Visual Arts: My Favourite Picture: Craigie Aitchison on Andreas Mantegn a's `The Dead Christ'

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The painter Craigie Aitchison was in and out of the news last week as one of the better known Royal Academicians to have taken against `Sensation' and particularly against the `shock tactic' nature of so much of the work on show. We know then what sort of paintings he doesn't like: but what of those that he does? His selection of Andrea Mantegna's The Dead Christ begins an occasional series on favourite pictures chosen by prominent artists.

"I like it because it tells a story. I first saw it about three years ago but I'd had it in mind for years and years before that, in black and white I think, because I'd only ever seen it in a book. It's a wonderful reddy colour and terrifically drawn. I saw it really by chance. I'd gone to the museum with a friend and I didn't know it was in there but then I saw it and realised that it had been in my head for so long. I was amazed by how small it was although it's really powerful, which makes it seem large."

The Dead Christ was found in Mantegna's studio in Mantua after his death in 1506, but was probably painted about 20 years earlier. It depicts the body of Christ, laid out cold, feet first, the foreshortened view (Mantegna's hallmark) leading the eye back from the Saviour's too small feet to his too big head. If anything, the imperfections of scale and perspective add to the picture's power: the image seems condensed, intensified. You can't look at it and glance away - it holds your eye until you've covered every inch of dead flesh and examined all four wounds in his hands and feet. The effect of it isn't so much gruesome as overbearingly sad, or, as Aitchison puts it: "If ever a painting was clear, it's this one. It's fantastically clear about the story it's telling - there's no muddling about. It couldn't be any other way."

Andrea Mantegna's `The Dead Christ' is in the Pinacoteca Brera in Milan (00 392 722 631). A recent `Crucifixion' by Craigie Aitchison can be seen as part of a survey of `British Figurative Art' at Flowers East, 199-205 Richmond Road, London E8 (0181-985 3333) to Monday, and a group of his small paintings are on show at Wiseman Originals, 34 West Square, London SE11 (0171-587 0747) to 30 Sept

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