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Print - Descent into Limbo
  • Descent into Limbo
    Mantegna, Andrea, born 1430 - died 1506
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Descent into Limbo

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Mantua (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1475 - 1480 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Mantegna, Andrea, born 1430 - died 1506 (engraver)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    engraving print on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Rev. Alexander Dyce

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case EDUC, shelf 9, box B

This print shows how Andrea Mantegna (1430/1-1506) varied his shading lines with parallel lines and zigzagging lines with hooked ends. Mantegna used two sizes of burin to vary line thickness and favoured the lozenge or diamond-shaped burins used in Northern Europe to the Italian rounded ciapolla. He occasionally employed drypoint for finer lines, but in this example the drypoint marks have worn down and are no longer visible.
There is some debate about which prints Mantegna engraved himself, if at all. He is known to have been looking for a professional engraver from 1475, but one is not known of until the 1490s. The attribution of this print to Mantegna himself is based on comparison with the preparatory drawing, revealing changes engraved directly onto the plate.

The composition is famous for the unusual placement of the figure of Christ, with his back to the viewer as he enters into Limbo. It also shows Mantegna's interest in rock formations, which he studied from nature.

Physical description

Jesus Christ descending into Hell. Showing an archway set into a rock and guarded by winged demons blowing horns, Christ with his Resurrection banner enters the archway. He stands on the broken door. A man (usually identified as the Penitent Thief, Dimas or Dismas) stands to his left holding the Cross. To the right are a group of men and a woman who appear tormented, one holding his hands to his ears. Two of these are usually identified as Adam and Eve.

Place of Origin

Mantua (made)


ca. 1475 - 1480 (made)


Mantegna, Andrea, born 1430 - died 1506 (engraver)

Materials and Techniques

engraving print on paper


Height: 41.8 cm, Width: 33.7 cm

Descriptive line

Engraving. Andrea Mantegna. Descent into Limbo, ca. 1475-1480.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Bartsch, Adam von, 1757-1821. The illustrated Bartsch. New York : Abaris Books, 1978-, no. 13.
Mantegna, Andrea, 1431-1506. Andrea Mantegna. London : Royal Academy of Arts in association with Electa, Milano ; New York : Metropolitan Museum of Art : Distributed by Abrams, 1992.
Christiansen, Keith. 'The Case for Mantegna as Printmaker', in The Burlington Magazine. Vol. 135, No. 1086 (Sep., 1993), pp. 604-612.
Bartsch, Adam von. Le Peintre Graveur. Vienna, 1811. Vol XIII.
Hind, A.M. Early Italian Engraving. Washington, 1948. Part 2, Vol. 5,
DYCE COLLECTION. A Catalogue of the Paintings, Miniatures, Drawings, Engravings, Rings and Miscellaneous Objects Bequeathed by The Reverend Alexander Dyce. London : South Kensington Museum : Printed by G.E. Eyre and W. Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1874.

Production Note

In Mantegna exhibition catalogue (1992) this is catalogued as being by Andrea Mantegna himself.


Printing ink; Paper



Subjects depicted

Cross; Demon


Prints; Religion; Christianity; Printmaking techniques


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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