ANDREA MANTEGNA The Battle of the Sea Gods: The Left Half of a Frieze.
Engraving, circa 1485-88. 297x402 mm; 11 3/4x16 inches. Scales ina circle watermark (Briquet 2538, which dates to the late 1400s, there is a similar watermark on the impression of this subject at the Baltimore Museum of Art). Acquired from Kornfeld and Klipstein, Bern, June 1974, lot 118, by Pierre Michel; subsequently with C. G. Boerner, Düsseldorf, 2014. A superb, richly-inked impression of this extremely scarce, early Italian Renaissance engraving.
Mantegna (1431-1506) likely based this scene, the left half of a 2 part horizontal composition created on separate plates, on an antique Roman relief, possibly a relief fragment in the Villa Medici, Rome, which appears to have been well known by Italian Renaissance artists. As Levenson, Oberhuber and Sheehan note, "The Battle probably represents a Renaissance invenzione based on classical ideals . . . The subject centers around an emaciated woman holding the tablet at the left, who clearly represents the vice of Envy, a theme in which Mantegna seems to have been quite interested," (Early Italian Engravings from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1973, pages 188 and 192). Another basis for the idea of the scene could be the famous description of a storm at sea at the beginning of Virgil's Aeneid (like Mantegna, Virgil was also a native of Mantua). Bartsch 18; Hind 5.