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.

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