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

Battle of the Sea Gods

1470s
Engraving and drypoint, 283 x 826 mm
Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth

The battle is an allegory on the theme of Invidia (Envy) who is standing top left as an old woman on a sea monster. Neptune is turning away from the scene: he does not want to see the bitter struggle between the sea monsters, not even as a reflection in the mirror. Apparently this scene was based on a classical description of the competition between members of a family of sculptors living on the island of Rhodes. Comparable battle scenes can, however, be seen on classical reliefs that were known through sketch-book drawings; Ludovico III Gonzaga owned such a sketch-book.

The print is made from two plates, printed on separate sheets of paper and joined at the centre. The print is an exercise in wit, the powerful, classical sea gods do battle with bones and knots of fish, hardly capable of defending them, while a standing statue of Neptune, the god of the sea, turns his back on the whole scene.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 12 minutes):
Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber: The Battle, suite