It is certainly unusual for a newspaper critic to recommend an art exhibition as “an absolute must” while at the same time warning his readers that they will have difficulty enjoying it. It is even more surprising to find the same point made in the catalogue accompanying the show. But the recent traveling exhibition devoted to the work of the Renaissance master Andrea Mantegna occasioned both.[1]

In his essay for the exhibition catalogue, the late Lawrence Gowing writes that Mantegna “gives us as many reasons to dislike him as any great artist.” Here Gowing, rightly admired for his ability to articulate sensitive responses to paintings, is talking as a painter. He goes on to say, with his endearing insularity—or British provinciality—that “among modern painters perhaps only Wyndham Lewis has really loved him.” Gowing is presumably reporting a fact of...

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