(b. 1431, Isola di Carturo, d. 1506, Mantova)

Death of the Virgin

Oil on wood, 54 x 42 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Mantegna's first important commission from Ludovico Gonzaga was the decoration of the chapel in Castello di San Giorgio, executed in the first half of the 1460s. It is unfortunately impossible to reconstruct the whole of Mantegna's original intentions there with any confidence, although some panels almost certainly traceable to the chapel still survive. They include the Death of the Virgin in Madrid.

In a room framed by sombre pilasters, but looking out on to a view of the lake of Mantua, the Apostles gather round the dying Virgin. The skilfully constructed perspective is perfectly co-ordinated with the precisely drawn and coloured figures. The overall effect is severe, but its dignity is also vivid and moving. This is justly regarded as a masterpiece of the early Renaissance, with its detailed naturalism, radiant clarity and unshaken conviction.