The famous paintings and frescoes of Andrea Mantegna (ca. 1431-1506) mark him as a master of Renaissance art who influenced other Renaissance painters such as his brother-in-law, Giovanni Bellini  (ca. 1430-1507) and Albrecht Durer (1471-1528).

Mantegna was a child prodigy, already signing his own altarpieces at the age of seventeen.  By the time he was thirty, he had become court painter to Mantua’s Gonzaga family, significant patrons of Renaissance art in Mantua. Montegna was knighted in 1484, an honor rarely bestowed on artists, and remained in the Gonzaga court until his death in 1506.

Andrea Mantegna.  Dead Christ, ca. 1480.  Tempera, 2’3″ by 2’8″.  Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, Italy.

Many Renaissance painters used linear perspective, a invention generally attributed to Filippo Brunelleschi, and adopted the use of oil paints. In creating Dead Christ, however, Mantegna broke ranks with these new techniques of Renaissance art: he opted instead for tempera on canvas, which yielded matte effects akin to fresco, and modified linear perspective by shortening Christ’s feet so that they didn’t occupy the bulk of the painting.

The holes riveting Christ’s feet and hands are wrenching. The viewer senses Mantegna’s revulsion and indignation over the crucifixion.  The painting harshly reminds us of mankind’s inhumanity. To the left are a weeping Mary and John, likely a later addition whose presence doesn’t detract from the psychological power of this famous painting, one of the most poignant in art history.

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