Sensational Renaissance exhibition “Mantegna + Bellini” in the Berlin Gemldegalerie: Brothers in the Spirit

“Mantegna + Bellini”
:Brothers in spirit

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    Ingeborg Ruthe


Left: Complementary: Mantegna’s Ancient “Presentation of Christ in the Temple”, c. 1454 / Right: Bellini’s Everyday “Offering of Christ in the Temple” around 1470/75


SMB / Gemldegalerie / Ch.Schmidt / Fondanzione Querini Stampalia Venice / Cameraphoto arte snc

A journey through time begins as soon as the glass door to the Wandelhalle of the Berlin Gemldegalerie closes behind you. And if the pictures were not more than 550 years old, the Old Masters would from today’s point of view attest to their ingenious painting ability – but they would also submit to them blatant copying and plagiarism.

Andrea Mantegna, born 1431 near Padua, died in Mantua in 1506, and his brother-in-law Giovanni Bellini, born in Venice in 1435 and died there in 1516, often drew or painted with identical rivalry and self-evidentness on the same themes and motives – religious and mythological as secular. It is unimaginable that our globalized art, which is still throbbing to the last detail on individual authorship and soloist effects, would be so calmly, even respectfully and harmoniously involved in common expression.


Left: “Mary with a sleeping child” Mantegna painted almost like a colored marble sculpture around 1455. / Right: Bellini-Madonna 20 years later and the sucking child much more commonplace: “Maria mit Kind”, ca. 1475.


smb / Gemldegalerie / Anders / smb / Gemldegalerie / schmidt

Well, the two Italians were in a sense missionaries of a new epoch liberating from the Middle Ages: the discovery of humanism and the beginning of the Enlightenment – in the midst of the discovery of the world.

Renaissance giants Mantegna and Bellini

On evocative green, European blue (actually Marienblau), red, black and violet-painted museum walls are lined with altars, scenes of saints, proud secular portraits and landscapes of the Renaissance giants Mantegna and Bellini.

The special exhibition with loans from Florence, Venice and from all over the world is the fruit of a harmonious cooperation with the National Gallery of London – what an art-peg, which is demonstratively taken in the cracked European thought, in the midst of the current fatal Brexit chaos.

The curators Neville Rowley and Dagmar Korbacher have arranged the pictures and the thematically selected drawings and graphics in 17 chapters based entirely on dialogue between the two painters. As a viewer one becomes a third party in this exchange, which celebrates the beauty of existence and the value and pride of the Renaissance people.


Left: sadness, raptured in ancient landscape: Mantegna’s “Christ as a man of sorrows”, around 1500. / Right: Bellini painted the “Dead Christ, supported by angels” as early as 1475 much more physically real.


Copenhagen Art Museum / smb / Gemldegalerie / Schmidt

But what at first glance seems so similar in the choice of motif differs considerably in style. Mantegna’s pictorial world is still in the antique, Bellini’s saints, nobles and patricians already live in the grounded everyday. Mantegna’s early style attests to the strictly linear composition, the almost statuary plasticity of the figures; quite the Florentine school. He invented spectacular scenes in which biblical and Roman mythologies unite solemnly and emotionally with a humanistic world view. In many scenes Mantegna still adhered to the medieval tradition.

But then he steered his Madonnas into a perspective constructed pictorial space. For the first time in the history of sacred painting, Mantegna’s tone-like tempera colors created an illusionistic connection between the real and the fiction-painted space. The plot leads into a clear sky. So one painted later in the baroque.

Mantegna’s paintings and drawings, such as the hermit Jerome or Christ in limbo, teem with almost surreal allegories and mythological scenes. And humanist ideals. Characteristic of the interlocking image-space sequences, in addition the perspective shortenings of the figures.

Bellini transforms Mantegna’s characters with bright oil paints

The latter stylistic devices were used by the younger Bellini even more courageously. He transformed Mantegna’s rapt, rock-carved shapes, the unreal rock formations, with its glowing oil colors. The result was light, light, lifelike scenes of earthed people and atmospheric landscapes. In 1483, he became a master painter of the Republic of Venice. Around 1501 he created a masterpiece that is one of the treasures of the London National Gallery: the half-length portrait of the Serenissima Doge, Leonardo Loredan. The bright coloring, the meticulous, at the same time light brushwork was probably also the result of the exchange with his young, following the modern zeitgeschmack students Giorgione and Titian.

For both Mantegna and Bellini, in their art for man as the measure of all things, and therefore also for the physical, we experience the elderly as metaphorical dramatists and the younger as painters more contemplative, of their value of proudly conscious Renaissance characters. As different as their style, so together their dream – of a humanity with a future.

Special show “Mantegna + Bellini, Master of the Renaissance”, Gemldegalerie Berlin, Staatliche Museen, Kulturforum, Matthikirchplatz.

opening hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 10am to 6pm, Thursday until 8pm, Saturday and Sunday 11am to 6pm. Until 30th June 2019

Catalog(Hirmer) 39,90 Euro.