From 1460 Mantegna worked at Mantua as court artist to the Gonzaga family. He is best known for the altarpieces and secular works he painted for them, but he also painted a limited number of extraordinary small pictures for private devotion. Like the present picture, these were often painted in distemper (pigment with animal glue as a medium) on a fine cotton support, and they are delicate in execution.
This painting dates from the last decade of Mantegna's career. Its composition is based on classical funerary reliefs. It may have hung in the church of the Spedale degli Incurabili in Venice in the seventeenth century.
The Altman Madonna or 'Holy Family with St Mary Magdalene is a glue-tempera and gold on canvas painting, measuring 57.2 by 45.7 cm and dating to 1495-1505. Painted by Andrea Mantegna, it is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Its use of canvas and its stylistic similarities to works such as the Trivulzio Madonna date it to the painter's late period. The fruit hedge in the background recalls the Trivulzio Madonna as well as the Madonna della Vittoria. It may have been the work seen in the Ospedale degli Incurabili in Venice by Marco Boschini and described as similar to the Holy Family with a Female Saint (Museo di Castelvecchio, Verona).
It was sold in 1902 by Agosto d'Aiuti, a Neapolitan count, to an English antiquarian in London. After passing through various owners, it was acquired in 1912 by the American collector Benjamin Altman, who bequeathed it to the Metropolitan Museum in 1913
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