It is said that in his earliest boyhood Andrea was, like Giotto, put to shepherding or cattle-herding; this is not likely, and can at any rate have lasted only a very short while, as his natural genius for art developed with singular precocity, and excited the attention of Francesco Squarcione, who entered him in the gild of painters before he had completed his eleventh year.
Squarcione, whose original vocation was tailoring, appears to have had a remarkable enthusiasm for ancient art, and a proportionate faculty for acting, with profit to himself and others, as a sort of artistic middleman; his own performances as a painter were merely mediocre.
Squarcione adopted him as his son, and purposed making him the heir of his fortune.
As the youth progressed in his studies, he came under the influence of Jacopo Bellini, a painter considerably superior to Squarcione, father of the celebrated painters Giovanni and Gentile, and of a daughter Nicolosia; and in 1454 Jacopo gave Nicolosia to Andrea in marriage.
This connexion of Andrea with the pictorial rival of Squarcione is generally assigned as the reason why the latter became alienated from the son of his adoption, and always afterwards hostile to him.
Another suggestion, which rests, however, merely on its own internal probability, is that Squarcione had at the outset used his pupil Andrea as the unavowed executant of certain commissions, but that after a while Andrea began painting on his own account, thus injuring the professional interests of his chief.
It is probable, however, that before this time some of the pupils of Squarcione, including Mantegna, had already begun that series of frescoes in the chapel of S.
The now censorious Squarcione found much to carp at in the earlier works of this series, illustrating the life of St James; he said the figures were like men of stone, and had better have been coloured stone-colour at once.
There; the hostility of Squarcione has been assigned as the cause.
The presence of the university attracted many distinguished artists, as Giotto, Lippo Lippi and Donatello; and for native art there was the school of Squarcione (1394-1474), whence issued the great Mantegna (1431-1506).