Mantegna and Bellini

T.J. Clark at the LRB:

Bellini was probably even younger than Mantegna when he first saw his new relative’s Presentation of Christ in the Temple – art historians will never stop worrying about his exact birthdate. (He may have been Jacopo Bellini’s illegitimate son. Records are scarce. Mantegna was the child of a carpenter, from a very ordinary village. His birthdate is also unknown.) When Bellini turned back to The Presentation of Christ in the Temple twenty years later he was the master of a new style, and dialogue with Mantegna had established itself as an aspect of that mastery – his great Agony in the Garden, done in response to a panel by his brother-in-law, lay behind him. It is hard, therefore, not to see the redoing of The Presentation of Christ in the Temple as some kind of contest as well as homage. But I found myself as I looked convinced that for Bellini what counted most was the opportunity, within the confines of someone else’s invention, to reflect on – to discover – what his own art most deeply consisted of. Oil paint versus tempera made many things clear. And, further, coming to terms with the true nature of one’s art – one’s necessary medium – meant coming closer to the mysteries enounced in Luke’s text.

more here.

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