Mantegna Camera Picta and Visual Force

I attended the lecture conducted by Steven Campbell, who currently teaches at Johns Hopkins University. He discussed Mantegna’s Camera Picta and the effect of it has on whoever views it.  He compared this piece to other works of art from the same time period and also some of Mantegna’s other work. Campbell had a thorough and detailed analysis of Camera Picta  to start the lecture, then he compared this piece to other works of art.

To start the lecture Campbell gave background information to who Mantegna was, who commissioned his work, and what others have thought of the Camera Picta.  This piece was commissioned by Ludovico Gonzaga, and it took Mantegna ten years to complete, from 1465-1474. This room is located in the Ducal Palace, in Mantua, Italy. The walls are decorated with different frescoes depicting Gonzaga and many other nobles. The surrounding landscape in the paintings was much different than the landscape of the surrounding area. Before the room was finished, it was already famous. This caused much speculation as to the meaning of the portraits, and sparked much criticism. Many people thought Mantegna’s work was depicting a historical event. Others believed the figures in the paintings were well made portraits and nothing else. On the ceiling of the room, there is an oculus which is a great example of foreshortening with the winged figures and displays a metaphorical opening to the outside world of the painting. There are bright blue skies and clouds behind the foreshortened figures, which gives the perspective of the figures coming towards the viewer. The wall with Gonzaga and his wife is a court scene, and is the main topic of discussion for Campbell.

The court scene is discussed by Campbell because of the gaze of the figures in the scene. Each figure in the scene does not look at the viewer. All of the figures look away except a small dwarf which looks directly at the viewer. To add to that, all of the figures’ facial expressions are blank, no emotion is shown. The only emotion is slightly shown through the girl with an apple. A theme of the renaissance was for princes and the nobles to have expressionist gazes and controlled eyes. This was clearly shown in all of the figures of this piece. The lack of acknowledgment towards the viewer of the piece actually creates more of an effect on the viewer. The viewer is than forced to wonder what is going on within the piece and why the figures seem to avoid the gaze of the viewer. Campbell than discusses a level of playfulness within the court scene, which adds to the mystery, of what is going on within the piece. There is a hint of another figure behind the curtain of the scene. Only the legs are shown, but enough detail is given to hint at another complete setting is not visible to the viewer. In the far background of the piece, there are also caves on the side of a mountain, which when looked upon closely there are many more figures within the caves and on the mountain side. The mystery of the piece adds to the playful side of it, the added wonder makes this piece much more powerful.

Campbell’s lecture was in great detail and at some points difficult to follow. Overall, I understood that this piece by Andrea Mantegna is a masterpiece, and is full of amazing detail. Campbell shared a thorough analysis of it, and also compared it to many other works. I enjoyed his lecture, and I would love to hear other lectures by him.

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