August 22, 2004

Mantegna, Engraver

The Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) was a painter and draughtsman of great renown, and also a pioneering and prolific graphic artist, one of the first in Northern Italy to make prints from engraved copper plates. Or, Mantegna produced a handful of noteworthy graphic works, and influenced a school of imitators who produced inferior prints in a similar style. Or, none of the engravings traditionally attributed to Mantegna are actually by his hand: the artist’s resposibilities at the Gonzaga court would have left him no time for printmaking.

Detail from 'Bacchanalian Group with Silenus', engraving by Andrea Mantegna.


Detail from 'Bacchanalian Group with a Wine-Press', engraving by Andrea Mantegna.

As so often, the paucity of the documentary evidence leaves more than enough room for conjecture. None of the prints linked to Mantegna bear his signature or monogram, and there is no reliable contemporary documentary evidence that Mantegna produced engravings himself, although Vasari, in his 1550 account of the artist's life does state that:

Andrea improved the foreshortening of figures as seen from below, and this was a difficult and fine invention. He was also fond, as I have said, of copper engraving, a very remarkable process, by means of which the world has been able to see the Bacchanalia, the battle of the sea-monsters, [etc.] - source here.
Detail from 'Battle of the Sea-Gods (Left Portion of a Frieze)', engraving by Andrea Mantegna.


Detail from 'Battle of the Sea-Gods (Right Portion of a Frieze)', engraving by Andrea Mantegna.

The Bacchanalias (or should that be Bacchanaliae?) and the Sea Monsters (or Sea-Gods) are the works I’ve chosen to reproduce here (click on the thumbnails to see the images in full). According to Tancred Borenius, in his book Four Early Italian Engravers, the figures in the latter two engravings are, in fact, neither Monsters or Gods, but rather the Ichthyophagi (‘fish-eaters’) described in a composition of that name by Diodorus Siculus. ‘Mantegna shows these beings, who according to Diodorus are free of every passion, yet incited to fight by irresistible Envy…’ Whether Mantegna is their author or not, these are impressive and forceful, if not immediately likeable compositions. This entry, by the way, completes my brief backwards skim through Borenius’ book, begun here and continued here.

Posted by misteraitch at August 22, 2004 08:54 AM | TrackBack

Hi, Mr. H --

Thanks for posting the wonderful Mantegna graphics. They look magnificent covering the screen of a computer (something Mantegna, or his workshop, probably didn't consider). Wonderful things can be found on line. But only because heroes like you go to the trouble of posting them.

I'm glad you have now heard of the marvelous Saul Steinberg . A genius who can be compared to no one else....

To show my appreciation I would like to send you a box of those italian cigars you fancy. But things like that don't make it to America....

Your English is beautiful. Idiomatic too.

Best greetings, and thanks again,



Posted by: Ron on November 1, 2004 07:16 AM
Comments are now closed