- Museum number
Study for the Ovetari Chapel: St James being led to execution, with a group of soldiers or guards and nude figures at right over a male bust in a roundel
Pen and brown ink, the roundel study in black chalk
Verso: Head of a man, turned to right
Brush drawing in black ink
- Production date
Height: 164 millimetres
Width: 256 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- This is the earliest known drawing by the artist, and the only one related to Mantegna's first major commission - the frescoes in the Ovetari chapel in the Church of the Eremitani in Padua (destroyed in 1944). The fresco of 'Saint James on his way to execution' at the left on the lower tier of the left-hand wall was originally intended to be painted by Niccolò Pizzolo, so the drawing must post-date his murder in 1453 (for an illustration of the work see Lightbown pl. 14). The fresco was completed by January 1457. Both the fresco and drawing show the moment when the scribe Josiah, responsible for leading James by a rope to the place of execution, converted to Christianity after witnessing the Saint healing a paralytic. (Lightbown's contention that the kneeling figure in the drawing is the paralytic is rightly rejected by Ekserdjian). In the drawing the figure in the space between the saint and Josiah may be the newly-healed paralytic, but in any case he is not included in the final composition. The basic composition of the finished fresco is close to that shown here, but there are a number of changes in detail which indicate that this study dates from the beginning of the preparatory process.
Mantegna drew the figures nude, only clothing those on the right, a practice recommended by the Florentine art theorist Leon Battista Alberti in his 'Della Pittura'. The drawing is remarkably free in handling with significant alterations to the poses of the figures (most visible in Saint James), and vigorous parallel hatching, especially on the right, to give a broad idea of the fall of light. In the centre of the recto there is an area of black chalk which, on close inspection, can be read as a study of a bust-length male figure in a roundel. This cannot be related to any painted work but it may conceivably have been an unrealised idea for an Antique style relief in the background of the fresco. The head of a man drawn in brush on the verso was tentatively associated by Ekserdjian with the grisaille heads painted by Mantegna in the chapel. Michael Hirst in the review of the exhibition suggested instead that it was a first idea for the head of the man immediately behind the foreground soldier in the fresco.
The now generally accepted attribution to Mantegna was long the subject of much debate, with some critics ascribing this to Giovanni Bellini, the Paduan painter's brother-in-law (a synposis of the various scholarly opinions given in Lightbown p. 481). What has been overlooked is that it was William Young Ottley who first identified the drawing as a study by Mantegna for the Ovetari chapel when he bought it at the Spencer sale, where it was catalogued as Gentile Bellini.
The medium of the drawing has been confirmed by Satoko Tanimoto and Giovanni Verri from the Department of Scientific Research in a campaign of investigation of the Italian 15th century drawings linked to the forthcoming 2010 exhibition. The analytical methods employed have been non-destructive and non-contact ones: infrared and ultraviolet imaging, with XRF and Raman spectrometry.
Lit.: P. Kristeller, 'Andrea Mantegna', London, 1901, pp. 101-2; H. Tietze and E. Tietze-Conrat, 'The Drawings of the Venetian Painters in the 15th and 16th Centuries', New York, 1944, no. A 296, pp. 84-5; R.W. Lightbown, 'Andrea Mantegna', Oxford, 1986, p. 48, no. 176, p. 481, pl. 205; D. Ekserdjian, in exhib. cat., London, RA, and New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 'Andrea Mantegna', 1992, no. 11, p.135 (with further literature); H. Chapman, in exhib. cat., BM, 'Padua in the 1450s: Marco Zoppo and his contemporaries', no. 7; E. Lincoln, 'The Invention of the Italian Renaissance Printmaker', New Haven and London, 2000, pp. 33-4, fig. 18; G. Goldner, 'Bellini's Drawings', in P. Humfrey (ed.), 'The Cambridge Companion to Giovanni Bellini', Cambridge, 2004, pp. 226 7, fig. 70; G. Agosti, in exhib. cat., Florence, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi, 'Disegni del Rinascimento in Valpadana', 2001, under no. 9, p. 104; C. Van Cleave, 'Master Drawings of the Italian Renaissance', London, 2007, p. 56, illustrated p. 58; H. Chapman and M. Faietti, exhib. cat., BM, London, `Fra Angelico to Leonardo: Italian Renaissance Drawings`, 2010, no. 20, pp. 136-37 (cat. entry by M. Faietti).
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1930, London, Royal Academy, 'Italian Drawings', no.152 (lent by G.M.Gathorne-Hardy)
1976 Summer, in front hall of the BM, as an outstanding recent acquisition (facsimile only!)
1990 April-Aug, BM, Treasures of P&D (no cat.)
1992 Jan-April, London, Royal Academy, Andrea Mantegna, no. 11
1992 May-Jul, New York, Met Mus of Art, Andrea Mantegna, no. 11
1998, BM, 'Padua and the 1450s', no. 7
2006/7 Sep-Jan, Padua, Museo Civici e Biblioteche, 'Mantegna e Padova 1445-1460'
2010 April-July, BM, 'Fra Angelico to Leonardo', no. 20
2011, March-June, Uffizi, Florence, 'Figure, Memorie, Spazio: Disegni da Fra'Angelico a Leonardo', no.20
2018-2019 1 Oct-27 Jan, London, National Gallery, Mantegna and Bellini
2019, 1 Mar-30 Jun, Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Mantegna and Bellini
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Acquired from the Gathorne-Hardy Collection in lieu of estate duty. The price was reimbursed to the Land Fund with a contribution from the bequest of Richard William Tuck.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number