Triumphs originally took place in ancient Rome when a returning triumphant army would process into the city with their prisoners and bearing captured military trophies, banners, images of gods, treasure and weapons. The renaissance artist, Andrea Mantegna, was commissioned by Francesco Gonzaga in 1486 to paint a series of nine canvases (each more than 2.5 metres high) depicting a triumph. Gonzaga was drawn to the theme because he saw himself as a renaissance equivalent of a Roman Emperor. The paintings, known as the Triumph of Caesar are now in Hampton Court Palace.
It is these canvasses by Mantegna that provided part of the inspiration for the triumph painting in this exhibition. The proportions of the canvases are the same as the Mantegna paintings but they are not as large. The procession of figures from right to left is also common but the intention of the modern paintings is quite different. The flow of humanity, carrying burdens real and imaginary, wise and foolish, through time and space, past, present and future, appears to move in one direction, but time is not that simple, our perceptions through memory and anticipation can reverse the flow. The phrases about time in the Relative Triumph (polyptych) move in the opposite direction to the figures. The cones, diagrammatically representing the influence of ‘events’ in space/time, and the arrows also oppose each other.