Jeremy Vine’s favourite paint­ing

The ra­dio pre­sen­ter chooses a mov­ing and sur­pris­ingly mod­ern­look­ing im­age of the dead Christ by Man­tegna

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Jeremy Vine

Padua has a stone-like sound, which is ap­pro­pri­ate for its fa­mous son, an­drea Man­tegna, de­scribed by the late Sir Michael Levey as hav­ing a ‘na­ture to ex­pose and then pet­rify each ob­ject, plot­ting its place in the scheme’. He liked to in­clude stone in all its forms in his paint­ings and the La­men­ta­tion is no ex­cep­tion with its mar­ble slab, Christ’s corpse a re­minder that, in death, we are turned to stone.

Man­tegna was the son of a coun­try car­pen­ter, his so­cial as­cent de­scribed by Vasari as that of ‘an artist who was born of very hum­ble stock and yet ris­ing to the rank of a knight through his own ef­forts and good for­tune’. He was lucky to grow up in Padua, with its fa­mous university and Ro­man past as Patavium, a pride in his­tory that re­sisted the hu­mil­i­a­tion of an­nex­a­tion by Venice in 1405. Pad­u­ans made much of their civic an­tiq­uity. a tomb erected in 1283 was said to con­tain the bones of their founder, the Tro­jan an­tenor.

Clever, witty, am­bi­tious and ar­tis­ti­cally out­stand­ing, the young Man­tegna made the most of these in­tel­lec­tual op­por­tu­ni­ties. an­ti­quar­i­ans and ‘hu­man­ists’ ded­i­cated to Clas­si­cal lit­er­a­ture fos­tered a fas­ci­na­tion for Clas­si­cal art, which his mas­ter, Francesco Squar­cione, en­cour­aged by mak­ing him draw an­tique stat­u­ary. Con­tact with math­e­ma­ti­cians and nat­u­ral philoso­phers may ex­plain his ob­ses­sion with the novel art of ge­o­met­ri­cally based per­spec­tive and the need for un­flinch­ing nat­u­ral­ism.

The La­men­ta­tion ex­em­pli­fies both ex­treme per­spec­tive and sear­ing nat­u­ral­ism: Christ hu­man even to his man­hood, the mourn­ers—sup­pos­edly St John the Evan­ge­list, Mary and Mary Mag­da­lene (with a con­torted mouth)—stricken.

La­men­ta­tion

of Christ, about 1480, by An­drea Man­tegna (1431–1506), 26½in by 32in, Pi­na­coteca di Br­era, Mi­lan, Italy

Jeremy Vine is a broad­caster and jour­nal­ist known for his Ra­dio 2 show and pre­sent­ing Eg­gheads. His new book, What I Learnt, is pub­lished to­mor­row

‘Con­sider the fol­low­ing: this pic­ture only emerged when Man­tegna died–his sons found it in his stu­dio and sold it to pay off debts. We now see it as a ma­jor mo­ment in art, with dra­matic use of per­spec­tive ap­plied to the hu­man body. The fore­short­en­ing makes the gen­i­tals of Christ cen­tral to the paint­ing and the feet and hands big­ger than the face. I “dis­cov­ered” the pic­ture my­self when my daugh­ter and I stud­ied a lit­tle art his­tory to­gether. I feel sure I’ve seen it on the cover of a Joy Di­vi­sion record. Al­though most early re­li­gious art looks kitsch now, bru­tal’ this is very real and

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