Mantegna and Giotto: Lamentation Portrayals

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Words: 1213 |

Pages: 3|

7 min read

Published: Mar 19, 2020

Words: 1213|Pages: 3|7 min read

Published: Mar 19, 2020

Throughout history, we have seen the way art around the world has changed. From cave paintings during the Paleolithic period, to the stained glasses in some of the greatest churches of Gothic Europe, to the Statue of Liberty in New York. In some ways the artwork and architecture are similar to the work we saw a hundred years ago, and even pieces from thousands of years ago. As I researched different artworks, I found many that were interesting to me. However, I felt compelled to depict Lamentation by Giotto Di Bondone and Andrea Mantegna’s Lamentation over the Dead Christ. At first glance I noticed that they were obviously different but they still held the same narrative: the weeping over the death of Christ. How do the facial expressions and body language differ? How do some elements visually signal importance? What changes were made that makes one painting more contemporary than the other? How do they depict the same mood and message even though they are drastically different?

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Giotto Di Bondone is considered one of the most important Italian painters of the 14th century. His Renaissance-style work has been admired over the centuries although sometimes considered problematic. The Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy is interiorly designed with fresco paintings done by Giotto where one of his masterpieces is featured; The Lamentation is a fresco painting from1305 done with water-based pigments. The word “lamentation” is the passionate expression of sorrow. In the painting, Jesus Christ is being mourned by his mother, Mary, and followers after being taken down from the crucifix. The Biblical figures are labeled by halos above their heads. The human characters in Giotto’s work act with great passion. We see Mary holding her dead son in her arms while using her knee to hold his body up along with the four other figures circling around him and restraining his body from touching the ground. His mother leans her face towards his as if she is begging him with sorrow to come back. At Christ’s feet we see a red-haired figure recognized as Mary Magdalene who is known as one of the women who traveled with him. Magdalene was a witness to his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Besides the two Mary’s, there are two other unrecognizable figures kneeling around Jesus. Giotto’s painted the two unidentifiable people with only their backs visible to the audience. This gives the painting sense of closeness and makes the audience wonder who they are and what their relationship with Christ is. In the sky, Giotto paints ten mourning angels. The angels hover and look down in distress. To the far right of the landscape, stands a tree that appears to be leafless or dead. The tree contributes to the sad, lifeless tone of the masterpiece. All the figures and objects, including the mountain, are placed in specific places and directions that help pull the viewer into the scene of Christ’s lifeless body and inviting us to feel the despair of the Lamentation.

Andrea Mantegna held an impressive reputation and was admired by many people and artists. He grew up in a village near Padua where the opportunities for artists were extensive. Andrea eventually continued his work in different cities in Italy like Verona, Mantua and Rome, where he completed many fresco paintings. Inside the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, you can find Mantegna’s most famous painting: Lamentation of the Dead Christ from 1480. The tempera on canvas painting is mostly made up of subtle colors like beige, brown, grey, etc. The painting shows Jesus Christ’s pale body lying on a stone bed after being taken down from the cross. From looking at the face we can depict that Jesus suffered and died painfully. At his hands and feet, we see the open wounds caused by the nails used to hold him on the crucifix. The detail of the wounds makes it easy for the viewers to see the hard, dried up, texture and imagine what they feel like. The artists uses foreshortening, a method used to give an illusion of depth to three dimensional figures. The use of perspective makes the audience feel as if they are at Christ’s side. To the side of the body, we notice the mourning figures of Virgin Mary, St. John the Evangelist, and if we look closely, Mary Magdalene. Mary is shown wiping her tears over her son’s body. Although Mary Magdalene is barely identifiable, we can tell it’s her because of the jar of ointment sitting on the other side of the body. In other Lamentation paintings we often see Mary holding a jar of ointment used to heal Christ’s wounds. Andrea Mantegna adds tears, creases on the face, and other attributes that gives a realistic depiction of emotion on the human faces that make us sympathize with them.

Clearly, the two masterpieces are recognizably different. For starters, when looking at the two paintings, we automatically notice a drastic difference in the choice of color usage. Giotto used bright, vibrant colors, like blue, pink, and yellow in his art piece while Mantegna stuck to neutral tones. We also immediately notice the difference in the quantity figures used in the images. But when looking deeper, we notice a shift in details on facial expressions. There is no doubt that the characters in Giotto’s Lamentation are completely distraught, but Mantegna’s figures have more prominent details that make their emotions seem more powerful or sensible. Mantegna includes tears, creases for facial expressions, and pushing of the eyebrows creating frowns. In one image, Mary is displayed as an older women with wrinkles in her face while in the other she’s seen more youthful. The surroundings of the scene differ in the way that one seems to be taking place outside where the body is being held on the floor and in the other image, the body seems to have been taken to a morgue or a place with dark, cold walls. The body language in Giotto’s figures give us the impression that their immediate response was to comfort the lifeless body while they plead for Jesus to return. The Lamentation of the Dead Christ seems to be more contemporary and I think they way Giotto used foreshortening and three dimensional figures has a great effect on that.

Nonetheless, the images portray the same scene of the mourning over Jesus Christ’s lifeless body after his crucifixion. The painters give off the same mood and tone. The sorrow seeps through the paintings causing the audience to sympathize with them. We connect with the emotions shown through the art and imagine ourselves at the scene. We feel Mary’s pain over her son’s life. The devastation felt by the followers who have just lost a leader or friend. Mantegna and Giotto both use techniques to draw our attention to the center of the paintings where Christ’s body lies.

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Although the Lamentation by Giotto Di Bondone and the Lamentation of the Dead Christ by Andrea Mantegna are so different, they manage to still show similarities. They inflict the emotions portrayed in the illustrations onto the audience and draw us into the scene while still allowing us to distinguish how some elements visually signal importance. There is no doubt that they are two of the greatest works from their time.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Mantegna and Giotto: Lamentation Portrayals. (2020, March 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 15, 2024, from
“Mantegna and Giotto: Lamentation Portrayals.” GradesFixer, 16 Mar. 2020,
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