Mantegna Bellini

We went to see the exhibition Mantegna Bellini in the Sainsbury Wing, which allows one to compare the two great masters of the second half of the fifteenth century in Venice and Padua – Mantegna, academic and austere, Bellini schooled in his father’s workshop, more sacred, less innovative. It’s amazing to start with their two versions of The Presentation in the Temple: Mantegna’s from Berlin, Bellini’s, twenty years later, from Venice: Mantegna’s tight and fierce and close, Bellini’s sweeter and more lyrical. The contrast between their two depictions of Agony in the Garden, both in the National Gallery, is less extreme: Bellini’s landscape broader, less parched and less condensed. Bellini comes out of the comparison better than expected – tougher as an artist, and with more emotional depth, a brilliant draughtsman, as in his Lamentation in the Uffizi. Of course, many of the best Bellinis come from the collections of the National Gallery itself, bought on Charles Eastlake’s buying sprees in the 1860s or, as in the case of The Assassination of St. Peter Martyr, presented by his widow after his death. A beautiful, thoughtful, well presented exhibition.

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