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Andrea Mantegna, 1431-1506, Cardinal Carlo de'Medici
Andrea Mantegna, Portrait of Carlo de' Medici, 1466 circa, tempera on panel, 40,4 x 29,5 cm, Firenze, Galleria degli Uffizi

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Andrea Mantegna | Portrait of Carlo de' Medici


The Portrait of Carlo de' Medici is a painting by the Italian Renaissance master Andrea Mantegna, executed in 1466. It is now housed in the Uffizi Gallery of Florence.
Carlo de' Medici (1428/30-1492) was Cosimo il Vecchio's third, illegitimate, son by a Circassian slave, who became a prelate. He mainly collected codices and antiquities which further enriched his father's collection.



Little is known about the painting's origins, and currently the most credited hypothesis is that it would portray Carlo de' Medici, an illegitimate son of Cosimo de' Medici the Elder and a Circassian concubine, as hinted by the subject's dark skin color. In 1912 a copy of the portrait was included in a genealogy of the House of Medici. This is however in contrast with the identification of Carlo as a character in Filippino Lippi's Stories of St. Stephen and St. John the Baptist in the Cathedral of Prato. Also the attribution to Mantegna was not immediate, as for a long time the painting was thought to be by Domenico Veneziano.

The work has been dated from 1459–1460, when Mantegna arrived in Mantua and was commissioned numerous official portraits (the subject has been also identified as Ludovico Gonzaga, bishop of Mantua), and 1466, when the painter perhaps travelled to Florence.


The painting shows the subject from a three-quarter view, an innovation brought in Italy through Flemish masters in the late 15th century; previously profiles, in the ancient Roman tradition, were preferred.

The subject is dark-skinned and wears the garments of a protonotary apostolic, a position which Carlo held from 1463. The official nature of the painting explains the absence of any psychological element and the attention to details such as the dress and the hat.



Andrea Mantegna, Portrait of Carlo de' Medici, 1466 circa, Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi

[1] Sources: Pauli, Tatjana (2001). Mantegna. Milan: Leonardo Arte.

Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) was one of the foremost north Italian painters of the 15th century. A master of perspective and foreshortening, he made important contributions to the compositional techniques of Renaissance painting.
Born (probably at Isola di Carturo, between Vicenza and Padua) in 1431, Mantegna became the apprentice and adopted son of the painter Francesco Squarcione of Padua. He developed a passionate interest in classical antiquity. The influence of both ancient Roman sculpture and the contemporary sculptor Donatello are clearly evident in Mantegna's rendering of the human figure. His human forms were distinguished for their solidity, expressiveness, and anatomical correctness.

Mantegna's principal works in Padua were religious. His first great success was a series of frescoes on the lives of St. James and St. Christopher in the Ovetari Chapel of the Church of the Eremitani (1456; badly damaged in World War II). In 1459 Mantegna went to Mantua to become court painter to the ruling Gonzaga family and accordingly turned from religious to secular and allegorical subjects. His masterpiece was a series of frescoes (1465-74) for the Camera degli Sposi (“bridal chamber”) of the Palazzo Ducale. In these works, he carried the art of illusionistic perspective to new limits. His figures depicting the court were not simply applied to the wall like flat portraits but appeared to be taking part in realistic scenes, as if the walls had disappeared. The illusion is carried over onto the ceiling, which appears to be open to the sky, with servants, a peacock, and cherubs leaning over a railing. This was the prototype of illusionistic ceiling painting and was to become an important element of baroque and rococo art.

Mantegna's later works varied in quality. His largest undertaking, a fresco series on the Triumphs of Caesar (1489, Hampton Court Palace, England), displays a rather dry classicism, but Parnassus (1497, Louvre, Paris), an allegorical painting commissioned by Isabelle d'Este, is his freshest, most animated work. His work never ceased to be innovative. In Madonna of Victory (1495, Louvre), he introduced a new compositional arrangement, based on diagonals, which was later to be exploited by Correggio, while his Dead Christ (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan) was a tour de force of foreshortening that pointed ahead to the style of 16th-century Mannerism.

One of the key artistic figures of the second half of the 15th century, Mantegna was the dominant influence on north Italian painting for 50 years. It was also through him that German artists, notably Albrecht Dürer, were made aware of the artistic discoveries of the Italian Renaissance. He died in Mantua on September 13, 1506.


Tatjana Pauli, Mantegna, serie Art Book, Leonardo Arte, Milano 2001. ISBN 9788883101878

AA.VV., Galleria degli Uffizi, collana I Grandi Musei del Mondo, Scala Group, Roma 2003.

Art in Tuscany | Art in Tuscany | Giorgio Vasari | Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects

Volume III | Filarete And Simone To Mantegna

Galleria degli Uffizi | Una scheda di catalogo | Ritratto di Carlo de' Medici

Art in Tuscany | Italian Renaissance painting

Art in Tuscany | Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists | Andrea Mantegna

Giorgio Vasari | Le vite de' più eccellenti architetti, pittori, et scultori italiani, da Cimabue insino a' tempi nostri | Andrea Mantegna

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