The masterpiece by Andrea Mantegna that we can admire here is unfortunately no longer visible to those visiting Virgil’s hometown today. The large tempera painting on wood, two metres high, 80 centimeters wide and 166 centimeters long, is now in the Louvre, in Paris. It was plundered by Napoleon’s troops during the Italian campaign and taken to the Louvre in 1798. It was never given back to its rightful owner, the Italian church, also because of difficulty in transportation. This work is in many ways spectacular. It was commissioned by the marquise Francesco Gonzaga and by his wife Isabella d’Este. It is basically an ex voto with which the ruler of Mantua wanted to thank God for having survived the Fornovo battle, fought July 6, 1495, by the French army and the armies of the Holy League, formed by the Pope, Ludovico Sforza of Milan and the city of Venice, the Italian army led by Francesco. Although the battle ended in a draw, it managed to temporarily halt the invasion of the Italian peninsula. The painting is characterized by the monumentality typical of the late Mantegna. It is composed by a piramidal construction at the apex of which is the Virgin Mary, surrounded by four saint warriors, Saint Andrew, Saint Michael, Saint Longinus and Saint George, by Francesco himself and by an elderly female figure who might be Elisabeth, or perhaps the Blessed Osanna Andreasi. The Virgin Mary, baby Jesus and Saint John are on a precious piedestal on which a scene depicting the temptation of Adam and Eve is visible. The setting is a beautiful pergola, decorated by flowers and fruit, from which a large red coral hangs, symbol of Passion. The pomposity of the scene somewhat diminishes its spontaneity, though the work undoubtedly confirms the painter’s skill in depicting his characters in a sculptural manner, combining very strong colour tones that stand out in the pictorial space.


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