Mantegna made a special study of ancient architecture and sculpture to make his scenes as realistic as possible. They show an imaginary triumphal procession arriving in ancient Rome, complete with captured jewels, women and elephants.
The Triumphs of Caesar were described as ‘the best thing Mantegna ever painted’ by Giorgio Vasari in the 16th century, and their status as masterpieces has remained unchallenged ever since.
The series of nine paintings, probably commissioned by Francesco Gonzaga in about 1485, depict Julius Caesar on a triumphal chariot returning from his successful campaigns. He is in a procession of Roman soldiers, standard-bearers, musicians and the spoils of war including an assortment of booty (including arms, intricate sculpture and gold vases), exotic animals and captives.
Mantegna found inspiration for the scenes he created in written accounts of Caesar’s celebratory processions through Rome as well as surviving Roman antiquities.