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LONDON - In autumn 2018, the National Gallery will present a tale of two artists, their families and their cities; an interlinked story of art, family, rivalry, marriage, pragmatism, and personality – Mantegna and Bellini.

This exhibition is the first ever devoted to the relationship between two of the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance: Giovanni Bellini (active about 1459–1516) and Andrea Mantegna (1430/1–1506). Through exceptionally rare loans of paintings, drawings, and sculpture, travelling to London from across the world, 'Mantegna and Bellini' offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compare the work of these two important artists who also happened to be brothers-in-law – a family connection from which both drew strength and brilliance throughout their careers. 

Neither’s career or artistic development would have existed without the other, and without these works imbued with their creativity and innovation, Renaissance art, by the likes of Titian, Correggio, and Veronese, would not exist as it does today.

The son of a carpenter, Andrea Mantegna was a self-made man. In 1453 the prodigiously talented young painter from Padua, married into the greatest artistic family of nearby Venice – the Bellini. Mantegna’s new brother-in-law, Giovanni Bellini, was also a phenomenally gifted artist who was bringing new innovations to the Venetian use of colour, observed light, atmosphere, and landscape to create an entirely new form of art. Their admiration and respect were mutual.

For seven years Mantegna and Bellini worked in close creative dialogue – something visitors to the exhibition will be able to observe at first hand through key groupings of subjects both artists portrayed. Inspired by each other’s example, they both experimented and worked in ways they were not entirely comfortable with in order to hone their artistic skills and identities. While Mantegna exemplified the intellectual artist, Bellini was the archetypal landscape painter, the first to use the natural world to convey emotion.

In 1460, Mantegna decided to pursue his own artistic path and moved to Mantua, where he occupied the post of court painter to the ruling Gonzaga family until his death in 1506. Bellini, who died 10 years after Mantegna, spent his entire career in Republican Venice. Despite the distance between them, their creative exchange continued throughout their long lives. Each artist continued to scale new heights in skill and ingenuity but remained forever shaped by their time together and by the knowledge of the other’s work and achievements.

At the core of the exhibition are two historic juxtapositions of Mantegna and Bellini’s work: depictions of 'The Agony in the Garden', (Mantegna’s about 1458-60, Bellini’s’ about 1465) which have hung side by side in the National Gallery since the late 19th century, as well as two paintings of 'The Presentation of Christ to the Temple' (Mantegna’s version of which is in the Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin) and Bellini’s in the Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venice).

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Andrea Mantegna, The Agony in the Garden, about 1458-60, panel, 62.9 x 80 cm, bought 1894. © The National Gallery, London.

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Giovanni Bellini, The Agony in the Garden, about 1465, panels, 81.3 x 127 cm, bought 1863 © The National Gallery, London.

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Andrea Mantegna, Presentation at the Temple, ca. 1453, canvas, 77.1 x 94.4 cm © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie / Christoph Schmidt.

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Giovanni Bellini, Presentation at the Temple, approx. 1472, panel, 80 x 105 cm © Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venice / cameraphoto arte snc

Room One of the exhibition is called 'Beginnings' and will introduce the distinctive cultural environments of the two cities that shaped Mantegna and Bellini – Padua and Venice. It will show how the tastes of dominant patrons and their working environments (including the family-run workshop) played a role in the development of the artists. A highlight here will be 'The Jacopo Bellini album' on loan from the British Museum, which has been exceptionally generous in lending 18 works to the exhibition. This sketchbook – which has only been lent once in the last 100 years – is a key starting point for 'Mantegna and Bellini.' 

'Explorations' in the following room will examine the mutual impact of each artist on the other during the years of their closest creative exchange, around the time of the marriage that made them brothers-in-law. In this second room a number of juxtapositions will compare and contrast their approach to near identical compositions: Mantegna’s 'The Descent into Limbo' (Private Collection) and Bellini’s 'The Descent into Limbo' (1475–80, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery), Mantegna’s 'The Crucifixion' (1456–9) and Bellini’s 'Le Calvaire', both from Musée du Louvre, Paris. 

Giovanni Bellini, The Descent into Limbo, 1475–80

Giovanni Bellini, The Descent into Limbo1475–80, oil on vellum on panel, 51.8 x 37.3 cm © Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives

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Andrea Mantegna (circle), Descent into Limbo , ca. 1490, brown and darkgrey wash, heightened with white, blue prepared paper, 28.4 x 20.3 cm © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett / Jörg P. Anders

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Giovanni Bellini (attributed), Saint Mark heals the hand of the shoemaker Anianus, ca. 1490, pen and brown ink on paper, 18,4 x 17,2 cm © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett / Jörg P. Anders

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Andrea Mantegna, Studies for Christ at the Column (recto / verso), early to mid 1460´s. Pen and brown ink on paper, 23,7 x 14,5 cm © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London.

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Andrea Mantegna (and unknown engraver), The Flagellation with Pavement, ca. 1460-1468, engraving, 44,5 x 34,4 cm (sheet), 39,1 x 30,8 cm (platemark) © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett / Jörg P. Anders

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Andrea Mantegna, St Sebastian, about 1459-60, poplar wood, 68 x 30 cm © Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Picture Gallery.

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Giovanni Bellini, The Blood of the Redeemer, probably 1460-65, poplar wood, 47 x 34,3 cm © The National Gallery, London

Mantegna Le Calvaire

Andrea MantegnaLa Crucifixion, dite Le Calvaire, 1457-1459. Bois; H. : 76 cm ; L. : 96 cm, Paris, Musée du Louvre, dép. des Peintures, Inv. 368 © RMN / Thierry Le Mage

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Giovanni Bellini, Le Calvaire, Vers 1465 - 1470. H. : 71 ccm. ; L. : 63 m, Paris, Musée du Louvre, dép. des Peintures, R.F. 1970-39 © 1997 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

Room Three is entitled 'Pietà' and focuses on the origins and development of a distinctive new type of image – the Dead Christ supported by Angels. The works here will include sculptural reliefs (such as Mantegna’s 'Grablegung Christ,' Kunshistorisches Museum Wien, Kunstkammer) as well as works on paper (Mantegna’s Pietà, 1456–9, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice) and Bellini’s tempera on panel 'Pietà' (Galleria degli Uffizi).

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Andrea Mantegna, Pietà, 1456-59, pen and brown ink on paper, 12,7 x 9,8 cm © Su concessione del Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo, Museo Nazionale delle Gallerie dell‘Accademia di Venezia.

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Giovanni Bellini, Lamentation over the Dead Christ, about 1460. Tempera on panel, 76 x 121 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi © Soprintendenza Speciale per il Polo Museale Fiorentino

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Andrea Mantegna, Deposition, pen and brown ink on paper, 13 x 9,5 cm © Brescia, Musei Civici di Arte e Storia, Archivio Fotografico

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Giovanni Bellini, Dead Christ supported by angels, about 1475, panel, 82,9 x 66,9 cm © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie / Jörg P. Anders

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Andrea Mantegna, The Man of Sorrows, ca. 1495-1500 canvas, 78 x 48 cm © Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

'Landscape' (Room Four) explores the enormous importance of Bellini’s particular contribution to the history of art – the depiction of beautifully observed landscape, natural light, and atmosphere as a key element of the composition and meaning of religious works (such as in Bellini’s 'The Resurrection of Christ', about 1478/9, Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin). A particular highlight will be a first chance to see the newly restored National Gallery work, 'The Assassination of Saint Peter Martyr' (about 1507). A number of pairings will reveal the differences in approach to landscape between the two artists – and also reveal the ways in which Bellini’s exceptional talent had a lasting effect on Mantegna (such as in his astonishingly accurate view of Mantua in his 'Death of the Virgin', 1462, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid).

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Giovanni Bellini, Resurrection of Christ, 1475/1479, poplar wood, 148 x 128 cm © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 

The Assassination of Saint Peter Martyr

Giovanni Bellini, The Assassination of Saint Peter Martyrabout 1507. Oil and tempera on wood, 99.7 x 165.1 cm, NG812© The National Gallery, London

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Andrea Mantegna, Death of the Virgin, 1462. Mixed method on panel, 54.5 x 42 cm, P000248, Museo Nacional del Prado © 2018. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

'Devotional Paintings and Portraits' (Room Five) will provide a focused insight into a particular contribution to Italian Renaissance art – the development of the 'sacra conversazione' in which the seated Virgin and Child appear in the company of saints (‘in conversation’) as if occupying the same space and breathing the same air. Here Mantegna’s 'Holy Family' (about 1495–-1500, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden) and 'Madonna and Child' (about 1455­–-60, Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin) will be seen side by side with Bellini’s 'Madonna and Child with two Saints' (Gallerie dell'Accademia) and 'The Virgin and Child' (about 1475, Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin). 

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Andrea Mantegna, Madonna with Sleeping Child, about 1455, canvas, 48,4 x 32,2 cm © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie / Jörg P. Anders

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Giovanni Bellini, Madonna with child, ca. 1475. Poplar wood, 76 x 54,2 cm © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie / Jörg P. Anders.

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Giovanni Bellini, Madonna and Child with Two Saints (Sacra Conversazione)circa 1490,oil on panel, 58 x 107 cm © Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venzezia

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Andrea Mantegna, Holy Familyabout 1495–1500. Oil on canvas, 75 x 61 cm, © Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden.

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Andrea Mantegna, St. Mark the Evangelist, ca. 1448 – 1451, canvas, 81,1 x 63,6 cm © Städel Museum - U. Edelmann/ARTOTHEK

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Andrea Mantegna, Cardinal Lodovico Trevisan, 1459/60. Poplar, 45,5 x 34,8 cm © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie / Jörg P. Anders

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Giovanni Bellini, Doge Leonardo Loredan, 1501-2, panel, 61,6 x 45,1 cm, bought 1844 © The National Gallery, London

  The final room of 'Mantegna and Bellini' (called 'Antiquity') will feature some of the largest and most spectacular loans, which showcase Mantegna’s particular brilliance in the use of antique models and subjects to drive innovation in his art. A highlight will be three of his great 'Triumphs of Caesar' (The Bearers of Standards and 'Siege Equipment', 'The Vase-Bearers'and 'The Elephants', c.1484–92) , monumental tempera on canvas works measuring almost three metres square, lent by Her Majesty The Queen from the Royal Collection. Contrasted with these will be sculptural monochromes by Bellini, including 'An Episode from the Life of Publius Cornelius Scipio' (about 1506, National Gallery of Art, Washington) and 'Two men in antique dress' (Fondation Custodia, Collection Fritz Lugt, Paris), along with one of his final paintings, 'The Drunkenness of Noah' (about 1515, Besançon, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d'Archéologie).

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Andrea Mantegna, Dancing Muse, about 1497, pen and black ink, bluegrey wash, heightened with white, over preparatory drawing with black chalk, , on brown prepared paper (backed with paper), traces of spolvero-transfer 45,6 x 31,2 cm © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett / Jörg P. Ande

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Giovanni Bellini, Two men in antique dress, ca. 1506-1508, watercolour and oil-colour on paper, 41,4 x 26,6 cm © Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris

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Andrea Mantegna, Introduction of the Cult of Cybele to Rome, 1505-06, linen, 76,5 x 273 cm © The National Gallery, London.

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Giovanni Bellini, An Episode from the Life of Publius Cornelius Scipio, after 1506, canvas, 74,8 x 356,2 cm © Image courtesy of the Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

Dr Caroline Campbell, Director of Collections and Research at the National Gallery and curator of 'Mantegna and Bellini' says: “Exhibitions focusing on 15th-century art are rare as the works involved are often fragile and so cannot travel very often – therefore 'Mantegna and Bellini' really is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to explore the relationship and work of these two artists who played such a pivotal role in the history of art.”

Director of the National Gallery, Dr Gabriele Finaldi, says:“Mantegna’s passion for the ancient world and Bellini’s love of nature are crucial elements of the Italian Renaissance. This exhibition bringing their work together is unprecedented and probably unrepeatable.”

 1 October 2018 – 27 January 2019