Triumph of Virtues, Minerva Expelling the Vices from the Garden of Virtue, 1502. Andrea Mantegna. Now at the Louvre museum.
Isabella d’Este’s Studiolo
The fashion of studioli, or private studies, small rooms reserved for intellectual activities, spread in the 15th century in the Italian courts, bathed in Humanist culture.
Isabella d’Este, who married Francesco II in 1490, rapidly decided to create a studiolo in a tower of the old Castello di San Giorgio. The work on this project lasted more than twenty years.
She entrusted Mantegna with the first two canvases of the cycle, Parnassus (1497) and Minerva (1502), but considering his work out-of-date, she turned to the most famous painters of the new generation. In vain she solicited Giovanni Bellini, Leonardo da Vinci and Francesco Francia but, in 1505, she obtained only the disappointing painting by Perugino. Lorenzo Costa, appointed court painter at Mantegna’s death (1506), completed the decoration with two canvases delivered between 1506 and 1511.
Minerva Expelling the Vices from the Garden of Virtue, completed in 1502, contains ideas and motifs that had obsessed the artist from his beginnings, nonetheless leads one to consider that the artist played a determining role in its conception: the theme of Ignorance as enemy of Virtue, numerous inscriptions in different alphabets, clouds and a tree in human form, or the grotesque personifications of the Vices, chased by the dynamic and majestic warrior goddess.