Milan and Mantegna

With Caravaggio's Supper at Emmaus (1606) 
Stopping off for one day in Milan on my trip around Europe, I knew I had to get an art gallery in. We’d been to Lake Como, which, whilst stunningly beautiful, had very few opportunities for art-history-geekage. So I felt I had the right to drag my brother and dad away from pizzas and air conditioning of fashionable Milan to the Pinacoteca di Brera. The collection is mainly that of religious works, such as altarpieces, because they had ‘poured into the museum’ in the 1800s after the suppression of the monasteries in Italy.
The gallery's collage advertising 'Andrea Mantegna: New Perspectives' 
I initially chose this gallery out of the many in the city because it boasts ownership of Caravaggio’s 1606 painting Supper at Emmaus. However, the gallery was also publicising their dialogue between Mantegna’s The Lamentation of the Dead Christ and two other works of the same scene by artists Caracci and Borgianni. As James Bradburn, the General Director of Pinacoteca di Brera, points out in a video created by the museum, many galleries curate exhibitions which bring new paintings into the building that often have no connection to some of the most famous and important pieces already there. The Pinacoteca di Brera went against this trend and brought in a painting to communicate with paintings already in the gallery. Rather than having a whole room laid out for the exhibition, the Caracci piece was just on a wall next to the Mantegna with simple explanations underneath. The paintings really speak for themselves here.

Mantegna's The Lamentation of Christ (1480) 
Mantegna’s The Lamentation of Christ (1480) was ground-breaking in its experimental use of foreshortening. Here, Christ’s feet and lower body are thrust at the viewer. This view seems more intimate than paintings which present Christ’s face and upper body, because feet are not often seen as important in portraying emotion or character. This unusual portrayal of the Saviour- with the pallor of the skin and the lolling of the head- lowers his death to that of any normal man.

Borgianni's Lamentation over the Dead Christ (1615)
Borgianni’s interpretation of 1615 followed the same composition and style as Mantegna but used a more Caravagessque technique, incorporating chiaroscuro into the scene. Caracci’s 1583 piece endeavours for more harsh realism in the death of Jesus, and it is because of this that it is my favourite piece of the three. Mantegna was hugely influential in the use of perspective in art in the 1400s, but I’ve always felt his technique was slightly wooden. Perhaps because he was still relying on strict mathematical rules such as lines of focus and converging points, Jesus’s body seems quite square, almost as if it is a sculpture rather than a corpse. Caracci’s, however, uses more fluid lines. The body is far more contorted, showing a more masterful understanding of perspective and experimental use of composition. Here, the focal point is just the feet, but the torso where the light hits it. The contrast of the pale skin and scarlet blood, along with the hint of bones under the flesh, makes this representation of Christ seem less like a statue and more like a dead young man. Underscoring the realism of the scene is the focus in the foreground on the instruments of Christ’s torture. 
Caracci's The Body of Christ and the Implements of His Martyrdom (1583)

As well as these fascinating paintings collected here, the Pinacoteca di Brera also allowed visitors to see the behind-the-scenes of the maintenance of the gallery. The photo below displays how the museum carefully stores paintings that are not being shown to the public. I have always found this an interesting aspect of galleries, as they actually often display a small percentage of the pieces in their ownership at a time. Further on in the gallery was a large glass room where workers painstakingly restore paintings. Although photography is not allowed, it was fascinating to see the machines used as well as the back of a medieval painting, allowing me to see where the wood panels were originally connected to one another. Conservation and restoration is clearly hugely important to the gallery, and I was pleased they allowed the public into this element of the institution.
Behind the scenes in the gallery: how they store paintings not on display 

From just a few hours in Milan, I was able to see some world-famous artists’ works as well as the behind the scenes of the city’s most influential gallery… And of course I had some pasta and gelato whilst I was there!

With another of the museum's famous paintings: Hayez's The Kiss (1859) 
(Paintings Copyright the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan)

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