Image of the Month

19-01-01 IMAGETri­umph of the Virtues by Andrea Man­teg­na [also known as Pal­las Expelling the Vices from the Gar­den of Virtue and as Min­er­va  Expelling the Vices from the Gar­den of Virtue]
Tem­pera on can­vas, 160 x 192 cm paint­ed around 1500. Musée du Lou­vre, Paris

I had no title or artist for this paint­ing at first. It attract­ed me because I couldn’t fig­ure out, for the life of me, what the hell it was about. It took me hours to find the painter and title. I first found the Pal­las ver­sion of the title. I could find no ref­er­ence any­where in Greek mythol­o­gy to this par­tic­u­lar inci­dent, but it is clear­ly Pal­las Athena, bear­ing all her sym­bol­ic para­pher­na­lia, who is the main char­ac­ter. There are a plen­i­tude of tales around Athena. How­ev­er, the Min­er­va ver­sion of the title pro­vides a hint: Min­er­va was the Roman god­dess con­ven­tion­al­ly equat­ed with Athena, and the sto­ry is prob­a­bly a Roman one dat­ing from much lat­er. Man­teg­na would far more like­ly have culled the sto­ry from some Latin source. On the oth­er hand, he may have sim­ply made it up. The Renais­sance played fast and loose with Clas­si­cal sources, and doubt­less this was paint­ed to suit polit­i­cal rhetoric about “drain­ing the swamp”. The paint­ing lit­er­al­ly rep­re­sents a swamp enclosed in a ruined wall, with Athena dri­ving out a horde of mon­sters that rep­re­sent the “vices” in the con­ven­tion­al medieval fash­ion. The paint­ing was com­mis­sioned to cel­e­brate the coro­na­tion of Isabel­la d’Este as Mar­quise of Man­tua. She was wide­ly seen as the ide­al ruler in her time, and has been revered by fem­i­nists ever since. 

Comments are closed.