The immaculateness of Andrea Mantegna

Andrea Mantegna, Martyrdom and transport of Saint Christopher, detail, 1454-1457, Ovetari chapel, Eremitani church, Padua.

The first notion about the city’s history imparted to every young Paduan during compulsory schooling is that the founder of the city, Antenore, is not under the graveyard dedicated to him. It seems essential for the inhabitants of Padua to be fully aware of the impostor who occupies the tomb of the noble Trojan founder of the Venetis. Crowds of children on a school trip to the historic center astonishingly look at the idolized medieval aedicule, wondering who exactly is buried there. Most of the time the reply to them is simply “a dignitary”–in reality, a Hungarian warrior should be the answer. Sometimes, these children are told that next to Antenore’s grave Jacopo Ortis also rests–known as Girolamo Ortis, he was a medicine student who took his own life in 1796 and famously inspired Ugo Foscolo for his namesake novel. Since ancient times, the presence/absence of its founder has been fundamental to the city of Padua, and it could introduce Andrea Mantegna’s passion for gravestones as “sweet and furious”–two adjectives with which Maria Bellonci pointedly described the temperament of the artist. Padua has always longed to possess its own origin and sought it out in the land.

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