Miracle of the Cripple cured by Saint James
A reproduction produced by the Vasari Society of a drawing by Andrea Mantegna. The drawing shows a crowd of figures to the right, who appear to be being held back by a row of soldiers, who are positioned in the centre of the composition and are facing towards the right. The soldier closest to the viewer is the exception to this; he is observing the scene to the left of the composition, and has his left hand raised in shock. To the left a man is kneeling on the floor looking up at a man standing towards the left edge of the composition. Behind them another man stands, observing the scene. The kneeling man has his hands raised in a pleading gesture towards the man on the left, while the man on the left - whom we presume to be Saint James - has his right had raised in a gesture of blessing. Text from the accompanying booklet produced by the Vasari Society: "No. 26 ANDREA MANTEGNA (?) (b. 1431; d. 1506) MIRACLE OF THE CRIPPLE CURED BY ST. JAMES ON HIS WAY TO EXECUTION Collection of the Hon. A. E. Gathorne-Hardy. (From the Spencer, Lawrence, and Malcolm Collections.) Pen and bistre, on light brownish-tinted paper. 25.4 x 16.5 cm. (10 x 6 1/2 in.) The composition corresponds with certain differences to that of the lower portion of Mantegna's fresco of the same subject painted about 1450-52, in the chapel of the Eremitani at Padua. The chief differences are that in the fresco a soldier or armed guard finds place in the extreme corner to the left of the saint and nearer the spectator: the kneeling cripple gives thanks with a less dramatic gesture of the hands, and with his body thrown less forward; the half-naked man with hands on knees (a second cripple waiting to be cured?) is lacking altogether, and his place is taken by a perspective view of distant buildings seen through an arch; the files of men standing to the right of the guard standing with raised hand in the front centre are made to recede into a much more distant perspective: and the guard who pushes back the crowd at the right, with the man facing him, instead of being conceived as nudes, are fully clothed and armed. Add that while in the sketch the background suggests a shallow space closed in by buildings, so that the whole composition resembles that of a bas-relief, in the fresco the artist shows himself intent on problems of perspective, and both in architecture and grouping does his utmost to convey the sense of depth and recession in space. Is the drawing, then, Mantegna's original sketch for the fresco? His latest biographer, Dr. Kristeller, confidently takes it so. But in style and feeling it is at the opposite pole from the known drawings of the master: free, flowing, and boldly suggestive where they are precise and severe almost to rigidity: the feeling for the nude and for contours, the style and method of pen-work, absolutely different. These summary shorthand indications of the forms of head and feature, these swift lines of shading, somewhat curving with the forms to be expressed (as Mantegna's shading, whether with pen or graver, never does), and showing at the ends the hooks which mark the rapid lift and return of the pen, have at first sight even a sixteenth century character, and look as if the drawing must have been done fifty years later than the picture. Can it, then, be a sketch not for but from the fresco, made by a later hand with such free modifications of the design as we have noted? Some good judges hold this view; others are inclined to solve the problem quite differently. As is well known, the dominant influence at Padua between 1443 and 1453 was that of the Florentine sculptor Donatello, whose work at the Santo became a great revolutionary school for the artists of the city and district. That influence strongly affected the young Mantegna, and was one of the chief elements presently fused together in the iron individuality of his style. This particular fresco is by common consent the most Donatellesque of all his works. But the drawing is far more Donatelleque than the fresco; more realistic, that is, more dramatic, and at the same time composed and felt like a bas-relief rather than like a painter's problem in perspective. Particularly the naked man with hands on knees, staring into the face of St. James, is a piece of blunt Florentine realism taken straight from nature, and in spirit quite unlike anything else which occurs in Mantegna's work. The suggestion, then, is that our work is actually the work of Donatello, handed by the great Florentine schulptor to the young painter of Padua and by him, in the fresco, adapted and translated into Mantegnesque. Its freedom and late air are not absolutely fatal to this supposition. Sculpture in the hands of Donatello and some of his contemporaries was many years in advance of contemporary painting; his drawings may well have shown a similar relative degree of ripeness and freedom. We have none that are certainly his, but it is noticeable that those attributed to him by tradition are all of a free, late-seeming, sixteenth-century character. I confess to no certainty on the subject; but either of the two theories above set forth seem to me much more probably than that Mantegna in his youth should have been the kind of draughtsman we find in this free and flowing sketch, and should afterwards have become a master in the totally opposite style which we know in his other drawings and other paintings. SIDNEY COLVIN"
Miracle of the Cripple cured by Saint James
support: 45.6cm x 38.1cm