Andrea Mantegna - inv. 1592

Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506)

Portrait of a Man
1460 c.
32,3 x 28,8 cm
1879 bequest Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli
Inv. 1592

Golden Room
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This profile portrait is intensely expressive, emphasised by the low raking light that highlights the facial features. The desire to realistically characterise the sitter is particularly evident in the short brushstrokes of the stubble on the man’s chin and in the throbbing veins at his temple. His clothes and headdress suggest that he might be a Venetian magistrate or lawyer, or at any rate of noble birth.

The painting’s value does not only lie in its high quality and fame of the artist, but also in the richness of the materials used. The sober background, which today appears very dark, must not deceive us: originally it was a brilliant light blue obtained from lapis lazuli, which was very expensive. The choice of a profile position makes clear reference to celebratory classical models found in ancient medals, ritualised by Pisanello in the 15th century for the courts of northern Italy.

Despite much wear in the picture surface, it is still possible to perceive the extremely high quality in the painting’s creation and execution, leading to an attribution to an early phase in Andrea Mantegna’s career.