Five hundred years ago, in northern Italy, the roots of modern art were being laid by two painters. Andrea Mantegna and Giovanni Bellini are two of the greatest artists who've ever lived. They were close contemporaries, sometimes rivals, and they were brothers-in-law. Each of them represents something new in art. This week, we open at The National Gallery the first exhibition to examine fully their artistic relationship, and the impact it had on western art.
Andrea Mantegna, born outside the university city of Padua in 1431, didn’t come from an educated background. His father was a carpenter, but he ended his life in 1506 as a gentleman, the court painter of the Gonzaga family, rulers of Mantua – where he lived and worked from 1460. He’s the epitome of the intellectual artist: he makes
Bellini, on the other hand, was born into artistic royalty in Venice, at that time the most important commercial centre in Europe. His father, Jacopo, was a celebrated and successful painter. The Bellini family were Venetian citizens (
Mantegna and Bellini were very different artists but they had a close family connection. In 1453, Mantegna married Bellini’s sister,
It’s not easy to pull off exhibitions of artists who died over 500 years ago. Many works have been destroyed, and those that do survive are among the most precious possessions of the museums or collectors who own them. With my co-curators, Dagmar Korbacher, Neville Rowley (from the Berlin State Museums) and Sarah Vowles (from the British Museum), I’ve been working for many years to make this exhibition happen. The National Gallery’s partnership with the Staatliche Museen
This is a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition that will not happen again. Over a third of the 90 works in this exhibition haven’t been exhibited publicly in London before. Yet Mantegna and Bellini aren’t – yet – household names. They’re often seen as
I’ve been lucky enough to have curated many exhibitions in my life. But so far this is the one that’s been most personal for me. It was through looking at a detail of Bellini’s The Agony in the Garden on a concert poster as a teenager that I was first drawn to art history. If I’ve got one hope for this exhibition, it’s that it will introduce new audiences to these painters who are among the very greatest and most influential artists who’ve ever lived.
Caroline Campbell, Director of Collections and Research, The National Gallery, London
'Mantegna and Bellini' is on display at the National Gallery from 1 October 2018 to 27 January 2019.