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

Virgin and Child with Saints

c. 1500
Tempera on wood, 62 x 88 cm
Galleria Sabauda, Turin

Between 1490 and 1506, the year he died, Mantegna painted several devotional paintings in which the main figures are represented as reliefs standing out against a mostly dark background. Inspired by reliefs on classical tombs, these figures are shown partially hidden behind stone balustrades or a frame.

In this picture the strong contrasts of light and dark differentiate the figures; in addition, the skin of Mary and Jesus seems to glow from within. Among the saints can be seen St John as a child shown close to Jesus, and St Catherine of Alexandria with the wheel which broke while she was being martyred. When private patron knew who was being represented, the saints' attributes were not always included.