Executed in a remarkably rapid, sketchy style, this is a rare example of Mantegna’s draftsmanship. Comprising a series of studies for the same figure, the drawing shows the apostle St. Andrew or St. Philip holding a book and a cross. Depicted from a low vantage point, the figure was presumably intended to be placed high on a wall or in the upper level of a polyptych altarpiece. Mantegna turned the figure, shifted the length and break of his drapery, played with the angle of the head and the position of the book, and summarily reworked minor details.
Mantegna, who ranks among the greatest early Renaissance artists, trained in Padua, close to the town of his birth. He received his first independent commission at the age of seventeen and in 1460 was appointed court painter to the ruling Gonzaga family in Mantua, where he remained for the rest of his career. In the Ducal Palace, he executed what may be considered his most famous work, the fresco decoration of the Camera Picta (Painted Room), completed in 1474. His drawings are exceedingly rare—fewer than thirty are generally accepted as by his hand—and in the past have often been difficult to distinguish from those of his brother-in-law Giovanni Bellini, upon whose early work he exerted a strong influence.
In this instance, the artist initiated the drawing by swiftly sketching the two figures on the right with bold strokes of a thick-nibbed pen and vigorous parallel hatching. He placed them on a common ground and delineated two alternatives for the angle at which the cross is held by the central saint, identifiable as St. Andrew or, less likely, St. Philip.1 Lastly, he drew the more densely worked up figure on the left, seen balancing upon his thigh a precious volume in a jeweled binding. The upper body is drawn to a slightly larger scale and projects farther forward than that of his companions. Having run out of space, the artist abruptly ended the saint’s left arm where it encounters the cross held by his neighbor. Two additional drawings of standing saints in pen and ink have been associated with the present study. One, by Mantegna, quite close to the figure at far left in the present drawing, is in the British Museum.2 It, too, is executed with a forceful line and broad-nibbed pen. The other, by a less confident hand and formerly in the collection of Franz Koenigs, may be a copy after a lost drawing by Mantegna rather than by the master himself. It includes St. Peter; St. Paul resting on his attribute, the sword; St. Philip, or St. Andrew, holding a cross, similar to the corresponding figure in the present sheet; and an unidentified fourth saint.3 All three drawings presumably relate to the same project, conceivably a fresco or painting of the twelve Apostles on a fictive cornice, illuminated from the foreground at left and situated high on a wall, as suggested by the low vantage point of the Morgan and London studies.
The fall of the drapery and the solid, fully rounded conception of the figures have been compared to those in Mantegna’s San Zeno altarpiece in Verona and his St. Luke polyptych in Milan, indicating a date of the middle to late 1450s for this drawing. A date from the early Mantuan period of the 1460s also has been plausibly suggested.4
- The Latin cross does not resemble the type in the shape of an × traditionally associated with St. Andrew, as noted by Peter Dreyer (New York 1994–95, 22), but Mantegna, or an artist from his circle, did use a Latin cross for the figure of St. Andrew in the engraving The Risen Christ Between SS. Andrew and Longinus (Hind 1938–48, 5: no. 7, and 6: pl. 496).
- British Museum, London, inv. 1895,0915.780. See London and New York 1992, no. 24.
- Now attached to an autograph sheet by Mantegna of Two Studies of St. John the Baptist; see Hadeln 1925, pl. 57; Moscow 1995–96, no. 89.
- On the San Zeno altarpiece, Verona, see De Nicolò Salmazo 2004, 112; for the St. Luke altarpiece, see De Nicolò Salmazo 2004, 240. For arguments supporting a date in the 1460s, see Ekserdjian in London and New York 1992, 174–75.
Rhoda Eitel-Porter and and John Marciari, Italian Renaissance Drawings at the Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 2019, no. 9.
Selected references: Heinemann 1962, no. 338bis (as Bellini); Degenhart and Schmitt 1968-2010, 2:13; Robertson 1968, no. 6; Byam Shaw 1979, no. 34b; New York 1985, no. 1; Lightbown 1986, no. 178; London and New York 1992, no. 23; Goldner 1993, 172-73; New York 1994-95, no. 2; London 1996-97, no. 2; London 1998, under no. 9; Royalton-Kisch and Ekserdjian 2000, 54-55; De Nicolò Salmazo 2004, no. 11; Lucco 2006, 53; New York 2006, no. 2; Verona 2006, no. 4; Lucco 2013, 118; New York and Williamstown 2017-18, 37-38, no. 251.
Thaw Catalogue Raisonné, 2017, no. 251, repr.
Denison, Cara D. et al. Drawings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Victor Thaw. Part II. New York : Pierpont Morgan Library, 1985, no. 1, repr. (also in Thaw III, no. 2)
Denison, Cara D. et al. The Thaw Collection : Master Drawings and New Acquisitions. New York : Pierpont Morgan Library, 1994, no. 2, repr.
J. Byam Shaw, Biblioteca di disegni, 3, 1979, repr.
Degenhart and Schmitt, II, 363, no. 13.
Drawing 1987, p. 135, repr.
Ryskamp, Charles, ed. Twenty-First Report to the Fellows of the Pierpont Morgan Library, 1984-1986. New York : Pierpont Morgan Library, 1989, p. 359-360.
In August Company / The Pierpont Morgan Library. New York: The Library, 1993, p. 276, entry and reproduction.
From Leonardo to Pollock: Master drawings from the Morgan Library. New York: Morgan Library, 2006, cat. no. 2, p. 6-7.
Watermark: none visible through lining.
The drawing belongs to a group formerly attributed to Mantegna's brother-in-law Giovanni Bellini.