Triumphs of Caesar: VII the Corselet Bearers Andrea Mantegna, 1485-95
© Royal Collection, Hampton Court Palace
My first encounter with Mantegna's work was an engraving from his Triumphs of Caesar series, reproduced on the cover of an Italian exercise book in a department store in Rome in 1960. In provincial England much of life was still utilitarian: everyday stationery and exercise books were undecorated, and notebooks had plain paper or card covers. I was also amazed to buy my postage stamps over a formica counter printed with Italian Renaissance drawings, and brought back these lovely laminated notebooks with their art pictorial covers as souvenirs. This one shows Trajan's column in Rome in the background, with its equestrian statue of Trajan on top, not as either Julius Caesar or Mantegna would have seen it, but as it would have appeared after Trajan's death in AD 117. Mantegna would have been recreating this view from historic accounts and surviving antique sculptures, for Trajan's statue disappeared before he was born. (It was replaced by a statue of St. Peter in 1587.)
These world famous paintings were bought by Charles I for the Royal Collection, along with other great Italian Renaissance works of art, in 1629, and their home has been at Hampton Court Palace since. They are displayed separately from the other art treasures in the Palace, in triumphal sequence in the Orangery, and should not be missed.