St. Mark the Evangelist, ca. 1448–1451
This canvas is one of the few extant early works by the most important and most influential artist of the Early Renaissance in Italy, Andrea Mantegna. The depiction of St. Mark features all of the characteristics which the artist’s contemporaries already praised and valued: the portrait is clearly drawn, and the figure possesses an extraordinarily corporeal quality. Quite in keeping with his day and age, the painter took classical antiquity as his orientation when he designed the architecture and wall decorations.
When we look at the painting today, it leads our gaze straight to the centre – above all on account of the window reveal. The Evangelist thus stands directly opposite us. When the painter began, however, he conceived it for a diagonal view from the right. That is discernible with the naked eye, for example in the undersurface of the circular arch. It was originally not as symmetrical, but perspectivally distorted in such a way that the opening through which St. Mark is looking appeared to be somewhat to the viewer’s left. That is an indication that Mantegna initially intended to group further figures – presumably the other Evangelists – around Mark in paintings of their own. The commission apparently fell through, and Mantegna pragmatically revised the work.