Copied and transferred
Copying good ideas was normal practice in the Renaissance, yet it was complicated. Today we see something interesting and can simply take a photo of it with our phone and share it with friends. At that time you needed patience and skill: if painters wanted to copy a picture, they first placed a transparent paper over it and traced the outlines. Sometimes they even left marks of this on the canvas. Afterwards they could transfer these outlines to another picture support. Mantegna and Bellini influenced each other during the course of their entire lives. They drew inspiration from the paintings and drawings of each other, adopted visual ideas from Jacopo Bellini’s sketchbooks, and disseminated compositions themselves through engravings.
Presentation at the Temple
The two paintings of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple were created approximately twenty years apart. Mantegna’s version was probably painted around the time he married Nicolosia Bellini. The most recent research has proven that Giovanni Bellini later made a copy of Mantegna’s picture. The central group of figures with Mary, the priest Simon, and Jesus served him as the basis for this
The Agony in the Garden
It has often been remarked of the two paintings on the theme of The Agony in the Garden that Mantegna and Bellini were artistically and technically very close to each other. Both of them made preparatory drawings, employed egg tempera, and used wood as a picture support. The faces in particular resemble each other in their triangular-shaped noses and slightly opened mouths. A fundamental difference is the painting technique: Mantegna applied precise brushstrokes to all areas of the image, while Bellini proceeded less schematically and attempted to capture the atmosphere of the break of dawn.
„No one can match Andrea Mantegna in composition, […], but Giovanni Bellini is an excellent master of colour.“
Lorenzo da Pavia in a letter to Isabella d’Este,
Venice, 16 July 1504
Depictions of the Virgin
Depictions of the Virgin with the Christ child were abundant in the Renaissance. A large share of the paintings of this subject were meant for private use and personal devotion. Mantegna and Bellini painted numerous Virgin with Child pictures and were able to repeatedly vary techniques and composition in this subject.
Mantegna’s Virgin with Sleeping Child
This small-format devotional picture shows the mother nestling her sleeping, newly-born child to her breast tenderly. The painting presents the holy figures as real figures drawn from life, emphasised by the lack of halos. Mary’s cloak envelopes both figures and symbolises the sense of shelteredness that a mother gives her child.
Bellini’s Virgin with Standing Child
Bellini achieves a different kind of visual effect in his variation on the subject of the Virgin with Child than Mantegna: he uses vivid colours for the figures, places them in front of a landscape background, and adds a parapet on which Christ is presented to the observer. Mary firmly grasps her energetic little child boldly and shows him to us entirely.