Andrea Mantegna The Dead Christ and Three Mourners


Pinacoteca di Brera


1470 - 1474


810 x 680 mm



historical period


Exhibit Artwork

Artwork Details

The painting depicts the dead body of Christ, partially covered by a shroud and laid on a marble stone which can be identified as the relic of the Stone of Anointing, which nowadays has been lost (on the right side of the pillow appears the vase for ointments, which was used to sprinkle the body with oils before it was buried). Mantegna completely abandoned the traditional iconography of the Lamentation over the dead Christ and for the first time in history he concentrated the attention on the signs and symbols of the Passion of the Christ. The wounds on his hands and feet are intentionally exposed so that Christ is clearly recognizable from the frontal view in the foreground.  Mantegna had already experimented shortened views of humans in his previous works (like in Ovetari chapel in Padua or the oculus of Camera Picta in Mantua), perhaps it was the necessity to highlight these emblems that led the artist to choose this perspective of the body. The Christ seems reduced in height due to viewpoint from the feet and the vanishing point placed so high that he seems to be outside of the painting. The entire composition is full of incongruent viewpoints and anatomical corrections which have been added to avoid the grotesque effect that otherwise would have been obtained. Even though the feet are disproportioned to the head, the arms are too long, and the chest is large, the image seems to be perfectly in balance between the perspectival requirements and general harmony of the elements. As he could not use a rational perspective such as small tree or plant, he probably relied his method on parallel projections, which were used also by other artists at the time. Mantegna also added another vanishing point at the level of the eyes of the observer while still respecting the generic harmony of the scene. This vanishing point was necessary to represent the mourners in a simple and direct way on the left side of the painting. All the characters have dramatic facial expressions which accentuate the great realism of the scene: the overly raw and carnal facial features make rather shivering than touching impression, as the faces have strongly drawn wrinkles, open mouths in grimace and red eyes flushed with tears. There is still a great debate about the precise date of the artwork. It is thought to have been made between 1475 and 1478, close to the production of the oculus of Camera Picta or soon after finishing the frescoes in question. There are many credited hypotheses where the date changes in 50 years timeline; from the end of the Mantuan period (or the Paduan period as suggested by some historians, as the painting was thought to be a private preparation for Mantuan studies of perspective) until his death (1506). The Dead Christ arrived in Brera in 1824 bought by the secretary of the Academy Giuseppe Bossi, who tried to obtain Mantegna’s artwork for years together with his mediator Antonio Canova. Artwork’s whereabouts before this event are more or less unknown. Probably the artwork corresponds to Christ in the Dark, found in the painter’s study after his death and sold by his son Ludovico to cardinal Sigismondo Gonzaga and inventoried among his properties in Mantua in 1627. The painting and other treasures of Mantua were lost in the siege of the city (the fate of the work in this period is still a mystery) until it reappeared in Rome in 1802 and it was bought by Bossi.

Artist Details

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Andrea Mantegna was born in 1431 in Isola di Carturo, a town close to Padua, as son of a carpenter Biagio.

He was only ten years old when he was adopted by painter Francesco Squarcione. He started to study in his workshop in Padua and he was already registered in Padua’s painters’ guild in 1445.

In Padua Mantegna found a vibrant humanist-antiquarian atmosphere, which was influenced by Paolo Uccello and Filippo Lippi’s works. He was given a classical artistic education influenced by the Paduan works of Donatello. At the time of his graduation in 1457, he was given the decoration of the Ovetari chapel in the church of the Eremitans. Mantegna painted the Stories of St. James and St. Christopher, which were later almost completely lost due to the bombings of Padua in 1944. Thanks to the ancient copies and photographs Mantegna’s works can be memorized.

Following the decoration of the church of the Eremitans, Mantegna realized the polypych of San Luca for the church of Santa Giustina, which is nowadays kept in Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan. The painting represents his first step towards combined perspective of space, which culminates in the altarpiece of San Zeno church in Verona. In 1453 Mantegna married Niccolosa Bellini, daughter of Jacopo Bellini and sister of Gentile and Giovanni Bellini, who were among the most important and famous Venetian painters at the time.

In 1460 Ludovico III Gonzaga invited Andrea in Mantua, where he became a court painter. In four years he executed the internal decorations of the castle of San Giorgio, particularly the so-called Triptych of the Uffizi and the altarpiece with the Death of the Virgin, where all the ancient quotations were banished. Mantegna continued to work in the castle at least until 1474 decorating the Camera Picta for the marquis’s wife, Barbara of Brandenburg, which was one his greatest masterpieces involving the observer in the illustrative space. He also painted the portrait of Cardinal Ludovico Trevisan (1459-1460) and the portrait of Francesco Gonzaga (1461) during the years in Mantua. Under Federico II Gonzaga, who was a successor of Ludovico, between 1497 and 1502 Andrea begins to paint the nine canvases with the Triumph of Caesar in Gaul, a cycle of paintings where the painter interprets the ancient subject celebrating his patron as the new Caesar.

In 1487 Mantegna went to Rome to work in the papal court of Innocent VIII, who wanted to entrust him the decoration of the chapel in Beldevere in Vatican. He returned to Mantua three years later, in 1490. His production in the 1490s’ was characterized by the influence of the Thriumps and realized the Dead Christ and Three Mourners, located today in the Pinacoteca di Brera, the highlight of his years of perspective studies and an example of extreme naturalism. Madonna della Vittoria was commissioned by Francesco Gonzaga to celebrate the victory of the battle of Fornovo in 1495 against the French and the altarpiece of Trivulzio (1497) for the church of Santa Maria Ornago in Verona, situated today in the Pinacoteca of the Sforzesco Castle in Milan.

Mantegna returned to the court of Mantua in 1490 after the marriage of Francesco II Gonzaga and Isabella d’Este. As a gift, Mantegna decorated the studio of Francesco’s wife, but he only finished it in 1502. Isabella commissioned a cycle of mythological and allegorical subjects and Mantegna painted two canvases of Parnassus (1497) and the Triumph of Virtue (1499-1502) with complex compositions of characters and allegories, that took a lot of time.

The works of the last years, 1505-1506, were characterized by almost melancholic nuances, dark tones and skillful and innovative use of light and movement. The two canvases destined for his burial chapel in the church of Sant’Andrea in Mantua, the Baptism of Christ and the Holy Family with the family of St. John the Baptist as well as the St. Sebastian in the Galleria Franchetti of Venice were all attributed to this phase.

Andrea Mantegna died in Mantua on 13 September 1506. He was buried in the church of Sant’Andrea in Mantua, where the mortuary chapel was decorated by his students and young Correggio.

Collection Details

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Pinacoteca di Brera is a complex that consists of the departments of Accademia delle Belle Arti, Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense, Sopraintendeza per il Patrimonio Storico ed Artistico, Istituto Lombardo di Scienze e Lettere, Botanical garden and Astronomical Observatory.

The origins of this collection, where the chronological period of the artworks ranges from 13th to 20th century, with great examples of national and international figurative artistic culture, allow us to understand the motives of this heterogeneity and variety.

Pinacoteca di Brera is situated in the namesake building on the area which, in the past, was occupied by the Order of the Humiliati who came to Milan in 1209, designed by Milanese architect Carlo Maria Richini and later renovated by Giuseppe Piermarini.

In 1773 after the suppression of the Jesuit order, Pinacoteca di Brera became a state property. The first collection was introduced by Maria Theresa Of Austria, who wanted to create a collection of exemplary works intended for the students’ training.

When Milan became the capital of Italian kingdom by Napoleon’s will, the gallery became a real museum with exhibitions of great paintings from all the conquered territories, in addition to the already existing collection. In total there were 269 artworks, and the museum was opened to the public in 1809 with a unique collection of artworks from all the Italian museums, among them the Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael, the Crucifixion by Bramantino and the Disputation of St. Stephen by Carpaccio.

In the 19th century the collection was enriched with many significant works taken from Lombard churches and conventions, due to the abolition of many religious orders. Other works of identical origin, which were removed from the departments of the Italian kingdom, were added to the collection, thanks to the initiative of Giuseppe Bossi and Andrea Appiani. This explains the presence of so many important sacred paintings, which gave the museum its particular appearance, as well as the paintings by Bellotto and the portraits by Lorenzo Lotto.

Corrado Ricci, writer and art historian of undisputed fame, reorganized the exhibition to a strict chronological order by the schools and the polyptych of Valle Romita by Gentile da Fabriano and Men at Arms by Bramante were added to the collection. After the historic reorganization of Ettore Modgliani and architect Piero Portaluppi, following the bombings of 1943, director Feranda Wittgens gives the Pinacoteca a modern and almost aristocratic structure, taking advantage of Franco Albini’s work as well.

The collection was enriched with paintings and sculptures from the 20th century, thanks to the donation of Emilio and Maria Jesi (1976) and Vitali (1984) and with the acquisitions managed by the historic Associazione Amici di Brera which has always kept the museum in dynamic and continuous evolution. Among these were the Self-portrait by Umberto Boccioni, Mother and Son by Carlo Carrà, the Still Life by Giorgio Morandi, the Red Wagon by Fattori and the Afternoon by Silvestro Lega. The director at the time, Franco Russoli, started the expansion process in the halls of the Citterio palace and denounced the problems of that era with the exhibition “Processo per il Museo” in 1974, held in those unused halls. The Pinacoteca was reopened and expanded with Carlo Bertelli.

More recent renewal process began in 1989 with the renovation of technological installations and reorganization of the spaces. The work was organized by Vittorio Gregotti, who created the Napoleonic rooms and the small rooms next to the original gallery.

Among the most important and internationally famous works are Piero della Francesca’s Monterfeltro altarpiece, Andrea Mantegna’s Dead Christ, Gentile and Giovanni Bellini’s Preaching, Barocci’s Martyrdom of St. Vital, the scenes by Antonio Campi, the Christ at the Column by Bramante, the Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio and the Kiss by Hayez.

On 17 December 2011 a new staircase was introduced, designed by Adolfo Natalini. It connected the historical floor of the gallery with the new halls on the first floor. The most recent (2017) renovation was organized in the heart of the Brera, the Napoleonic rooms.