The classical beauty of Mantegna’s San Zeno altarpiece

The great Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) distilled the best of his classical culture for the San Zeno altarpiece he created for the Basilica of the same name, in Verona.

According to the famous art historian Federico Zeri, the “rationalization of space in which figures are set” is the paramount feature that speaks of a great “knowledge and love for antiquity”.

But every detail of this masterpiece, painted between 1457 and 1459, is further confirmation: “The pillars in the marble loggia, where the Virgin Mary sits enthroned, are decorated with medallions of pagan inspiration, such as the so-called ‘Labors of Hercules’. The figures that surround the group of the Madonna and Child,” according to Zeri, “look like classical statues in full color.”

“In the San Zeno altarpiece,” Zeri adds, “the strong relationship between Mantegna and Donatello’s sculpture evolves almost into an idealistic Neoclassicism.”

Classical beauty obviously traveled well, from ancient Rome to the work of this talented artist born in Veneto.

Verona, Andrea Mantegna, Pala di San Zeno - San Zeno Altarpiece

Madonna and Child

Verona, Andrea Mantegna, Pala di San Zeno - San Zeno Altarpiece

Madonna with Child and Saints

Verona, Andrea Mantegna, Pala di San Zeno - San Zeno Altarpiece

From the left: Saint Peter, Saint Paul, Saint John the Evangelist, Saint Zenon

Verona, Andrea Mantegna, Pala di San Zeno - San Zeno Altarpiece

From the left: Saint Benedict, Saint Lorence, Saint Gregory the Great, Saint John the Baptist

Verona, Andrea Mantegna, Pala di San Zeno - San Zeno Altarpiece

Modern copy of the predella, by Paolino Caliari

Verona, Andrea Mantegna, Pala di San Zeno - San Zeno Altarpiece

Predella: copy of the Oration in the garden (the original is at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Tours)

Verona, Andrea Mantegna, Pala di San Zeno - San Zeno Altarpiece

Oration in the Garden, detail

Verona, Andrea Mantegna, Pala di San Zeno - San Zeno Altarpiece

Predella: copy of the Crucifixion (the original is at the Louvre in Paris)

Verona, Andrea Mantegna, Pala di San Zeno - San Zeno Altarpiece

Crucifixion, detail

Verona, Andrea Mantegna, Pala di San Zeno - San Zeno Altarpiece

Predella: copy of the Resurrection of Christ (the original is at the Musée des Beaux-Arts di Tours)

Verona, Andrea Mantegna, Pala di San Zeno - San Zeno Altarpiece

Resurrection, detail

Verona, Andrea Mantegna, Pala di San Zeno - San Zeno Altarpiece

Madonna and Child, detail

Verona, Andrea Mantegna, Pala di San Zeno - San Zeno Altarpiece

Madonna and Child, detail

Singing angels

Verona, Andrea Mantegna, Pala di San Zeno - San Zeno Altarpiece

Musician angel

The classical beauty of Mantegna’s San Zeno altarpiece

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