I really enjoyed the current Mantegna and Bellini exhibition at the National Gallery (finishes 27/01/2019). The Bellini (Jacopo and his two children, Gentile and Giovanni) were the top artistic family in the Venetian Republic during the Quattrocento, Born near Padua in Northern Italy (a town under Venetian rule at the time), the talented Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) married Jacopo's daughter Nicolosia in 1453 and the two brothers-in-law, Mantegna and Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516), went on to enjoy extremely long careers and became key figures in the Italian Renaissance. As a painter I am always fascinated by the skill of Renaissance artists but also by their creativity and imagination and their directness (one could almost say their innocence) in dealing with their subjects.
The start of the exhibition focuses on small-format works and compares treatments of the same subject by Mantegna and Bellini. These include the biblical topics of the crucifixion, the agony in the garden (Bellini's and Mantegna's well-known versions of this are both in the National Gallery collection), the descent of Christ into Limbo, and the presentation of the infant Jesus at the Temple. Pages from Mantegna's and Bellini's sketchbooks give an idea of the pair's thinking processes regarding human anatomy and composition (these experiments on realistic foreshortening and the human figure were among the earliest in Europe since antiquity).
Moving on, a very impressive (and touching) room is devoted to the topic of the Pietà and the Lamentation over the dead Christ and includes beautiful examples by Bellini from Berlin's Gemäldegalerie and Italy, including a stunning, highly finished monochrome drawing from the Uffizi gallery in Florence. Three panels from Mantegna's impressive Triumphs of Caesar series (created during his time as court artist to the Gonzaga rulers of Mantua, presently in the Royal Collection, and shown in full at the recent Charles I: King and Collector exhibition at the Royal Academy) are displayed in the next room. The exhibition highlights Giovanni Bellini's remarkable evolution in the course of his career, with the clumsy anatomy and stiff landscape construction of his earlier work having shifted massively by the time he painted the Assassination of St Peter Martyr (c 1507), his Madonna of the Meadow (c 1505, both in the National Gallery collection and showcasing Bellini's stunning sense of light) or the arresting Drunkenness of Noah (c 1515, from the Musée des Beaux-Arts et d'Archéologie at Besançon and painted when Bellini was in his eighties). Mantegna's highly symbolic Minerva expelling the Vices from the Garden of Virtue (c 1502, also painted for the Gonzaga court), from the Louvre, is also on display, as is Bellini's beautiful portrait of Venetian Doge Leonardo Loredan (c 1501), relocated here from its usual spot in the National Gallery.
Catch this stunning offering over the holidays if you can.