The Woman drinking is likely to be Sophonisba, a Carthaginian whose husband sent poison to her so that she would be able to kill herself rather than be taken into slavery. She was celebrated in Livy's 'History of Rome' (30: 15) and Petrarch's 'Triumph of Love'. Alternatively the woman might be Artemesia, the devoted wife and sister of Mausolus, Prince of Caria in the 4th century BC. After his death, she drank his ashes mingled with wine.

This panel and 'The Vestal Virgin Tuccia with a sieve' are obviously related despite their differing size and being lit from opposite directions. They are painted in simulation of gilt bronze against a fictive background of coloured marble. Isabella d'Este had a 'feigned bronze' picture by Mantegna in her studiolo, and these may have been for a similar interior.


  • Title: A Woman Drinking
  • Creator: Andrea Mantegna
  • Date Created: about 1495-1506
  • Physical Dimensions: 71.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Egg tempera on poplar
  • School: Italian (North)
  • More Info: Explore the National Gallery’s paintings online
  • Inventory number: NG1125.2
  • Artist Dates: about 1430/1 - 1506
  • Artist Biography: His first important commission came in 1448, painting frescoes for the Eremitani Chapel in Padua. He worked in Padua, Verona and Venice before moving to Mantua in 1460, where he spent the rest of his life. The great paintings by Mantegna in the Gallery date from his years in Mantua as court artist to the Gonzaga. His scholarly interest in the antique drew him into friendship with humanist scholars like Felice Feliciano. In 1464 they dressed up as Romans for a boating excursion on Lake Garda. In the 'Triumphs of Caesar' Mantegna indulged his interest in antique art, which can also be seen in the Gallery's 'Cult of Cybele'. He developed a painting technique which enabled him to imitate the look of classical sculpture. Mantegna produced engravings which helped spread his designs and fame beyond Italy. From possibly humble origins Mantegna rose to become a valued retainer of the Gonzaga. He was knighted by 1484, a rare honour for an artist.
  • Acquisition Credit: Bought, 1882

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