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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 9B

This print is among those that some scholars include in an expanded list of works engraved by Mantegna himself. There has been some debate about whether Mantegna engraved more than the seven works usually assigned to him, or even whether he engraved any himself. From 1475 Mantegna is known to have been looking for a professional engraver to work for him, but one is not known of until the 1490s.

The attribution of this work to Mantegna himself is based on comparison between the preparatory drawing and print, showing changes to the design and additional details engraved directly onto the plate without preparation.

Whether this was engraved by Mantegna or someone working from his drawings, it reflects a new practice of artists reproducing their drawings in print. Collectors accepted prints taken from drawings as originals to be prized in their own right. From about 1490 Mantegna employed Antonio da Brescia to engrave copies to satisfy this demand for them - included among these is a variation of this composition.

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

Demon; Cross


Prints; Religion; Christianity; Printmaking techniques


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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