Andrea Mantegna was born in 1431 at Isola di Cartura, near Piazzola, the son of a carpenter named Blaise, who died in 1450. Andrea's name occurs in the Guild registers for 1441 as an apprentice and fiuilo (adopted son) of Francesco Squarcione, in whose house he lived for six years.
Squarcione is a controversial figure, whose importance as a painter and as a teacher was disparaged even by Vasari in his second edition, where the description of Mantegna's artistic development, as elsewhere in Vasari's Lives, lays the strongest stress on all the possible Florentine influences. For this reason, among all the material available in Squarcione's shop, he makes special mention of copies on canvas after paintings in Tuscany and Rome. Vasari's views were taken up by Kristeller and still more emphatically by Fiocco, who, in his first book on Mantegna, declared that the influence of the ceiling of San Zaccaria in Venice, which Fiocco had himself identified as the work of Castagno, had been decisive in Mantegna's early development. Paduan scholars, however, headed by Andrea Moschetti, opposed this disparagement of Squarcione, whom they considered a representative of that local tradition which was the foundation of Mantegna's art.
There are thus two conflicting theories, the one stressing the Florentine, and the other the Paduan, element in Mantegna's style. After the publication of Fiocco 'L' Arte di Andrea Mantegna', Roberto Longhi took an important part in this discussion by writing an open letter to Fiocco. Contradicting Fiocco, Longhi declared Antonio da Murano to have had a decisive influence on the formation of Squarcione's style, and therefore on that of Squarcione's pupil Mantegna. Antonio da Murano had, in his turn, enriched his local Veneto-Muranese style with elements drawn from the Florentine art of Masolino, so that in Longhi's opinion North Italian and Florentine influences had already been combined in the stage preceding Mantegna. For Mantegna himself, already attuned to Florentine art by his training under Squarcione, the paramount authority was not that of itinerant painters, but that of Donatello, who spent ten years in Padua.
If we regard Mantegna as an exponent of a Paduan style which antedates his own activity, we run into difficulties in defining this style. As I understand it, a work of art produced in Padua is Paduan in style. This may sound paradoxical when we consider that, of the painters who executed important works in Padua, Giotto came from Florence, Altichiero and Avanzo from . . .