Saturday, 9 November 2013

Mantegna Drawing sold

The new Andrea Mantegna drawing that I reported recently has been sold for €420,000 at Farsetti, nearly double the high estimate but still a fraction of what a Mantegna would make on the open market, without Italian export controls. I went to look at the Mantegna drawings at the British Museum and the Courtauld Institute this week. I haven't seen the original of the new drawing, but I'm increasingly convinced by it - although I've heard some cogent dissent. It is possible that it will prove to be a forgery, hewing close to the related drawings rather than trying to create something completely new. But David Eskerdjian points out that the inscription matches one on the related drawing in Brescia that was only discovered when it was removed from its mount in 1992, so it would have to have been forged recently (after Hebborn was working), or for the inscription to have been faked separately. It seems to me absolutely typical of Mantegna and an impressive piece that displays the master's own nervous, experimental energy.
Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 23.45.32
Picture: Vivante Drawings
The upper image of Christ frozen in his final death-agony is more dramatic than the related British Museum drawing (above). In the BM drawing, Christ's right hand rests limply on his leg, the fingers of his left hand clenching at the ground and his left arm tensed as if pushing himself up. The new drawing is more fully resolved, with better defined feet and knees, the right arm more confidently positioned and with a great contorted torso instead of the ambiguous position of the chest in the London drawing. The heaving chest is not entirely plausible in an Entombment scene - more like a dying Christ than a dead Christ - but it's a terrific image and a fine contrast to the inert body below. It's a tremendous discovery - few drawings survive from this period, and we now have three related studies by one of the greatest early Renaissance draughtsmen. Any more out there?

It's ironic that Italy has such strong laws against exporting art, but makes it so hard for people to see what it has. You need a letter of introduction from Mantegna himself to get access to some print rooms in Italy, whereas I just turned up on the doorstep at the British Museum and got to see the greatest collection of Mantegna drawings anywhere. And an appointment at the Courtauld required no more than an advance e-mail.


  1. Really low price, it seems, even when a potential (almost certain, I guess) export ban is considered.

    I have revised my rather cocksure article from last week. I'm still not convinced by the drawing, but the arguments in favour are clearly strong.

    1. Thanks Matthias - I wanted to link to yours, but noticed it had been taken down. I've now added a link to your updated version. I don't think the price is particularly surprising, given that there's a shallow global pool of specialist collectors with deep enough pockets for this kind of thing.

  2. it would be great to see this drawing next to the BS and BM examples.

  3. Absolutely! It's a shame there aren't more mini-exhibitions showing just a few related works together. If the new owner agrees, it should be easy to put on a show of the three together, in Brescia or in London.

  4. I agree - and possibly expand with a few more drawings by Andrea and Mantuan draughtsmen...