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The Dead Christ
Andrea Mantegna - 1480
“The end has come”: the Saviour lies not in a sarcophagus but on a cold marble burial slab.
The Dead Christ (Cristo Morto), primary focus in this work by Mantegna, is both the symbol of the perspective mastery of the painter and universal icon of the Italian Renaissance.
This painting offers a revolutionary interpretation of the traditional iconography of the Lamentation over the Dead Christ, through the strongly foreshortened view of the body of Christ that manifests the signs of the Passion, with a strong figurative and emotive impact.
The equilibrium between the naturalistic and harmonic reproduction of the image by Mantegna is achieved through perspective and anatomic details accomplished by the method of parallel projection.
The painter, who had already experimented with atypical vanishing points in perspective in the frescoes in the Ovetari Chapel at Eremitani in Padua and in the Camera Picta (better known as the Camera degli Sposi) in Mantua, turns this illusionism into a universal and faultless principle, applying it to the divine body of Christ, viewed here in a recumbent position from the feet.
It was generally believed to have been painted between 1470 and 1480 by a mature Mantenga, already expert in the use of the full colour range and a master in depicting the sharply drawn sculptural lines of the figure.
There are still doubts about the origin of the painting which arrived at Brera in 1824. It came from the Giuseppe Bossi collection but was previously part of a collection from the Aldobrandini villa in Rome. A “Cristo in scurto” (shortened) is present in the list of Mantegna’s possessions upon his death in 1506 but it has proved difficult to verify the identity of that painting, as traces of its history were lost in the 15th century, with that which is now in Brera.
In the Pinacoteca di Brera other works testify to the extraordinary artistic skills of Andrea Mantegna, characterised by a strenuous constancy and continuity of style: from the altarpiece of San Luca to the Madonna with the Cherubim and the altar backdrop of San Bernardino or the Madonna with Child, this latter work variously attributed to his circle.