(b. 1431, Isola di Carturo, d. 1506, Mantova)
St Georgec. 1460
Tempera on panel, 66 x 32 cm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice
In Padua there were many admirers of Donatello and the other Tuscan artists, but it was Andrea Mantegna who, with his frescoes in the Ovetari Chapel of the Church of the Eremitani, executed when he was just twenty years old, emerged as the reference point for the rebirth of painting over much of Northern Italy and Central Europe. In a romantic dream of the rediscovery of a classical measure, the world of Andrea Mantegna assumes a form in almost metaphysical terms where images stand out with solid plasticity in a space which has been rigorously marked out according to the extremely precise rules of perspective. This severe formal abstraction softens a little as far as the colour is concerned after Mantegna's visit to Venice to meet the Bellinis, whose sister Nicolosia the artist had married. The 'St. George' of the Accademia Galleries dates from a period later than the visit to Venice but before Andrea Mantegna left Padua forever in 1460 for the court of the Marquis Ludovico Gonzaga at Mantova.
The saint stands serenely impassive in the marble enclosed space, just enough to one side to allow a bird's-eye view of the walled city from which leads the road he has just travelled to engage in his battle with the dragon. Against the stony landscape over which the cloud-laden sky hangs impassively, the figure of the saint within an incisively drawn outline is rendered with perfect perspective in the steady glare of light. Every detail seems to be inlaid in semi-precious stones; the metallic halo, the pure face, the elegant tournament armour, the open hand on his left side. This insistent interpretation leads to a definite and heroic monumental quality in the figure of the saint who is offered not as a symbol of Christian piety but rather of a new, much-yearned-for antiquity.