Mantegna was born about 1431 near Vicenza, Italy. When he was about 10 years old he was adopted by Francesco Squarcione, an art teacher in Padua. Mantegna's skill as an artist developed quickly, and at the age of 17 he set up his own workshop, declaring that he would no longer allow Squarcione to profit by exploiting his talent.
There was much interest in Padua at that time in collecting and studying Roman antiquities. Mantegna knew many of the scholars and antiquarians who were involved in this work, and his knowledge of the culture of ancient Rome is apparent in his art. His paintings helped foster the growing interest in the revival of classical forms. In 1453 Mantegna married Nicolosia Bellini, whose brothers, Giovanni and Gentile Bellini, were also artists, and both of whom did work that shows Mantegna's influence.
Mantegna remained in Padua until 1459, when Ludovico Gonzaga persuaded him to move to Mantua. He worked for the Gonzaga family for the rest of his life. For them Mantegna created some of his greatest paintings. In one famous work, called the Camera degli Sposi (wedding chamber), he painted the walls and ceiling of a small interior room, transforming it into an open-air pavilion. On the ceiling a painted dome opens onto a painted sky, with painted men and women looking down from above. Rooms creating this sort of illusion became very popular in the baroque era of the 1600s.
A series of nine paintings, Triumph of Caesar, that Mantegna started in 1486 shows his interest in imperial Rome. Mantegna died in Mantua in 1506 and received the special honor of having a funeral chapel in the church of Santa Andrea dedicated to his honor.
Contributors: Mark Harden and Carol Gerten-Jackson.
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