Why I had a blast at Mantegna and Bellini

The exhibition Mantegna and Bellini at the National Gallery in London is exactly what you expect it to be. It shows the work of these two influential Renaissance painters, their interlinked lives and paintings. No surprises. Don’t expect a selfie booth (in fact photography is not allowed at all) but you’ll get to see some beautiful paintings.

I’m not a massive Renaissance lover but I had so much fun in this exhibition. I went with a friend who is as obsessed with the Instagram profile “mytherapistsays” as I am. We could spend our day sending each other posts. Because, you know, they’re wise and explain our lives in a way that no classic Russian novel ever would (sorry Dosto).

@mytherapistsays

Did you get an idea what this review will be like? Yes, a full-on naïve review. I must warn you, if you’re easy to offend you might want to skip this review. Hey, here is one from TimeOut you can read instead.

 1. Best-facial-expressions

I am wondering if in Renaissance people expressed emotions differently. For instance, take this little dude at the bottom of this painting. Maybe back then this face expressed joy and delight.

Andrea Mantegna The Holy Family, about 1490–1500 © bpk / Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden / Elke Estel / Hans-Peter Klut
Andrea Mantegna, The Holy Family, ~1490–1500
© bpk / Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden / Elke Estel / Hans-Peter Klut

But let’s be honest. Here is the attitude that comes with this face in 2018.

“What ya looking at?”

Most faces look quite normal in this one. Classic grumpy guy in the middle, the women look away, but what’s going on with the guy on the right? I mean… am I the only one thinking that this is weird?

Giovanni Bellini The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, about 1470–5,  © Fondazione Querini Stampalia Onlus, Venezia
Giovanni Bellini, The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, ~1470–5,
© Fondazione Querini Stampalia Onlus, Venezia

“Me when someone brings a baby to the office.
I JUST DON’T CARE.”

And here is Noah… Having a good time.

Giovanni Bellini The Drunkenness of Noah, about 1515, © RMN-Grand Palais / Hervé Lewandowski
Giovanni Bellini The Drunkenness of Noah, ~1515,
© RMN-Grand Palais / Hervé Lewandowski

“When you say you’ll go for just one after work”

2. The horror!

When you think of Renaissance you think of wavy hair, serene atmosphere and pure beauty. Well, Mantegna and Bellini could have had directed Saw.

Would Bellini save his audience from the horror of seeing St John the Baptist’s head drooling blood while his eyes are still open? Nah…

Marco Zoppo The Severed Head of Saint John the Baptist, about 1470, © 2018 Pesaro Musei
Marco Zoppo The Severed Head of Saint John the Baptist, ~1470
© 2018 Pesaro Musei

St Sebastian is traditionally depicted in art tied to a tree and shot with arrows. Mantegna could have one or two arrows going through his chest. But no, he has fourteen, yes fourteen arrows going through him. And one of them goes through his head while blood is dripping everywhere.

Andrea Mantegna Saint Sebastian, about 1459–60, © KHM-Museumsverband
Andrea Mantegna Saint Sebastian, about 1459–60, © KHM-Museumsverband

3) Setting the scene

Renaissance painters often drew inspiration from mythology. See The Birth of Venus or The Triumph of Galatea. Bellini depicts the feast of the gods and adding some satyrs (the men with goat legs) is not unusual.

But it is hilarious to see the women’s expressions of complete boredom opposed to the lustiness of men. There is one woman literally sleeping while someone is trying to look under her dress. My favourite is the one in the middle. Full of passive aggressiveness.

Giovanni Bellini, with later additions by Dosso Dossi and Titian, The Feast of the Gods, 1514–29, Image courtesy of the Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Giovanni Bellini, with later additions by Dosso Dossi and Titian, The Feast of the Gods, 1514–29, Image courtesy of the Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

“When someone’s trying to make a move and you’re like: keep your hands to yourself”.

I saved the best for last.

Here is Minerva expelling the Vices from the Garden of Virtue. Mantegna had a bit of a wild imagination that he obviously could not fully use in religious paintings. So he added a man-tree, a monkey with one boob, a satyr that carries a tiny baby, a drunk queen, owl-human babies flying over, and a weird creature without arms being pulled over by a sketchy woman.

Andrea Mantegna Minerva expelling the Vices from the Garden of Virtue, about 1500–2, © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Gérard Blot
Andrea Mantegna Minerva expelling the Vices from the Garden of Virtue, about 1500–2
© RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Gérard Blot

Seriously. WTF.

Probably not what the curators wanted, but I found Mantegna and Bellini really amusing. Go with a friend. And don’t be too serious.

On until 27 January 2019, National Gallery, London

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