Thursday, September 05, 2013

Andrea Mantegna's 'Triumphs of Caeser' at Hampton Court Palace

Today I saw one of the undoubted top art treasures in the Royal Collection and the UK.  What I viewed in the former Orangery at Hampton Court Palace, were the nine panels of the Triumphs of Caeser by Andrea Mantegna.  This has been variously described as:
Eight of the Nine Panels of the Triumphs of Caeser (1484-1492) by Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506)
photo by Katherine Tyrrell
It's an absolutely splendid work and I highly recommend it to anybody with an interest in Italian Renaissance painting - or contemplating a grand series of paintings.

It's particularly strong on perspective and the development of a very complex narrative of figures, animals and objects in one continuous painting.

Some facts about the Triumphs of Caeser

There are nine panels in total painted in egg tempera and glue tempera on canvas.  Each panel is 2.66m x 2.78m - meaning the whole artwork measures more than 70 metres square.

The paint has deteriorated and they no longer have the impact they would have done in the cinquecento however as Anthony Blunt, who as Keeper of the Queen's Pictures, supervised their restoration has said
"The Triumphs may be a ruin but it is a noble one, one as noble as those of ancient Rome which Mantegna so deeply admired."
Anthony Blunt
The series of paintings represent excerpts from one of the Triumphs of Julius Caeser or a composite representation of all of Caeser's Triumphs.  Gaius Julius Caesar lived between 100BC and 44BC.

A Triumph was the greatest award which could be given to a Roman General.   It's very clear that the series of paintings represent the edited highlights version and that the real Triumphal procession would be a great deal longer - and lasted three days!

Below are photographs of the individual panels.
The procession moves from right to left.  The links in the title of each Panel are to larger images of each painting in the online version of the Royal Collection.  Note there is a discrepancy between the titles in the Gallery and the titles on the website.

The Trumpeters and Standard Bearers, the Triumphal Carts and the Trophy Bearers
- Panels 1, 2 and 3 of the Triumphs of Caeser by Andrea Mantegna
photo by Katherine Tyrrell
The Vase Bearers and Sacrificial Oxen, the Elephants and the Armour Bearers
- Panels 4, 5 and 6 of the Triumphs of Caeser by Andrea Mantegna
photo by Katherine Tyrrell
The Captives, The Musicians and Julius Caeser
- Panels 7, 8 and 9 of the Triumphs of Caeser by Andrea Mantegna
photo by Katherine Tyrrell

Panel 7 "The Captives" did not undergo restoration in the 1960s and was left uncleaned. This was because it was determined that very little original paint lay below the surface.

It looks as if there should be a panel between The Captives and the Musicians.  Each of the other panels clearly connect to the next, however there is a marked discontinuity in the height of the hills in the background between these two panels.  Alternatively maybe Panel 7 was repainted without reference to the need for continuity between the panels.  However ten does seem a more normal figure for a painting representing a very important Roman celebration.

The Wikipedia article describes the literary sources (Plutarch's 'Lives', the Appian Roman History and Suetonius' Twelve Caesers) which provide the narrative for the story behind each panel.

The series of paintings came to Britain after they were bought by King Charles 1 and arrived in 1630.  They've been displayed ever since at Hampton Court Palace. The gallery recreates the place where they originally hung in Italy - in a special gallery built for the purpose in the Ducal Palace of San Sebastiano in Mantua. They were commissioned by either the Duke Federico I Gonzaga or, more likely, his son Francesco II.

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