If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Mantegna, Dormition of the Virgin

Andrea Mantegna, Dormition (or Death) of the Virgin, c. 1462, tempera on panel, 54 × 42 cm, 21.26 × 16.54 in (Museo del Prado, Madrid)Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

(piano playing) Dr. We're in the Prado, in Madrid and we're looking at a small Andrea Mantegna. It's the Dormition of the Virgin. The painting that we're seeing is only the bottom two-thirds of the original. Dr. Harris: Right so it would've had a top that showed the vaulting of the architecture, the bottom half of which we see in this panel. It would have also shown Christ receiving the Virgin's body. Dr. Zucker: That actually sort of raises the question, what does Dormition mean? This was the moment when the Virgin was readying herself to die and invites the Apostles to be with her. Dr. Harris: This is an Apocryphal story. Dr. Zucker: Right, not in the Bible itself. I think, actually Mantegna has played fast and loose even with the Apocryphal version because we've got this set in a classical environment, yet out the window, or past the porch ... Dr. Harris: It's Mantua. Dr. Zucker: Yeah we see this incredibly accurate rendering of an actual place in Italy. Dr. Harris: Apparently this is very, very early maybe the first truly topographical landscape of a part of Italy. Dr Zucker: I have to tell you that one of the aspects of this painting that I love is the precision with which Mantegna renders the folds and the textures of the drapery, especially in the two front figures in that green and that blue, but then also the figure in the red that's leaning away from us. Dr. Harris: That's true. Dr. Zucker: ... makes the cloth cling to the body that exposes it. Dr. Harris: This clearly looking classical sculpture. Dr. Zucker: ... this is, this is classical sculpture right, being brought to life again. Dr. Harris: I'm looking also down at the floor where we see the tiles forming the orthogonal's of the linear perspective, not sure exactly where the vanishing point would be, but the lovely feet and their sense of weight and the shadows. We have a sense of light coming from the right illuminating the columns and casting shadows that move out from the figures toward the left. There's a real sense of light and weight and space here that's incredibly convincing. Dr. Zucker: It's true, look at the way the floor brightens in that little negative space between the feet of the figure standing behind Mary. While mentioning Mary, she seems so minor in comparison to the rest of the image. She's so pale and so frail, but so small in comparison to the much more vigorous figures around her and also the scale of the architecture. Dr. Harris: We do have a sense of them surrounding her and this moment that's about to happen of her death and the figures grieving for her. Dr. Zucker: We see the figures on the left, standing, holding Palm frond the symbol of death, but I'm actually ... Dr. Harris: Not only a symbol of death but of the triumph over death. Dr. Zucker: Yes, right and of course Christ would have received her in to heaven had the painting not been cut in two. I love on the right the way in which the figures were singing and the way in which the candles are not heard perfectly vertically, but are responding to the movements of the body just ever so slightly. To me, this sense of movement and rhythm and change, even in this very stable environment. Dr. Harris: And that figure who leans over her bed who almost is our counterpart in the painting. (piano playing)