Mantegna’s ‘Madonna della Vittoria’ with Dr. Athene Reiss

Mantegna’s ‘Madonna della Vittoria’ with Dr. Athene Reiss


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Mantegna’s altarpiece known as the Madonna della Vittoria was originally painted for the church of the same name in Mantua in 1496 but now hangs in the Louvre in Paris. This seminar will look closely at the painting’s pictorial brilliance and meticulous depictions of people, materials, and natural flora and fauna. But a greater understanding of its origins will also reveal a dark undercurrent of fifteenth-century antisemitism intrinsic to its origins. We will consider both its extravagant beauty and its uncomfortable associations, with the aim of developing a deep and nuanced understanding of the painting and its historical context.

The altarpiece amply justifies Mantegna’s reputation as one of the giants of early Renaissance Italian art. It has a complex arrangement of figures, an astonishing variety of closely rendered materials, and a spatial continuity with the viewer that we can’t help but admire. Both otherworldly and of our world, the painting evokes the courtliness of Francesco, the Duke of Gonzaga who commissioned it. We will learn about his Mantuan court and Mantegna’s long association with it, which cumulated in the painting of this masterpiece.

The background of Francesco’s commissioning of the Madonna della Vittoria (the Madonna of Victory) from Mantegna complicates our admiration, as it embodies an anti-Semitic world view that troubles modern attitudes. An honest acknowledgment of this history gives us a chance to reconcile our contradictory responses to this painting. We are increasingly aware of such conflicting aspects of history and its artifacts, and this painting offers us a good example of how we can approach such dilemmas. We won’t abandon our admiration for this fine painting, but we will use the opportunity to appreciate the complexity of history and our approaches to it.

Led by Athene Reiss, an expert on the History of European Art, this seminar will explore the imagery and symbolism of Mantegna’s ‘Madonna della Vittoria’, now hanging in the Louvre in Paris. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased appreciation and understanding of this complex painting by one of the early Renaissance masters.

Athene Reiss was born in Oxford, grew up in Connecticut in the US, and returned to Oxford, where she has lived and taught for the past 25 years. She has published a book and articles on topics in medieval art and environmental education. She loves teaching art and architectural history, and is particularly passionate about encouraging deep engagement with artistic visualisations of ideas and and allowing works of art to help us understand the past and question the present. Athene has also taught environmental education to children and adults and enjoys exploring Oxford's mix of cultural and natural environments.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

Customer Reviews

Based on 4 reviews
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K
K.

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K
K.

This is a beautiful painting, and when Dr. Reiss put it into historical context it was very interesting too.

M
M.L.

I loved the focused looking and fascinating story of this painting. Dr. Reiss was very knowledgeable and it was well organized.

P
P.V.E.
Fascinating account

The lecture provided a multifaceted overview of the painting. I appreciated that focus included discussion of the historical context, iconography, and pictorial issues.

Customer Reviews

Based on 4 reviews
100%
(4)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
K
K.

Guest did not leave comment

K
K.

This is a beautiful painting, and when Dr. Reiss put it into historical context it was very interesting too.

M
M.L.

I loved the focused looking and fascinating story of this painting. Dr. Reiss was very knowledgeable and it was well organized.

P
P.V.E.
Fascinating account

The lecture provided a multifaceted overview of the painting. I appreciated that focus included discussion of the historical context, iconography, and pictorial issues.