MANTEGNA, Andrea
(b. 1431, Isola di Cartura, d. 1506, Mantova)

Presentation in the Temple

c. 1460
Tempera on wood, 67 x 86 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

In 1453 or 1454 Mantegna married Nicolosia Bellini and in so doing allies himself professionally with her brother, Giovanni, to whom he imparts Donatellian ideas. The two London panels depicting the Agony in the Garden by Mantegna and Bellini respectively define the artistic interdependence of the two brothers-in-law: the technical innovations and organization of the Paduan painter and the pre-eminence of the Venetian in the field of light and colour.

This is confirmed in the two versions of the Presentation at the Temple: the Berlin painting by Mantegna and the one in Venice by Bellini. Something of Quarcione's fierce expressiveness is evident in the face of Mantegna's High Priest (an element which is toned down in the Bellini version), and this, together with the Donatellian facial type of the Christ Child, points to the Paduan origins of both paintings. The foreshortened pose of Mantegna's Christ Child (less evident in the Venice version) is seen at an angle in relation to the back of the 'pictorial cube': by placing the Christ Child on the parapet the artist gives a measure of the space behind while at the same time projecting the Child into our space. This creation of a bridge between the work of art and the spectator is only evident in the Mantegna version. Only the spatial device of the ledge will appear again in Bellini's work.

Furthermore, in the Berlin Presentation at the Temple the face emerging from the dark to the right of the painting is thought to be a self-portrait of Mantegna. Despite the discrepancies with the known Self-portrait Bust in bronze in Mantegna's funerary chapel in Mantua, it is difficult to deny that Mantegna has included himself in the Berlin canvas. And, if one accepts that the woman to the far left of the painting is a portrait of his wife it seems plausible that it is connected with the marriage of the painter.