The Battle of the Sea Gods (left portion of frieze)

Andrea Mantegna Italian

Not on view

Mantegna's mastery of the nude in action was paradigmatic for Renaissance artists. Here, he achieved a magnificent control of tone through the use of highly graded parallel hatching, in which the lines of varying thickness follow the movement of the forms, creating stunning effects of flickering light. Teeming with learned classical references, the subject of this engraving may have been Mantegna's own invention or that of one of the erudite humanists at the Gonzaga court in Mantua. The scene portrays the allegorical figure of Envy-the haggard old woman holding the tablet inscribed INVID (for "invidia," or envy) at left-towering over the marine deities below, her powers rendering their frenzied combat ineffectual on the turbulent waters of the sea. The god Neptune, standing on an elaborate pedestal slightly off-center in the background, turns his back on the battle. Mantegna wrote to one of his patrons in 1491, "It is true that envy always rules men of smallness and is the enemy of virtue and of men of worth." This engraving forms the left portion of a larger composition; the right part, printed as a separate image, is also in the Metropolitan. The composition was partly inspired by a Roman marble relief (Villa Medici, Rome) that was much-copied during the Renaissance.

The Battle of the Sea Gods (left portion of  frieze), Andrea Mantegna (Italian, Isola di Carturo 1430/31–1506 Mantua), Engraving

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