spent most of his life in Verona, Mantua and Rome where he carried on with his paintings. In 1460 he entered the service of Ludovico Il Gonzaga the Marquis of Mantua as his court artist. This engagement earned Mantegna a great deal of money which was a sign of the high regard in which his work was held. Whilst employed by Gonzaga he completed many fresco paintings of the Gonzaga family.
Today’s painting of the Lamentation of the Dead Christ was completed around 1490. It is one of very few oil on canvas paintings of the period. It is an almost monochromatic vision of Christ. The painting has a limited amount of tonal colouring, mainly pink, grey and golden-brown. The setting of the painting seems to be a morgue-like and claustrophobic space with its cold dark walls. This poorly lit space intensifies the paleness of the body.
The forceful image is of the body of Christ laid out on a stark and granulated marble slab. Mantegna has toyed with the rules of perspective making the head large, whereas if the rules of perspective had been adhered to then the head would be much smaller than the feet. There is an intense foreshortening of the body which makes it appear heavy and enlarged.
Christ’s suffering, before death, is plain to see. Mantegna has given us an unusual vantage point. It places the observer at the feet of the subject and by doing so, adds to one’s sense of empathy. It could almost be described as a gruesome sight. The face of Christ is lined. His head of wavy hair rests upon a pink satin pillow. The wounds seen on the back of his hands are like torn paper, as is the horizontal cut in his side made by the spear. It is almost blasphemous, as here Christ has not risen from the dead and he is like us mortals. In the foreground are the feet of Christ each with dried puncture marks made by the crucifixion nails. Look at the skill in which Mantegna has painted the folds of the shroud.
At the left we have three mourners, Mary, Saint John and perhaps slightly hidden by the other two mourners, Mary Magdalene. Their tear-stained faces are distorted in grief. These contorted facial features derive from the masks of classical tragedy. One cannot help but be moved by their expressions.
Compare this painting with Holbein’s The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb and see which you think is the most moving.