Julie Heffernan on Andrea Mantegna

Andrea Mantegna, Parnassus (Mars and Venus), 1497, tempera and gold on canvas, 63 x 76 inches
Andrea Mantegna, Parnassus (Mars and Venus), 1497, tempera and gold on canvas, 63 x 76 inches

Julie Heffernan considers Andrea Mantegna's Parnassus (Mars and Venus) (1497).

Analyzing the composition, Heffernan observes: "Venus is not only posed in the middle of the square, she also comprises the central focus of the composition, and she seems to be slightly pushing Mars off the apex of rock that they are occupying. What is Mantegna saying with this positioning? What does it mean that she appears to be displacing the war god? Remember, it was Isabella who commissioned this piece, so perhaps Mantegna is arguing that Venus, not Mars, dominates the masculine realm. She, glowing in all her ivory nudity, is like a flashlight, eclipsing him. All he can do here is give way to her beauty, with staff in hand to keep himself from falling over. In this light his armor even seems compensatory. Thus Mantegna swiftly upends the social and gender hierarchy of his age."