|Andrea Mantegna (1431–1506), The Court of Mantua|
The Camera delgi Sposi, being an exercise in contemporary realism, is perhaps the most authentic presentation of court life in Italy's golden age that we possess. The painter actually witnessed it, and the two main scenes, one outdoors (The Meeting), one indoors (The Signing of the Contract), take us straight into the world of marriage diplomacy, ceremony, intrigue and secret manoeuvering we read about in letters and chronicles. That world was later described by Machiavelli in The Prince and by Castiglione in The Courtier. But Mantegna's cold brush brings it horribly to life. I say horribly because, though there is exquisite beauty in the room, particularly in the rendering of the young, their elders have hearts of ice. ... there are no tricks about the figures, which have a Flemish realism. They are the actual faces of living people--fifteenth-century Italians of the urban, courtly breed, whispering in ready ears, hiding their deepest thoughts, making honeyed speeches, dissimulating and boasting, Cutting a bella figura while keeping their poignards sharp, strutting for effect and feigning every kind of emotion ... As in all Mantegna's works, one learns a great deal because, though a master of illusionistic devices, he always tells the truth.