Mantegna and the Orators: The Invention of the Mars and Venus for Isabella d’Este Gonzaga

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Artibus et Historiae



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This paper explores the intellectual and social circumstances that informed the production of Andrea Mantegna’s Mars and Venus (1497), the first painting executed for the studiolo of Isabella d’Este Gonzaga. Documentary evidence suggests that Mantegna collaborated on this project with an iconographic advisor, most likely the learned Paride da Ceresara. The author argues, somewhat against the received wisdom, that both Paride and Mantegna are responsible for this painting’s invention, and maintains that the collaborative nature of their enterprise invites us to rethink the nature of artistic ‘invention’ itself. The term, which entered the lexicon of early modern art theory via the writings of Cicero and Quintilian, describes an intellectual process of discovery. Paride, as the paper attempts to show, discovered his iconographic invenzione by using the techniques of humanist philology. Mantegna drew on his knowledge of classical sculpture, as well as a hitherto unacknowledged tradition of textual criticism that linked his handling of a brush to the tenets of ancient rhetorical theory and to the writings of Leon Battista Alberti. Discovering in these contexts a set of poetic, formal, and stylistic devices uniquely suited to the learned environment of Isabella’s studiolo, Mantegna and Paride together invented a means of visibly addressing their patron’s concerns, concerns that are ultimately tied to the Platonic philosophy of the soul.


Art and Design | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology

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