Alvise VivariniAlvise (or Luigi) was the son of Antonio Vivarini and the youngest of the family of painters from Murano. He was possibly named after a distant relative, Ludovico da Forlì, a celebrated frame-maker who collaborated with his father. He was alive by 1457, when he is mentioned in his mother’s will. He was probably trained by his uncle Bartolomeo, but soon broke away from Bartolomeo’s hard linear style and came under the influence of Giovanni Bellini and Antonello da Messina. Like his father and uncle, he produced altarpieces for a wide range of places within the Venetian Empire and even outside it. The earliest of these altarpieces (now in the gallery at Urbino) was painted in 1476 for a remote Franciscan convent at Montefiorentino, while arguably the finest (destroyed in Berlin in 1945) was painted around 1486 for a church in Belluno. He shifted the main output of the family workshop from old-fashioned multi-tiered polyptychs to single-field Sacre Conversazioni. He also expanded the workshop’s repertoire by painting portraits.
Alvise’s reputation was such in 1488 that he was employed by the Venetian State in the Doge’s Palace on equal terms with the Bellini. His two large narrative canvases for the Sala del Maggior Consiglio were left unfinished and completed by the Bellini workshop. Praised by Vasari for their architectural perspectives and lifelike figures of Venetian noblemen, they were destroyed by fire in 1577. During the 1490s and early 1500s, Alvise painted a number of works for major churches in Venice. He died (from fatigue and ill health according to Vasari) in 1504 or 1505. An altarpiece in the Frari was completed after his death by the Bellinesque painter Marco Basaiti. He appears to have had little material success, living in charity housing and dying in debt. While by no means rare, his works are very scattered and many are either damaged or relatively inaccessible.
Alvise’s reputation has fluctuated. Largely neglected until the late nineteenth century, he was ‘reconstructed’ by Bernard Berenson, who presented him as a serious rival to Giovanni Bellini and the head of a school that included Cima da Conegliano, Bartolomeo Montagna and Lorenzo Lotto. This inflated view of Alvise’s importance (set out at greatest length in Berenson’s 1895 monograph on Lotto) was based in part at least on mistaken attributions made by Giovanni Morelli and by Berenson himself. These attributions were abandoned within a few years and the pictures in question were reassigned largely to Bellini (the Carità panels in the Accademia and the Bagatti-Valsecchi Saint Giustina) and to Jacometto Veneziano (the portraits). Alvise’s reputation subsequently slumped. John Steer’s monograph (the first on the artist, published in 1982) offers a more balanced view. While acknowledging that Alvise was not a great master, it presents him as an artist of sensitivity and originality who played an active part in the development of Venetian Renaissance painting.
Amiens. Musée de Picardie.
‘Sacra Conversazione in a Landscape’. Wood, 145 x 100.
The Virgin adores the Christ Child, who sits naked on a mound in the centre of the picture. The Child hands St Peter a pair of large keys and looks towards another saint (possibly Augustine, wearing an embroidered bishop's cope over a monk's black habit). St Jerome (studying the scriptures) and Mary Magdalene (holding up her jar of ointment) are in the foreground. This highly original sacra conversazione is a late work, signed and dated 1500 on the cartellino, bottom right. In spite of the signature, the picture was attributed by Berenson at one time to Marco Basaiti, while Pallucchini (1961) thought it was started by Alvise Vivarini and finished by Marco Basaiti. First recorded in 1642 in the Turin collection of Amadeo dal Pozzo, Marchese of Voghera. It remained with the Marchese's descendants until 1838. Bequeathed to the museum in 1869 by Adélaïde Sidonie du Castelet.
Baltimore. Walters Art Museum.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 38 x 31.
The Child, supported by the Virgin's right arm, stands on a cushion on the parapet. His right hand is raised in blessing. His left hand formerly held a string attached to a bird perched on the parapet, but both the string and bird have now disappeared – presumably with cleaning. This small panel probably dates from the mid-1480s. Acquired by Henry Walters, the Baltimore railroad magnate, in 1902 with the vast collection of the Papal Almoner Don Marcello Massarenti.
Barletta (near Bari). Sant’Andrea.
Madonna and Child Enthroned. Canvas (transferred from panel), 138 x 75.
The central panel of a triptych, the side panels of which are lost. Signed and dated 1483 on the step of the throne. At this time, Alvise was strongly influenced by Antonello – influence that can be seen in the rounded forms of the Virgin and Child and the modelling by light. The present church of Sant'Andrea was built in 1532 and the picture has been recorded there since 1560. (It is not known whether the picture came from the earlier Franciscan church of Sant'Andrea fuori le Mura, which was destroyed in 1528 during the French siege.) It is presently located in the sacristy in an (incongruously) elaborate frame. Restored in 1954.
Bergamo. Accademia Carrara.
Three Saints and a Donor. Wood, 25 x 35.
The slender, elongated figures are shown against the landscape of a river valley. The elderly bishop-saint in the centre, venerated by the kneeling young man, might be Augustine. The youthful St Louis of Toulouse (identified by the fleurs-de-lis embroidered on his cope) stands on the left and St Francis (displaying the stigmata on his hands) stands on the right. This small devotional panel was formerly catalogued as a work of the fifteenth-century Lombard school. The attribution to Alvise Vivarini, as an early work, was made in 1975 (by Federico Zeri in Antichità Viva) and has been accepted by the museum since its 1979 catalogue. One of almost 250 pictures acquired by the Accademia in 1866 from the bequest of the Bergamasque statesman Guglielmo Lochis.
St Jerome in Penitence. Wood, 42 x 32.
The saint kneels in penitence outside his cave, a stone in one hand and a simple cross in the other. The fantastical rock formation recalls Mantegna. Previously ascribed simply to the school of Giovanni Bellini. The attribution to Alvise Vivarini, as an early work, was made in 1969 (by Roberto Longhi in Paragone) and subsequently endorsed by Francesco Rossi's 1979 museum catalogue. Donated in 1900 with the collection of Don Francesco Baglioni.
Bergamo. Museo Diocesano di Arte Sacra.
Dead Christ with Angels. Wood, 51 x 122.
The panel, now rectangular, was almost certainly painted to form the lunette of an altarpiece. Previously labelled simply as ‘Fifteenth-century Venetian School’, it was attributed to Alvise Vivarini by Peter Humfrey (September 1993 Burlington Magazine). Humfrey argued that it probably constituted the apex of a polyptych from the church of Santa Maria dell’Incoronata at Martinengo (some 15 km from Bergamo). The main panel of the polyptych, representing the Assumption of the Virgin, was sent to the Brera during the Napoleonic suppressions.
‘Pentecost Polyptych’. Wood.
The central scene (200 x 125) shows the Holy Spirit descending from God the Father to the kneeling Virgin and apostles. It is surmounted by a Dead Christ with Angels (91 x 127), which appears to be by a different hand (close to Antonio Vivarini?). The full-length saints in the lower tier (each 172 x 60) are all Franciscans: Francis, Anthony of Padua, Louis of Toulouse and Bernardino of Siena. The half-length saints in the upper tier (each 93 x 60) are Paul, Victor(?), Jerome and John the Baptist. The polyptych was acquired in 1821 with the Solly collection. It was attributed by Berenson (1932 -57 Lists) to Alvise’s pupil Jacopo da Valenza, but is now usually accepted as a work of Alvise himself. The Gothic frame dates only from the nineteenth century. The polyptych was dismantled in 1945 and the lower parts consigned to the Bode Museum in East Berlin.
St Louis of Toulouse (64 x 35); St Mary Magdalene (114 x 38). Wood.
The youthful bishop is identified as St Louis of Toulouse by the Angevin fleurs-de-lys embroidered on his cope. Mary Magdalene holds her usual jar of ointment. Two side panels from a dismembered polyptych. The Mary Magdalene is full-length, while the St Louis of Toulouse has been cut down. Another panel from the polyptych (a St John the Baptist) is in the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection at Madrid. A fourth panel (St Ursula) is still in private hands. It was sold at Sotheby's, London, in December 2017 for £333,000. Probably early (mid-1470s). From the Solly collection. The St Louis of Toulouse was formerly on loan to the University Museum at Göttingen.
Budapest. Fine Arts Museum.
Madonna and Child with the Baptist and St Jerome. Wood, 83 x 73.
The Child clutches a goldfinch. The cartellino contains the false signature of Giovanni Bellini and date 1496. The picture has been attributed to Alvise Vivarini or his pupil Giovanni Battista da Udine. From the collection of Baron Mór Lipót (Moritz Leopold), a Jewish businessman of Budapest. (It was allegedly seized by the Hungarian State Security Police in 1938 from Herzog’s son András. Herzog’s Italian descendants have lodged a restitution claim.)
Cherso (Cres in Croatia). Santa Maria (Priest’s House).
‘St Sebastian Altarpiece’. Wood.
The main panel (117 x 103) shows the Madonna and Child enthroned with St Cosmas (or Damian) on the left and St Sebastian and St Christopher. In the lunette (40 x 103), the Madonna of the Misericordia. Signed on the plinth on which St Sebastian stands. Badly abraded and cut down on the left (removing one of the doctor saints).
Denver. Art Museum
St John the Baptist; St Jerome. Wood, each 117/118 x 38.
Two side panels from a polyptych. They are datable to around 1480 on the evidence of a sheet of drawings (Institut Néerlandais, Paris), which includes studies of arms and hands both for the St John the Baptist and St Jerome and for figures in the dated Madonna and Child with Six Saints in the Accademia, Venice. Once in the collection of the Contessa Eleonora Reppi at Rome; acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1936 from Contini Bonacossi; and assigned in 1954 to the Denver museum.
London. National Gallery.
Virgin and Child. Wood, 69 x 54.
Signed on the scrap of paper on the parapet. Once in the Correr collection at San Giovanni Decollato in Venice and later the Manfrin collection. Bought from a dealer in Rome in 1893 by the American collector and art historian Charles Loeser, who presented it to the National Gallery in 1898. Loeser successfully cited the picture as evidence against attributions to Alvise Vivarini made in Bernard Berenson’s Venetian Painters. Much damaged and not on display.
Portrait of a Man. Wood, 63 x 47.
As in portraits by Antonello da Messina and Giovanni Bellini, the figure is shown bust-length and three-quarter face behind a parapet. He wears a blue tunic (painted in costly ultramarine over an underlayer of violet) and a black hat (now scarcely visible against the dark background). Signed and dated 1497 on the parapet. It is Alvise’s only signed portrait. First recorded in 1857 with a dealer in Milan. Bequeathed to the National Gallery in 1910 with the pictures of the Australian-born collector George Salting.
London. National Gallery (on loan).
Madonna and Child. Wood, 80 x 65.
The heads of the Virgin and Child almost touch, as he stands on the parapet and reaches up to touch the gold neck of her dress. A carefully painted landscape, with a castle in a lake and a waterfall cascading through trees, is viewed through the arched window. An illusionistically painted cartellino lies on top of the parapet, but no signature is now visible. Probably mid-1480s. Placed on loan with the National Gallery in 2013 by an anonymous private owner.
London. Royal Collection.
Madonna and Child with Four Saints. Paper, 35 x 25.
This rare drawing, executed in ink and heightened with white chalk, was included in the 1983 Genius of Venice exhibition at the Royal Academy and the 2014 Building the Picture exhibition at the National Gallery. It is a working study for a 'Sacra Conversazione' altarpiece in which the Virgin, enthroned high in a barrel-vaulted interior, is flanked by pairs of saints. It is the only known preparatory drawing of a Renaissance altarpiece to show the frame as well as the painting. The architecture of the frame is designed to be continuous with the fictive architecture of the painting. While the drawing cannot be certainly connected with any known commission, the form of the altarpiece is like that of Alvise Vivarini's celebrated pala for Santa Maria dei Battuti at Belluno (destroyed at Berlin in 1945). Only two other drawings are securely attributed to Alvise (a study in black chalk at the British Museum for the head of an elderly man and a sheet of studies in metal point at the Institut Néerlandais, Paris, for the hands and arms of saints).
Madrid. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.
Saint John the Baptist. Wood, 49 x 34.
The picture has been cut down – the figure was originally full-length – and the upper corners have been filled in, obscuring the original curved top. A side panel from a polyptych, which also included the panels of Saint Louis of Toulouse and Saint Mary Magdalene in Berlin. A fourth side panel (Saint Ursula) was auctioned at Sotheby's in December 2017. The centre panel – almost certainly a Madonna and Child – is untraced. The polyptych was an early work, close in style to the Montefiorentino Altarpiece of 1476 (now at Urbino). The Saint John the Baptist was once attributed to Bartolomeo Vivarini. It was auctioned in Berlin in 1929 with the collection of Joseph Spiridon and acquired by Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza the following year.
Assumption of the Virgin. Wood, 225 x 114.
This imposing panel is from the church of Santa Maria dell’Incoronata at Martinengo, near Bergamo. It was first attributed to Alvise Vivarini only in 1990 (by Alpini and Lucco in their 1990 Brera catalogue). It probably formed the centre panel of a polyptych, which included, as a lunette, the Dead Christ with Angels in the Museo Diocesano at Bergamo. The church of Santa Maria dell’Incoronata was founded and endowed by the famous condottiere Bartolomeo Colleoni. The polyptych was probably commissioned for the high altar around 1480. The high altar was replaced in 1740, and the Assumption was taken to the Brera in 1811 when the Franciscan Observant convent was suppressed. Transferred in 1847 to the parish church at Bovisa in the northern suburbs of Milan, returned to the Brera in 1978, and restored in 1986-87.
‘Salvator Mundi’. Wood, 52 x 37.
Christ is shown bust-length and three-quarter face, his right hand raised in blessing and the left holding a tiny cross. Signed and dated 1498, bottom right on the parapet. Acquired in 1824. There is another version at the Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice.
Milan. Poldi Pezzoli Museum.
Crucifixion. Wood, 48 x 29.
Mary Magdalene kneels on one side of the cross and a female donor, dressed as a nun, on the other. (It has been suggested that the donor could be the so-called ‘Nun of San Secondo’ represented in the well-known portrait by Jacometto Veneziano that is now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York.) This well-preserved little panel might have been part of a larger structure. Acquired in 1896 by the museum’s first Director, the painter Giuseppe Bertini, from an antique’s dealer called Genolini. It was ascribed at the time to the Umbrian artist Niccolò da Foligno and later given to Giovanni Bellini.
Triptych. Centre panel, 119 x 50; side panels, 116 x 39.
The Madonna and Child are enthroned in the centre. St Francis, on the left, holds a cross and displays the stigmata in his hand. St Bernardino of Siena, on the right, holds a book and his monogram with the Holy Name of Jesus. Signed and dated 1485 on the pedestal of the throne. The three panels were originally part of a larger polyptych. The missing elements have not been certainly traced but might include three panels of saints in American museums (the St Jerome and St John the Baptist at Denver and the St Bonaventure in the McNay Museum at San Antonio). At the Capodimonte since 1831.
New York. Brooklyn Museum.
Saint Sebastian. Wood, 32 x 24.
This small, close-up image of the saint bust-length against a column has been attributed to Alvise Vivarini by a number of distinguished critics (including Borenius, Berenson and Pallucchini), but is now catalogued simply as the work of ‘a follower of Antonello da Messina’. Donated to the museum in 1934 by the heirs of Frank L. Babbott.
Noale (between Padua and Treviso). SS. Felice e Fortunato.
Assumption of the Virgin. Wood, 248 x 112.
The Apostles gaze upwards in wonder as the Virgin, enveloped in a mandorla of light and worshipped by tiny naked angels, ascends on a cloud. The centre panel of a polyptych. Other panels (now lost) represented St Jerome and St Sebastian and the Angel and Virgin of the Annunciation. The altarpiece is Alvise Vivarini's last documented completed work. It was commissioned by the Scuola dei Battuti of Noale in 1502 and probably completed by November 1504, when the last payment is recorded. The price was 134 ducats (with an additional 34 ducats for the woodwork). The altarpiece was intact in 1803, when it is recorded still on the altar of the Scuola dei Battuti, but by 1830 it had been broken up. Once attributed to Cima da Conegliano. Restored in 1978.
Pavia. Pinacoteca Malaspina.
St Francis and St John the Baptist. Wood, 70 x 62.
A fragment of a polyptych. Poorly preserved.
St Petersburg. Hermitage.
Virgin and Child and Four Female Saints. Canvas (transferred), 89 x 129.
The saint on the far left, holding a martyr’s palm and leaning on a broken wheel, is clearly Catherine of Alexandria. The one on the far right, with a palm and glass vessel, is usually identified as Mary Magdalene. The other two saints have no distinguishing attributes. The date 1504 is inscribed in the lower right corner – the latest date on any painting attributed to Alvise Vivarini. The picture was acquired in 1824 as a work of Giovanni Bellini from the collection of a certain Luigi d’Arrigha at Rome. Transferred to the Hermitage in 1926 from the Gatchina Palace, near St Petersburg. The attribution to Alvise Vivarini was made in 1936 (by Maria Shcherbachova in an article entitled ‘Alvise Vivarini’s Last Work’, published in the Hermitage Yearbook). The attribution has been accepted by most subsequent opinion. The major exception is John Steer, who rejected it in his 1982 monograph in favour of one to his pupil Giovanni Martini da Udine. It has been suggested that the picture could have been started by Alvise Vivarini and finished after his death by another artist (Jacopo de’ Barbari?). The Madonna is very like the one in the great altarpiece from Belluno that was formerly at Berlin (destroyed in 1945).
San Antonio (Texas). McNay Art Museum.
Saint Bonaventure. Wood, 57 x 33.
The Franciscan theologian wears a red cardinal's hat and the grey habit of his Order. Presumably a panel from the left-hand side of a polyptych. It has been conjectured (by Federico Zeri) that it came from the same altarpiece as the panels of St Jerome and St John the Baptist at Denver and the panels of the Madonna Enthroned, St Francis and St Bernardino at Naples. Formerly in a French private collection, it was donated to the museum in 1955 by the San Antonio physician and businessman Federic Goldstein Oppenheimer.
Trieste. Museo Sartorio.
Madonna and Sleeping Child with Two Musical Angels. Wood, 120 x 59.
Signed and dated 1489 on the step of the throne. The two musical angels recall those in Giovanni Bellini’s Frari Triptych (painted the previous year). Presumably the centre panel of an altarpiece. From the church of San Bernardino at Portorose (Portoroz) near Pirano (Piran) in Istria (Slovenia). It was sent to Vienna in 1802 as a gift for Emperor Francis II and was exhibited at the Belvedere. After the First World War, it was returned to Istria and exhibited in the museum at Capodistria (Koper). It was among many works of art removed from Koper and Piran for safekeeping in 1940. For more than fifty years, the sequestered art works were kept in storage in Rome. The crates were opened in 2002 and, after restoration, twenty-one of the works were included in a special exhibition held at Trieste in 2005-6. The ownership of the works has been disputed by the Slovenian Government.
Urbino. Galleria Nazionale.
‘Montefiorentino Polyptych’. Wood, 165 x 238.
In the centre panel, the Virgin adores the Child sleeping across her lap. The standing saints in the four side panels are Francis, Peter, Paul and John the Baptist. Signed and dated 1476 (not 1475 as sometimes stated) on the frame of the centre panel. It is Alvise’s earliest dated work, painted when he was still strongly under the influence of his uncle Bartolomeo and incorporating some of the family workshop’s stock motifs. The centre panel repeats a basic composition found in several of Bartolomeo’s altarpieces and devotional Madonnas. The Gothic frame is original but incomplete. (The pinnacles, crockets and flanking piers are missing.) From the remote Franciscan convent at Montefiorentino in the northern Marches (4 km from Carpegna).
Madonna and Child. Wood, 40 x 31.
The Madonna in a bright red dress and dark mantle, standing in front of a curtain of watered silk, steadies the Child as he sits up on a cushion on the parapet. Behind there is a landscape with low hills in the distance and a river in the foreground. This little panel was acquired in 1927 from the Conti Marefoschi at Macerata. It is much damaged. The panel is unsigned, and its condition makes it hard to judge whether it is a work of Alvise Vivarini or of a lesser painter (Jacopo da Valenza?) working in a similar style.
Madonna and Child Enthroned with Six Saints. Wood, 175 x 196.
The Virgin’s aged parents, St Anne (hands folded in prayer) and St Joachim (holding a dove), stand beside her marble Renaissance throne. The other saints are Louis of Toulouse (with fleurs-de-lys embroidered on his cope) and Anthony of Padua (with book and lily), on the left, and Francis (displaying his stigmata) and Bernardino of Siena (holding his monogram with the Holy Name of Jesus), on the right. The green curtain behind the figures is a later addition, and there would probably have been a landscape visible through the two windows. Signed and dated 1480 on the step of the throne. From the church of San Francesco at Treviso, where it stood in a side chapel dedicated to Santa Maria del Prà. Taken to the Accademia in 1812.
St John the Baptist; St Matthew. Wood, each 134/133 x 52/51.
The Baptist studies his scroll. St Matthew composes his Gospel with the help of an angel. The two panels have been cut down at the top. Probably fairly early (around 1480). From the church of San Pietro Martire at Murano. Taken to the Accademia in 1812. Old repainting was removed in a 1949 restoration.
St Clare; a Female Martyr. Wood, each 144/143 x 38/40.
St Clare, usually depicted as young and pretty, appears here as an elderly wrinkled woman holding a book and crucifix. The other, unidentified, saint wears a red mantle and holds a martyr's palm. The two panels are from the church (now demolished) of San Daniele Profeta, where they are recorded by Boschini (1664). St Clare is possibly a portrait of Chiara Ogniben Sustan, who established the Augustinian order of nuns at San Daniele in 1437. The Female Martyr was taken to Vienna in 1838 and returned to Venice in 1919.
God the Father Blessing. Wood, 185 in dia.
He holds an open book and is surrounded by cherubs’ heads. From the ceiling of the oratory of the Scuola di San Girolamo (now demolished), which was behind the church of San Girolamo in the Cannaregio. Described by Boschini (1664) as a work of ‘Vivarino’. It was long accepted as a work of Alvise, but an alternative attribution has been made to Pier Maria Pennacchi and is now endorsed by the museum. The oratory was closed by the French by 1814. The panel was still in situ in 1843, but it was removed from the ceiling shortly afterwards and passed into private hands. Bought by the Accademia in 1899 for 1,000 lire. It has been installed in the centre of the magnificent carved wooden ceiling of gilded cherubim in Room 1 (the former Sala del Capitolo of the Scuola della Carità).
Triumphal Arch of Nicolò Tron. Canvas, 140 x 98.
On top of the arch, two putti display a shield surmounted by a Doge's cap and emblazoned with the coat-of-arms of Nicolò Tron. Three more putti stand in front of the arch with shields bearing the arms of other noble Venetian families. The (abbreviated) Latin inscription on the architrave reads: 'To observe the law is to strengthen the Republic'. This unusual, heraldic painting came from the Magistrato del Cavatter in the Doge's Palace and was transferred to the Accademia in 1890. It was presumably painted in 1471-73, when Nicolò Tron was Doge. The attribution to Alvise Vivarini, as a very early work, was made initially by Roberto Longhi (in Paragone (1969)) and supported subsequently by Federico Zeri (in Antichità Viva (1976)). It has not been accepted by the Accademia, which classes the painting simply as 'Fifteenth-century Venetian School'. Restored in 2008.
Venice. Correr Museum.
Saint Anthony of Padua. Wood, 30 x 23.
This delicately executed little panel shows the Franciscan saint, half-length and almost in profile, holding a white lily and book. Virtually the same figure appears, full-length and on a much larger scale, in the Madonna and Child Enthroned with Six Saints, dated 1480, in the Accademia. Only Creighton Gilbert (who suggested in 1956 that the painting was an early copy) has doubted the attribution. From Teodoro Correr’s 1830 bequest to the City of Venice. The fine Renaissance frame is contemporary.
Venice. Ca’ Rezzonico.
Redeemer Blessing. Canvas, 51 x 37.
Another version of the picture, signed and dated 1498, in the Brera. From the collection of Egidio Martini, which was donated to the City of Venice in 2001.
Venice. Ca’ d’Oro.
Virgin and Child. Wood, 72 x 53.
In the left background, a view of a harbour. This attractive picture is in the style of Alvise Vivarini. (There are similarities, particularly the Virgin’s pose, with the signed Madonna in the National Gallery, London.) However, the handling seems too coarse to be his autograph work, and the picture has been attributed variously to his workshop, to his school and to Jacopo da Valenza (a close follower active in the Veneto from 1485). From the collection of Baron Giorgio Franchetti, which was presented to the State with the Ca’ d’Oro in 1915.
Saint Ambrose enthroned with Saints. Wood, 500 x 250.
The altarpiece of the Cappella Milanesi, the third to the left of the high altar. St Ambrose, the patron saint of Milan, is enthroned beneath a lofty Renaissance arch, holding a scourge in one hand and a crosier in the other. He is flanked by armoured saints (George and Liberale or Vitale?). The saints on the left include Sebastian, Louis of France and John the Baptist. Those on the right include Jerome, Gregory the Great and Augustine. On the baloney above, the Virgin is crowned by Christ. Angels sitting on the step of the throne play a lute and a mandolin. The huge picture was left unfinished at Alvise Vivarini’s death and (as stated in the damaged and now illegible inscription) was completed by Marco Basaiti. The gilded wooden frame, taking the form of a triumphal arch flanked by engaged columns, is designed to be continuous with the painted architecture in the picture. The inscription on the marble base of the altar gives the year 1503, which is usually taken as the approximate date of the picture. Early writers (Vasari, Ridolfi, Boschini and Zanetti) ascribed the altarpiece to Carpaccio – an error that was not corrected until the nineteenth century.
Venice. Redentore. Sacristy.
Virgin and Sleeping Child with Two Angels. Wood, 77 x 81.
The Virgin, with hands folded in prayer over the Child asleep across her knees, is almost identical with that in an altarpiece painted in 1489 for a church in Istria (now in the Museo Sartorio at Trieste). A goldfinch perches on the curtain, upper right. On the parapet are apples, pears and cherries. The panel is contained in an elaborate contemporary reliquary frame. Traditionally ascribed to Giovanni Bellini, it was recognised as a work of Alvise Vivarini by Crowe and Cavalcaselle (1871).
Venice. SS. Giovanni e Paolo. Right transept.
Christ carrying the Cross. Canvas, 170 x 148.
The image of Christ dragging the cross across a barren landscape has a strange, poignant beauty. Described as a work of Alvise Vivarini by Sansovino (1581) and Ridolfi (1648). (Ridolfi mistakenly recorded the date 1414 on the picture, leading to the mistaken belief that there were two Vivarini painters called Alvise.) Alvise’s only certain surviving work on canvas, it may have been painted as a church banner to be carried in processions. Probably an early work. It was heavily retouched in oil at some date and removal of the repaint has revealed severe damage. Restored in 1994.
Venice. San Giovanni in Bragora.
Left of sacristy door: Risen Christ. Wood, 145 x 76.
The risen Christ stands on the cover of the tomb holding the Banner of the Resurrection. Two awe-struck soldiers look up at him from the bottom left corner. The predella contains busts of the Saviour, St Mark and St John the Evangelist. The picture was commissioned in 1494 by the priest, Cristoforo Rizzo, for one of two altars in the presbytery dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament. (Cima’s Saint Helena was painted for the other altar.) It was completed in 1498 and is one of Alvise best-known works. Christ’s monumental pose has been variously thought to derive from Antonello’s Saint Sebastian from the church of San Giuliano (now in Dresden), a late fifteenth-century bronze statue of the Resurrected Christ from Santa Maria della Carità (now in the Poldi Pezzoli Museum, Milan), and an antique statue of Apollo (now in the Museo Archeologico, Venice). The picture surface is much damaged and the panel has been cut down.
Left aisle: Madonna and Child. Wood, 92 x 76.
The Virgin, sitting on a long stone bench in a room, adores the Child slumbering across her lap. The motif of the sleeping Child was very popular with the Vivarini and has frequently been explained as a premonition of Christ’s death. There are views of the sky and a lake through the two arched windows in the background. From the church of San Severo (which was closed in 1813 and demolished in 1829). Described in Zanetto’s 1856 guidebook as a work of Bellini, but attributed to Alvise Vivarini by Crowe and Cavalcaselle (1871). Much repainted.
‘Salvator Mundi’. Wood, 48 x 38.
Frontal in pose, with the right hand raised in blessing. As in eastern icons, Christ wears a red robe (representing his human nature) and a blue cloak (representing his divinity). Described as a work of Alvise by Boschini (1664), who says that it was painted for the shrine of St Giovanni Elemosinario (John the Almsgiver), which contained the saint's relics. According to church records, it was painted in 1494. It now hangs on the left wall of the church. Beautifully restored in 1998.
Verona. Museo Civico.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 81 x 60.
Signed on the parapet. Acquired in 1871 with the collection of Cesare Bernasconi. The picture surface is worn, and much of the colour has disappeared from the Virgin's mantle.
Washington. National Gallery.
Saint Jerome Reading. Wood, 31 x 25.
There is a beautifully atmospheric landscape, with winding river, lake and distant pale blue mountains. Signed, bottom right, on the cartellino. Like many other small Venetian panels of St Jerome, it was almost certainly intended as an independent work for private devotion rather than as part of an altarpiece. It is probably one of Alvise Vivarini’s earliest surviving works, close in date to the Montefiorentino Polyptych of 1476. It was in Britain by 1852, when it was sold at Christie’s, and was published as a work of Alvise Vivarini by Tancred Borenius (Der Cicerone) in 1930, when it was owned by Thomas Harris of London. Bought by Samuel H. Kress in 1938 from Contini Bonacossi and given to the Washington gallery the following year. Restoration in 1988 removed discoloured retouchings and old varnish.
Portrait of a Man. Wood, 35 x 31.
He wears the standard costume of a Venetian citizen – a pleated black gown with a stole over his shoulder and black cap. The portrait was attributed to Antonello da Messina in 1892, when it was sold by Sir Charles Robinson for £1,600 to the Comtesse René de Béarn of Paris. The attribution to Alvise Vivarini was proposed shortly afterwards by Bernard Berenson in his Venetian Painters (1894). It was later abandoned, however, and the picture was bought by Kress from Duveen in 1937 as a work of Giovanni Bellini. There had also been attributions to Lorenzo Lotto and Filippo Mazzola. The old Alvise attribution was revived by the Washington gallery in 1964 and was accepted in John Steer’s 1982 monograph. The portrait is much damaged: it was split into two parts when it was acquired by Kress and radically restored in 1938.