CarpaccioHis name was Vittore Scarpazza in Venetian dialect, Latinised into Carpathius or Carpatio on his signed pictures. (The present spelling is not recorded before the seventeenth century.) His father, Pietro Scarpazza, was a furrier. There is circumstantial evidence that he was born around the mid-1460s. He is first recorded in 1472 in the will of an uncle and was still living in his father’s house in 1486. He is known to have been working in Venice between 1490 and 1523, where he appears to have spent his entire career. He was possibly a pupil, and certainly a follower of, Gentile Bellini, and was also obviously influenced by Giovanni Bellini. He painted several cycles of large narrative pictures for the smaller Venetian lay confraternities or scuole piccole. Four of these cycles survive almost complete, and they are remarkable for their rich detail of contemporary Venetian life and their picturesque and fantastic landscapes and townscapes. The earliest and most famous of these series of pictures, painted around 1490-98 for the Scuola di Sant’Orsola, is preserved in its entirety in the Venice Accademia. The cycle painted around 1502-8 for the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni is still largely intact in the scuola. But the cycles for the Scuola degli Albanesi (about 1500-10) and the Scuola di Santo Stefano (1511-20) were broken up when Napoleon closed the scuole, and the pictures are now dispersed among various European museums.
Carpaccio also received commissions for the Doge’s Palace, painting a picture for the Sala dei Pregadi in 1501-2 and two pictures for the Sala del Maggior Consiglio in 1507; these were destroyed in the fire of 1577. His dozen or so church altarpieces mainly date from late in his career (after 1510), and are generally less successful than his narrative paintings. He painted comparatively few Madonnas and smaller scale devotional works. Vasari writes of his ‘numerous portraits from life’, but very few of these have been firmly identified. Carpaccio can only be appreciated properly in Venice, where thirty-nine of his documented works remain.
His style evolved very little. At the end of his career he worked mainly for patrons in Istria and other provincial centres, and his pictures show a marked decline in inspiration and quality – the draughtsmanship becoming mechanical, the designs repetitive and the colour flatter and duller. He died between October 1525 and June 1526.
Two sons, Benedetto and Pietro, were also painters. Benedetto inherited his father’s drawings and continued to produce derivative pictures for Istrian churches. In 1540 he became a citizen of Capodistria (now Koper in modern Slovenia). Pietro set up shop in Udine, but no pictures by him are known.
Portrait of a Woman. Wood, 30 x 23.
The young woman, clearly from a prosperous family, wears a double gold chain, a gold brocade dress with a square cut front trimmed with pearls, and a tight fitting gold cap over her curly brown hair. For a long time, the portrait was widely accepted as an early work of Carpaccio. (It was included, for example, in the monographs by Giuseppe Fiocco (1931 and 1958) and Jan Lauts (1962), and in Pietro Zampetti's catalogue of the 1963 Carpaccio exhibition held in Venice.) The more recent tendency, however, is to associate the portrait with the young Giovanni Bellini or his circle. Formerly in the collection of Otto Lanz, a distinguished professor of surgery at Amsterdam University. The collection was sold by Lanz's widow in 1941 to Adolf Hitler for his proposed Führermuseum at Linz, but was returned to Holland after the War.
Atlanta. High Museum of Art.
Allegory of Temperance; Allegory of Prudence. Wood, each 108 x 55.
Temperance pours wine from a flask into a mixing bowl in order to dilute it with water. Prudence studies herself in the mirror in order to see herself as she really is, and she holds a stick in order to tame the dragon behind her. The two panels were probably part of a series illustrating the four cardinal virtues – the others being Justice and Fortitude – and are likely to have been painted for a private home. It is conceivable that they served as sportelli (internal doors or shutters). Acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1928 from his favourite dealer Alessandro Contini Bonacossi; donated to the Atlanta museum in 1956.
Avignon. Musée du Petit Palais.
Holy Family and Saints. Canvas, 98 x 127.
Signed lower left. The Christ Child, astride the Virgin's knee, acknowledges the infant John the Baptist, who is seated naked on the ground. The baby angels beside the Virgin play a tambourine and hurdy-gurdy (ghironda). The two pairs of saints cannot be conclusively identified. The pair on the left might be Zechariah and either Elizabeth or Anne. The pair on the right might be Mary Magdalene and either Joseph or Joachim. On the left of the fantastical rock bridge, St Jerome stands with his lion before a crucifix. Tiny figures In the landscape are thought to represent scenes from the lives of St Augustine and Paul the Hermit. The deer, standing on the rocks to the left, might symbolise piety or devotion. Though quite large, the picture was probably painted not as a church altarpiece but for a domestic setting. From the huge Campana collection, which was acquired by the French state in Rome in 1863; previously at Caen, and transferred with most of the ex-Campana pictures to Avignon in 1976. An exploratory compositional drawing for the painting (pen and brown ink over red and black chalk) is preserved in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.
Belgrade. National Museum of Serbia.
Pilgrim Saint (St Roch?); St Sebastian. Wood, 110/108 x 37/36.
The two vertical paintings were clearly the side panels of an altarpiece. Before the War, they were in the stock of the famous art dealer Alessandro Contini Bonacossi, who sold them to Hermann Goering in 1942 as works of the Ferrarese School. They were among many displaced artworks taken to Yugoslavia after the War by the Croatian art dealer and collector Ante Topic Mimara, who appears to have obtained them fraudulently. They were little known until 2004, when they were included in an exhibition (Da Carpaccio a Canaletto) of Italian works from the Belgrade museum held at Bologna and Bari. They, and six other paintings from the museum, have subsequently been the subject of a restitution claim from Italy.
Bergamo. Accademia Carrara.
*Birth of the Virgin. Canvas, 126 x 129.
St Anne, the new mother, lying on a canopied bed in an alcove, is served broth in a maiolica dish. Her elderly husband, Joachim, stands on the left, leaning on his stick. The baby is washed by a midwife. The woman sitting sewing in the right foreground is repeated in the Virgin Reading (National Gallery, Washington). The two rabbits, nibbling greens on the tiled floor, probably symbolise love or fertility. The Hebrew inscription on the panel on the wall is from the Sanctus hymn ('Holy, Holy, Holy/ Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord'). Through the door at the end of the chamber can be seen a woman hanging clothes in front of the fire and, beyond that, a woman preparing game in the kitchen. The picture was the first of a series of six paintings illustrating the life of the Virgin. Two of the other five are in the Brera (Milan) and the remaining three are in the Ca d’Oro (Venice). The series was painted for the chapel of the Scuola degli Albanesi (the confraternity of expatriate Albanians in the Campo Maurizio, Venice). Work on the series was probably underway by 1502, when the building was finished, and continued at the same time as work on the more extensive (and superior) cycle for the Dalmatians of the Scuola di San Giorgio. It was not completed until about 1510, Carpaccio leaving much of the actual execution to assistants. The Scuola was ceded in 1780 to the bakers (pistori) and was closed by Napoleon in the early nineteenth century. The Birth of the Virgin entered the Accademia in 1866 with the bequest of Conte Guglielmo Lochis.
St Roch and a Donor. Wood, 104 x 34.
This panel is believed to have come from an altarpiece which Ridolfi (1648) records in the Venetian church of Santa Fosca. The altarpiece was of unusual construction, consisting of five long panels beneath an image of the Virgin. Two other panels from the altarpiece, also formerly in the collection of Conte Lochis at Bergamo, are in the Correr Museum, Venice, and the Strossmeyer Gallery, Zagreb. The Zagreb panel bears the date 1514. The donor (who appears at the feet of St Roch, holding a breviary and wearing the black habit of an apostolic protonotary) must be Pietro Lippomano, who built the family chapel in Santa Fosca.
Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan. Wood, 68 x 51.
Leonardo Loredan, born in 1436, was Doge from 1501 to 1521. He is shown in right profile, which was traditional for Doges' portraits. (The famous portrait of Doge Loredan by Giovanni Bellini (National Gallery, London) is unusual in representing him almost full-face.) The Bergamo picture is probably an early copy of a portrait from life; the original may have been an official portrait painted by Carpaccio for the Doge's Palace. Acquired by Guglielmo Lochis from a painter, restorer and dealer called Antonio Fidanza. Several other versions are known. There is one in the Correr Museum at Venice and another in a private Italian collection. One, formerly at Dresden, was destroyed in 1945.
*Laying-out of Christ. Canvas, 145 x 185.
Christ, laid out on a marble table, is surrounded by human skulls and bones thrown up by the earthquake. The old man sitting against a tree is probably Job. On the right, the two Maries and St John are overcome by grief. On the left, two men in Oriental costume are opening the rock tomb and Joseph of Arimathea is preparing for the cleansing of the body. This devotional masterpiece is probably a fairly late work (after 1505?). First recorded in 1627 (with an attribution to Mantegna) in the collection of Roberto Canonici at Ferrara. The Meditation of the Passion, now in New York, was in the same collection (and also had a forged Mantegna signature). It is possible that they originally formed part of the same ensemble (though the New York picture is much smaller). The presence of Job in both paintings suggests that they could have been painted for the Scuola di San Giobbe, which was decorated in 1504. Acquired by the Berlin Museum in 1905.
Consecration of St Stephen. Canvas, 148 x 231.
St Peter lays his hands on Stephen, who was one of seven deacons appointed by the Apostles to look after the distribution of alms to the faithful (Acts of the Apostles: vi, 9-10). At the right edge is a pilgrim's hat and staff, with a paper scroll affixed bearing Carpaccio's signature and the date 1511. The picture was one of a cycle of four (originally five) canvases from the Scuola di Santa Stefano depicting episodes from the life of the saint. The Scuola, which was located next to the Augustinian monastery of Santo Stefano, was suppressed in 1806 by the French and its pictures dispersed. The Disputation of St Stephen is in Milan, St Stephen Preaching in Paris, and the Martyrdom of St Stephen in Stuttgart; the Trial of St Stephen is now lost (though its composition is recorded in a pen and ink study or copy in the Uffizi). The Consecration of St Stephen entered the Berlin Museum in 1821 with the Solly collection. The cycle was executed from 1511 to 1520 by Carpaccio with much help from his studio (including perhaps Francesco Bissolo who painted the altarpiece for the chapel of the Scuola).
Boston. Museum of Fine Arts.
Portraits of a Man and Woman. Wood, each 41 x 31.
The senatorial man (shown three-quarter face, looking left) wears a red tunic buttoned to the throat and a black cap. His matronly wife (facing right) has her hair dressed in a coil with a fringe on her forehead, and wears a sumptuous dress with a low-cut bodice decorated with pearls and sleeves of reddish brown brocade. The pair of portraits are said to have come from a private collection at Taranto. By 1911 they had passed into the joint ownership of the dealers Ercole Canessa of Paris and Colnaghi of London. They were published as works of Carpaccio in 1913 (by Tancred Borenius in the Burlington Magazine). Acquired by the Boston Museum for $10,000 in 1917 from Kleinberger Galleries. The attribution has been usually accepted (though Berenson (1957 Lists) classed both portraits as works of a close follower).
Carzago Calvagese (Brescia). Fondazione Sorlini.
‘Salvator Mundi’. Wood, 70 x 68.
The four figures surrounding Christ have no identifying attributes but are generally assumed to be the Evangelists. The painting, which is authentically signed on the parapet, shows strongly the influence of Antonello da Messina and is often regarded as Carpaccio’s earliest surviving work. First recorded in Venice at the end of the nineteenth century, it was for some years in the collection of Thomas Brocklebank in England. By 1946 it had passed into the hands of the famous Florentine dealer Alessandro Contini Bonacossi. It was excluded from the Contini Bonacossi donation to the Italian State and sold to Stanley Moss, the New York poet, publisher and art collector. Acquired in 2009 by the Sorlini Foundation (whose collection can be visited on request).
Chioggia. San Domenico.
Saint Paul. Canvas, 190 x 134.
An altarpiece with unusual and intense devotional symbolism. St Paul stands in a flowery meadow contemplating a crucifix that pierces his heart like a dagger. The open book in his left hand is inscribed with words from the Epistle to the Galatians: 'I bear on my body the marks of Jesus'. One of Carpaccio’s last works, signed and dated 1520 on the piece of folded paper in the bottom left corner. It stands over an altar in the left nave. It is first recorded in the church only in 1819 and was possibly transferred there from San Domenico di Castello at Venice (demolished in Napoleonic times).
Denver. Art Museum.
Portrait of a Lady. Wood, 43 x 31.
The woman, a stately matron in early middle age, is shown three-quarter view against a backdrop of red cloth. She is expensively dressed in a gown (camora) of dark reddish brown, trimmed with gold ribbon and decorated along the neckline with large pearls. One of very few portraits still generally accepted as by Carpaccio. It probably dates from the late 1490s or early 1500s, when Venetian female portraits were still quite rare. It has been identified sometimes with a portrait painted by Carpaccio of the celebrated Tuscan poetess Girolamo Corsi Ramos (born about 1450), which was praised by the poetess herself in a sonnet for its ability ‘to make me look as if I were about to speak’. However, apart from the book the sitter holds (which could as well allude to her piety as to a literary vocation), there is no evidence to support this identification. The Denver portrait was formerly in collections in Milan, Belgium, Berlin and London. Acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1948 and given to the museum in 1954.
Death of the Virgin. 242 x 147.
According to the Golden Legend, the twelve Apostles were miraculously assembled on the occasion of the Virgin's death. Christ appeared to receive her soul, which is represented here as a naked child in prayer. From the baptistery of the church of Santa Maria del Vado, Ferrara, where it remained until 1836. Signed and dated 1508. The composition follows Byzantine models. It is largely repeated in the Death of the Virgin from the Scuola degli Albanese (now in the Ca d’Oro, Venice).
Halberdiers. Wood, 68 x 42.
A fragment from a large picture. The subject could have been the Finding of the True Cross or the Crucifixion (a soldier sits on what might be the stem of a cross lying on the ground). Acquired in 1882 for 11,500 lire from the collection of Isabella Bianciardi-Pini.
Madonna with Reading Child and Infant St John. Wood, 69 x 54.
The Virgin, almost in profile, adores the Child, who is seated on the marble parapet reading an illuminated book. The infant Baptist, holding a tiny cross, points to the Christ Child as the Messiah. Signed on the parapet. An early work, generally dated around 1490. Formerly in the Pereire collection, Paris, and the von Sickingen collection, Vienna; acquired in 1872. There is a similar painting (considerably damaged) in the Correr Museum, Venice.
Koper (Capodistria, Slovenia). Museum.
Presentation of Christ in the Temple; Massacre of the Innocents. Canvas, 400 x 112/143.
The last documented works by Carpaccio, dated 1523. Now joined together, they originally formed the two sides of the right-hand door of the organ in Capodistria Cathedral. The two canvases from the left-hand door are said to have been taken from the Cathedral in 1803 and sent to Vienna. They are now lost. Previously very dirty and dark, the pictures were restored in 2015. They are composed largely of elements repeated from earlier works of Carpaccio. Most obviously, the main figures in the Presentation are taken from those in the altarpiece painted in 1510 for the Venetian church of San Giobbe (now in the Accademia).
Koper (Capodistria, Slovenia). Cathedral.
Altarpiece. Canvas, 350 x 240.
The Virgin is enthroned between Saints Jerome, Peter and Roch (right), and Sebastian, Nazarius (patron saint of Capodistria, with a model of the city) and another in armour (George?). Signed and dated 1516. The picture harks back to the great Sacre Conversazioni of Giovanni Bellini. Several of the saints are based on figures in Bellini’s altarpieces, while the angel musician with the lute is repeated from Carpaccio’s own Presentation of 1510 (Accademia, Venice). The frame (some fragments of which are still in the church) bore the coats-of-arms of the Cappello and Contarini families. The picture is likely to have been commissioned by Sebastiano Contarini, who was podestà of Capodistria from January 1515 to April 1518. Until 1740, it stood over an altar dedicated to St Roch. It is now located in the right transept. An inscription records a restoration in 1839 by the local painter Cosroe Dusi.
Lisbon. Gulbenkian Foundation.
Adoration of the Child with Two Donors. Wood, 90 x 134.
Signed and dated 1505 on the cartellino. The finely-dressed husband and wife kneeling on the right have not been identified. The picture is said to have been sold in the early nineteenth century by the Balbi family of Genoa. In the early twentieth century it was in the collection of Baron Berwick of London. Acquired by Calouste Gulbenkian in 1924 from Colnaghi.
London. National Gallery.
Departure of Ceyx. Wood, 75 x 89.
The subject, once described as the Landing of Caterina Cornaro at Cyprus and then as St Ursula taking Leave of Her Father, was identified in 1966 by Poskorny. Alcyone says a tearful farewell to her husband, Ceyx, who is going to consult the oracle at Claros. Ceyx perished in a shipwreck, and both Alcyone and Ceyx were transformed by the Gods into sea birds. Another panel, representing the transformation of Alcyone, is at Philadelphia. The two panels probably decorated a cassone or piece of furniture. Acquired from the Manfrin collection, Venice, in about 1862 by Sir Austin Henry Layard, whose Italian pictures were exhibited in the Palazzo Cappello on the Grand Canal until his widow's death in 1912 and incorporated into the National Gallery in 1916.
Los Angeles. J. P. Getty Museum.
*Hunting on the Lagoon. Wood, 75 x 64.
Archers in shallow-bottomed boats (fisolere) are using arci da balote – bows that shoot small terracotta balls rather than arrows – to hunt water fowl. The corpses of white ducks or geese are draped over the bow of the boat on the left. The hunters also appear to be using trained cormorants to catch and retrieve fish from the lagoon; the long-necked black birds are perched on the gunwales.
The panel is the top right-hand section of a much larger picture. As first suggested by Giles Robertson in 1963, the so-called Two Courtesans in the Correr Museum, Venice, was the bottom right-hand section. (The lower part of the stem of the lily, lower left, can be seen in the upper left-hand corner of the Correr painting in a vase on a balcony overlooking the lagoon.) On the back of the Getty fragment is a trompe l’oeil painting of letters strung on a ribbon; the name ‘Mocenigo’ is visible on one of the letters. The original panel probably served as a door or shutter. It had already been divided by 1776, when the Getty fragment appears (with its current dimensions) in an inventory of the collections of the heirs of the Venetian philosopher and connoisseur Count Francesco Algarotti. By the early nineteenth century, it had passed – either by purchase or looting – Into the enormous collection in Rome of Cardinal Joseph Fesch, Napoleon's uncle. After Fesch's death, it was acquired by another voracious collector, the Marchese Gian Pietro Campana. After the Allied liberation of Rome in 1944, it was discovered by the architect Andrea Busiri Vici in a shop on the Via di Campo Mazio. Acquired by the Getty Museum in 1979.
Madrid. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.
*Portrait of a Knight. Canvas, 219 x 152.
Signed on the tree in the foreground. Presumably painted after 1510 as the first three letters of the date are MDX; other letters may be missing. The picture is thought to be the earliest surviving full-length portrait in Italian painting (preceding Moretto’s Nobleman of 1526 in London). On the cartellino in the left foreground, behind the ermine, is inscribed in Latin: ‘Better die than be sullied’. This was the motto of the Neapolitan Order of the Ermine, founded by Ferdinand I, King of Naples, and the young knight is often assumed to have been a member of the Order. He has been variously identified as Ferdinand II of Aragon (grandson of Ferdinand I), Francesco Maria della Rovere (the young Duke of Urbino, whose grandfather, Federigo da Montefeltro, was one of the Order’s founding members) and Antonio da Montefeltro (Federigo's illegitimate son, who died in 1508). Other theories of the knight's identity have, however, rejected the association with the Order of the Ermine. The most recent suggestion (made in 2013 by Augusto Gentili) identifies the knight as a posthumous portrait of the Venetian captain Marco Gabriel, who heroically defended the Greek city of Modone (modern-day Methoni) against the Turks and was beheaded at Constantinople in 1501. The mounted figure in the background, riding with a hound by an inn with the sign of a galloping horse, is presumably the young knight’s page, carrying his lance and wearing his helmet.
The picture is remarkable for its meticulous depiction of flora and fauna. No fewer than twenty-one different varieties of flower, plant and tree have been identified, and there are around a dozen different species of bird. The symbolism has been much discussed. The lily and iris in the foreground might, like the white ermine, signify purity of heart. The three well-camouflaged frogs or toads, squatting by the spring on the left, may have connotations of sin or evil. In the sky overhead, a heron is caught by a falcon. A peacock (perhaps a symbol of immortality) perches on the wall above the page's head. Off to the right, brown and white rabbits frolic on the grass and, on the banks of the river, a vulture devours its prey and a stag is seen from the rear with its ears pricked. A grey goose swims in a little inlet, a white crane, heron or egret waits for a fish, and a wader perches on a pole. On a rooftop high on the left, a tiny stork is shown nesting with its brood.
The picture is first recorded only at the end of the nineteenth century, when it was in the collection of Vernon Wentworth at Wentworth Castle, Yorkshire. (Carpaccio’s signature was then overpainted and the picture was attributed to Dürer on the strength of a false monogram.) It was sold at Christie’s in November 1919 as St Eustace by Carpaccio, and was later in the New York collection of the German-born investment banker Otto Hermann Kahn of New York. Acquired by Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza in 1935. Previously in poor condition, the painting was restored in 1958 (when the signature, date and Latin inscription were discovered). Restored again in 2022.
Mamiano. Fondazione Magnani-Rocca.
Dead Christ supported by Two Angels. Wood, 62 x 62.
The composition is clearly based on Giovanni Bellini’s Pietàs. Formerly in the Serristori collection, Florence.
*Presentation of the Virgin. Canvas, 137 x 130.
The creature held on a leash by the boy in the foreground is often identified as a deer but may rather be intended for a unicorn, the symbol of virginity. The rabbit, bottom right, symbolises Mary's (sinless) fertility. This picture and the Marriage (also in the Brera) were part of the cycle painted around 1502-10 for the Scuola degli Albanesi. The six scenes from the life of the Virgin were originally displayed along one wall of the chapel. The Scuola was closed and its pictures requisitioned in 1811. The other paintings are now at Bergamo and Venice (Ca d’Oro). All six pictures are usually considered to have been designed by Carpaccio but executed largely by assistants. The composition of the Presentation is closely related to that of Cima’s picture of the same subject at Dresden.
Marriage of the Virgin. Canvas, 140 x 130.
The subject, like that of the Presentation of the Virgin, is not in the Bible but appears in several apocryphal Gospels and was popularised by the medieval Golden Legend. Joseph climbs the temple steps with a flowering stick, signifying his selection by heaven. On the right, rejected suitors break their bare sticks. The marble-clad interior recalls that of the Venetian church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli (built by the Lombardo workshop between 1481 and 1489).
Disputation of St Stephen. Canvas, 147 x 172.
Stephen debates with Jews from the Synagogue of the Libertines (or freed slaves) (Acts of the Apostles: vi, 9-10). The synagogue is represented as a Renaissance loggia. The background monuments include a curious pointed pyramid and an equestrian statue resembling Verrocchio's Bartolomeo Colleoni. Signed and dated 1514 on the bases of the columns. From the Scuola di Santo Stefano. The row of men in black and red robes, standing at the back and sides of the temple, are presumably members of the confraternity – which was one of the oldest in Venice. (Many members were wool manufacturers.) Other pictures from the same series are at Berlin, Paris and Stuttgart.
New Orleans. Museum of Art.
Salvator Mundi. Wood (transferred to masonite), 58 x 47.
Christ points to Heaven with his right hand and rests his left hand on a crystal globe. The picture is usually dated around 1508 on account of a resemblance to the Christ in the upper part of the Ferrara Death of the Virgin, which is signed and dated that year. Acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1937 from the dealer Contini Bonacossi, and at the New Orleans museum since 1938. Transferred to a new, synthetic panel in 1952, and much damaged and restored. The condition makes it hard to say if the picture is by Carpaccio, from his studio or by a follower. Another version, almost identical, was formerly in a private collection at Bologna.
New York. Metropolitan Museum.
*Meditation on the Passion. Wood, 71 x 87.
On the right, the prophet Job (formerly identified as Isaiah or Onophrius) sits on a stone block inscribed in Hebrew with the quotation (from Job, 19:25) ‘I know my Redeemer liveth’. A human skull and bones rest on the ground beneath his crossed legs. On the left, St Jerome, identified by his lion, sits on a boulder. His rosary appears to be made of human vertebrae. In the centre, the dead Christ is slumped on a ruined throne, the crown of thorns resting against the base. The Hebrew letters inscribed on the back of the throne include the phase ‘with a cry, Israel’. The birds and animals probably have symbolic significance. The goldfinch, perched on the top of the throne, is a familiar symbol of Christ’s Passion. The red parrot, to the right of the throne, is more unusual, but may also allude to Christ's Passion, while the bird flying up above Christ's head may signify his soul or the Resurrection. Stags are associated with Christ and leopards with sin and savagery. In the barren landscape on the left, symbolising death, a leopard devours a stag. In the lush landscape on the right, symbolising life, another stag escapes a pursuing leopard. At the right edge are seen a pair of rabbits (associated with Easter and the Resurrection) and a weasel (associated with Christ because of its reputation for killing snakes).
The picture was once ascribed to Mantegna on the strength of a forged signature, which was removed in 1945 when Carpaccio’s original one (visible only by infrared photography) was discovered. First recorded (as a work of Mantegna) in 1632 in an inventory of the collection of Roberto Canonici of Ferrara. It remained with the Canonici family until the mid-nineteenth century and then came to England. It was sold for £12,950 at Christie’s in 1911 with the estate of Sir William Neville Abdy of London, and was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum the same year. The attribution to Carpaccio was published, around the time of the sale, by Sir Claude Phillips, who also suggested the title Meditation on the Passion. The picture has often been considered an early work of the 1490s, but has recently been dated as late as ‘about 1510’. The presence of Job and St Jerome (who wrote a commentary on the Book of Job) in a painting of the Dead Christ is curious, and it has been conjectured that the picture (though small for an altarpiece) was made for a chapel in the Venetian church of San Giobbe.
Padua. Museo Antoniano.
Madonna enthroned with Six Saints ('Pala di Pirano'). Canvas, 280 x 210.
The saints on the left are Ambrose (formerly called Louis of Toulouse but identified as Ambrose by his birch switch), Peter (with keys) and Francis (with small cross). Those on the right are Anthony of Padua and Clare (both holding lilies), and an armoured saint (formerly called Louis of France but probably George). On the bottom step of the Virgin's throne, a boy angel tunes a lute and another plays a viol. A very late work, signed and dated 1518. The central group of the Virgin and Child with St Francis and St Anthony seems to be derived from an altarpiece by Alvise Vivarini at Treviso, while the other saints repeat figures from earlier pictures by Carpaccio. From the church of San Francesco in Pirano (Piran in Slovenia). The picture was commissioned by the Franciscan friars for the main altar of the church and delivered in 1519. It was among many works of art from churches and museums in Italian Istria (Pirano, Capodistria and Isola) that were evacuated to Italy during the Second World War. It passed from Trieste to the Villa Manin at Passariano and then to the Basilica of Sant'Antonio at Padua. The Slovenian authorities have petitioned for its return.
St Stephen Preaching. Canvas, 152 x 195.
Stephen delivers his long speech on Jewish history to the Sanhedrin (Acts of the Apostles: vii, 1-53). The youthful saint strikes an orator’s pose as he stands on a crumbling Roman pedestal. His cosmopolitan audience includes Byzantine Greeks and Christian pilgrims, as well as men and women in Islamic (Ottoman and Mamluk) costume. A popular German book, Pilgrimages to the Holy Land, published in 1486 with illustrations by Erhard Reuwich, seems to have been used by Carpaccio as a source of reference for the architecture and costumes of the Holy Land. (The Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock are shown almost exactly as in Reuwich’s woodcut View of Jerusalem.) The picture is from the cycle of four (originally five) canvases painted by Carpaccio in 1511-20 for the upper hall (albergo) of the Scuola di Santo Stefano. The other three paintings are in Berlin, Milan and Stuttgart. According to Zanetti (1771), the frame of the Louvre picture bore the date 1514. Acquired in Milan in 1813.
Paris. Musée Jacquemart-André.
The Visit of Hippolyta to Theseus. Wood, 102 x 145.
This charming picture is believed to illustrate an episode from Boccaccio’s fourteenth-century epic poem on the story of Theseus (Teseida). The parade of knights is led by Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, while Theseus, King of Athens (old and bearded and looking rather like a doge), watches from the grandstand. The scribe on the left alludes to the correspondence between Theseus and Hippolyta.
Pasadena. Norton Simon Museum.
Portrait of a Man. Wood, 36 x 27.
The youngish man has very bushy brown hair, which springs out from the sides of a black cap, and wears a black tunic slashed with white. This striking portrait, previously ascribed to Giovanni Bellini or to Rocco Marconi, is of uncertain attribution. It once belonged to the British Prime Minister William Gladstone, and remained in private London collections until 1916, when it was sold by the art historian Robert Langton Douglas to Knoedler Galleries, who shipped it across the Atlantic. It was bought in 1921 by L. Schiff Mortimer as a work of Rocco Marconi (Berenson’s attribution) and then sold in 1938 to Duveen Brothers with the old attribution to Giovanni Bellini. It remained with Duveen until 1965, when it was acquired by the Norton Simon Foundation.
Philadelphia. Museum of Art (J. G. Johnson Collection).
Metamorphosis of Alcyone. Wood, 70 x 126.
Probably a cassone panel. Very damaged: a restoration to remove repaint has reduced the picture almost to its original drawing. The subject is from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Alcyone is transformed by the Gods into a bird, the halcyon, as she rushes into the sea towards her drowned husband Ceyx. Her hands are beginning to be covered with feathers. Ceyx, too, was turned into a bird, enabling the couple to continue their married life. They are shown as kingfishers on the extreme left. Another panel from the same series, showing the departure of Ceyx for the oracle at Claros, is in the National Gallery, London. The Alcyone, formerly in John Ruskin’s collection at Brantwood, was acquired by Johnson by 1904.
Pozzale (2 km above Pieve di Cadore). San Tommaso.
Polyptych. Canvas, 180 x 210.
Unusually, the polyptych is painted on a single canvas. The Christ Child lies across the lap of the praying Virgin. A boy angel sits below the throne playing a triangle. St Thomas (with the Virgin's girdle dangling from his wrist) and St Dionysius (Denys or Dennis), Bishop of Paris, stand at the sides, while the plague saints Roch and Sebastian are shown, bust-length, in the upper corners. Dated 1519 (or 1518) on the sheet of paper propped against the step. It is usual to ascribe the execution mainly to Carpaccio's workshop. Damaged by fire in 1844 and in poor condition. The picture has been on loan to the Seminario Vescovile at Belluno.
Rome. Galleria Borghese.
Portrait of a Woman. Wood, 30 x 24.
The young woman is often called a courtesan because of her off-the-shoulder gown and directness of her gaze, but she may be an entirely respectable bride-to-be or newly-wed. She wears a pearl necklace (a symbol of purity) and a triple string of silver links. Her reddish brown hair is elaborately dressed: a length of hair (or hair piece) is entwined with white ribbon and coiled at the top of the head. This delightful (though somewhat damaged) little portrait was attributed to Carpaccio in 1916 by the gallery director Giulio Cantalamessa (Bollettino d’Arte). It may date from the late 1490s.
Sirtori (Lombardy). Santi Nabore e Felice.
God the Father. Canvas, 140 x 180.
Presumably a fragment cut from the top of an altarpiece. Given to the church in 1866 by Maria Manara, mother of the Risorgimento patriot Luciano Manara. Traditionally ascribed to Luca Signorelli (whose false signature appears near God the Father's right hand). Attributed to Carpaccio, as a late work, after restoration in 2010.
Martyrdom of St Stephen. Canvas, 149 x 170.
The saint, battered by stones, kneels to pray for his killers (Acts of the Apostles: vii, 58-60). The seated figure in the bottom left-hand corner, looking after the executioners’ clothes, is probably Saul (the future St Paul). The date 1520 was once visible on the cartellino at the bottom of the painting. This is the last of the four (originally five) canvases painted for the Scuola di Santo Stefano. The execution seems to have been left largely to assistants. From the Venetian Barbini-Breganze collection, which was presented by King Wilhelm of Württemberg to the Stuttgart Museum in 1852.
St Thomas in Glory. Canvas, 264 x 171.
Thomas Aquinas, the Dominican friar and great theologian, is enthroned with a open book on the table in front of him. The Virgin and Child appear overhead in a mandorla-like ring of clouds. Mark, Venice's patron saint, stands on the left with his Gospel. St Louis of Toulouse, wearing a cope embroidered with Angevin fleurs-de-lis, is on the right. The picture was commissioned by Tommaso Licinio of Murano for the Dominican church of San Pietro Martire there. Tommaso was the owner of a glass factory called Al Dragone. His young son Alvise is shown kneeling by St Louis (Alvise is Venetian for Louis). Signed and dated 1507. Removed from the church in 1807 during the French occupation. Another of the nearly 250 Italian paintings acquired by the museum in 1852 with the Barbini-Breganze collection.
Tucson. University of Arizona Art Museum.
Madonna and Child and Two Saints. Wood, 50 x 80.
Neither saint – one an old man with a very long and full grey beard and the other a youngish woman – has been satisfactorily identified. Probably a comparatively late work (around 1510-20), executed with studio help. From the collection of Baron Suardi of Bergamo. Acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1933 from the dealer Contini Bonacossi, and allotted to Arizona University in 1957.
Tulsa (Oklahoma). Philbrook Art Center.
Four panels of Saints. Wood, each 112 x 39.
The saints are John the Baptist (with a tiny lamb resting on his book), Peter Martyr (a dagger in his heart and cleaver in his skull), Stephen (dressed as a deacon and with a stone embedded in his head) and a bishop blessing (Augustine?). The four panels probably belonged to a polyptych that included another panel (or statue) in the centre. They were acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1935; three were formerly in the Foresti collection, Milan, and one (St Peter Martyr) in the Contini Bonacossi collection, Florence.
Udine. Museo Civico.
Blood of the Redeemer. Canvas, 162 x 163.
Christ’s blood flows from the wounds in his hands and side into a Eucharistic chalice. Two cherubs hold up a damask cloth of honour, and four angels at the sides hold instruments of the Passion (the spear, nails, scourge and sponge). In the landscape on the right, a leopard pounces on a deer. Udine's castle hill might be represented on the right. Signed and dated 1496 on a cartellino attached to the plinth on which Christ stands. The mystic subject is rare but not unprecedented: there are earlier treatments of it by Giovanni Bellini (National Gallery, London), Carlo Crivelli (Poldi Pezzoli Museum, Milan) and Antonio Vivarini and Giovanni d'Alemagna (on the back of a polypytch in the church of San Zaccaria at Venice). Carpaccio's painting is much larger than the other versions of the subject (which are very small panels intended for private devotion or for the decoration of tabernacle or reliquary doors). It is first recorded only in 1773, when it was hanging in the sacristy of the Dominican church of San Pietro Martire at Udine. After the church was closed in Napoleonic times, the picture was removed to the Accademia at Venice. Taken to Vienna in 1838, but returned in 1919 as part of Austrian reparations after the First World War. On loan to the Udine museum since 1924. Restored in 2006.
*Healing of a Madman. Canvas, 365 x 389.
High up on the left, Francesco Querini, Patriarch of Grado, is seen in the loggia of his palazzo at San Silvestro casting out the evil spirit from a madman by holding out the relic of the True Cross. The old wooden Rialto Bridge, with a drawbridge in the centre to allow through tall ships, spans the Grand Canal, which is crowded with gondolas. Beyond it, to the right, stands the old Fondaco dei Tedeschi (burnt down in 1505). Two youths in the foreground, standing with their backs to the spectator, are extravagantly dressed in Calza costume. (The more prominent of the two is reproduced by Cesare Vecellio in his famous book on Venetian costume (1590).) The picture is one of a cycle of nine or ten canvases illustrating miracles attributed to the relic of the True Cross, which is still preserved in the Scuola di San Giovanni Evangelista (on Calle del Magazzen, near the Frari). The cycle was painted by various artists for the Hall of the Scuola. Eight of the canvases (by Gentile Bellini, Giovanni Mansueti, Lazzaro Bastiani, Benedetto Diana and Carpaccio) are in the Accademia. One or possibly two pictures – by Perugino and/or Marescalco (Giovanni Buonconsiglio) – are lost. The miracle depicted in Carpaccio’s canvas took place in 1494, and the picture was probably painted in the same year or shortly after. A section of canvas was cut in 1544 from the bottom left edge to accommodate a new door. The cut was crudely restored in the seventeenth century, when the picture was moved to a new room.
Presentation of the Infant Christ in the Temple. Wood, 421 x 236.
The subject is from Luke's Gospel (2: 22-24). The Virgin presents the baby to the elderly Simeon (shown in the robes of a Christian priest). The doves held by her female attendant were part of the ritual purification required by Mosaic law. The three boy angels seated below play a storto (crumhorn), lute and viol. (The detail of the lute-player is much reproduced.) This large picture was painted for the altar of the Sanudo family (dedicated to the Presentation of the Virgin) in the church of San Giobbe. The original marble frame with the arms of the Sanudo family is still in situ (third altar on the right). Signed and dated 1510. The picture repeats many of the features (the Renaissance niche, the mosaic semi-dome, the boy musicians) of Giovanni Bellini’s famous San Giobbe Altarpiece, painted almost twenty-five years earlier for the altar immediately to the right.
The Ten Thousand Crucified Martyrs of Mount Ararat. Canvas, 307 x 205.
The purely mythical St Acacius was crucified on Mount Ararat (in Armenia) with ten thousand Roman soldiers who had converted to Christianity. Just before their death, Acacius is said to have asked that whoever venerated their memory should enjoy good health; for this reason, the martyrs were invoked for protection against disease. It has been suggested that the depiction of the persecutors as an alliance of Romans and Muslims refers to the threats to Venice from the Holy Roman Emperor (Maximilian I) and the Ottomans. The picture was painted for the altar of the Ottoboni family in the church of Sant’Antonio di Castello (which was demolished in 1807 when the Giardini Pubblici were laid out by order of Napoleon). It was commissioned as a thank-offering for the intercession of the Ten Thousand on behalf of the plague-stricken of Sant’Antonio. Signed and dated 1515. Restored in 2006. An exploratory red chalk study for the painting is preserved at Washington.
*Vision of Prior Ottoboni. Canvas, 121 x 174.
Also from the church of Sant’Antonio di Castello. The picture depicts a vision had by Francesco Antonio Ottoboni, prior of the convent of Sant’Antonio, who fell asleep while praying for deliverance from the plague. In his dream, the doors of the church spontaneously opened, St Peter entered and was followed by a procession of the ten thousand martyrs of Mount Ararat bearing crosses. Prior Ottoboni, a small figure in a white habit, stands before the high altar on the exteme left. St Peter, shown wearing a papal triple tiara, blesses the martyrs as they file past. The picture gives an interesting view of the interior of the demolished church. Two Gothic polyptychs and a Renaissance altarpiece in a stone tabernacle occupy the bays of the nave. The model ships hanging from the roof are votive offerings by sailors for divine protection at sea. Other ex votos include banners, flags, medals, candles and representations of body parts. The picture must date from about 1512, when the Ottoboni altar was consecrated. Although Boschini (1664) mentions the picture as a work of Carpaccio, the attribution has sometimes been doubted. Restored in 2006.
Meeting of Joachim and Anne. Wood, 185 x 171.
The parents of the Virgin are shown embracing at the Golden Gate outside the walls of Jerusalem. According to apocryphal tradition, it was at this meeting that the Virgin was miraculously conceived. St Louis of France (King Louis IX) and St Liberata of Como (previously identified as St Ursula) are spectators. In the background, Joachim is turned away from the temple as a childless man accursed of God. A late work, signed and dated 1515, and probably executed largely by Carpaccio’s studio. From the church of San Francesco at Treviso, where it hung over the altar of Sant’Anna. Removed from the church in 1810, during the Napoleonic suppressions.
Room XXI: Legend of St Ursula.
The famous cycle of eight narrative canvases and an altarpiece was painted in the 1490s for the chapel of the destroyed Scuola di Sant’Orsola. The Scuola, a devotional and philanthropic institution for the support and education of orphan girls, was located by the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo. There are many versions of the St Ursula legend, but Carpaccio seems to have relied on the account in the Golden Legend by Jacopo da Varazze, published in Venice in an Italian translation in 1475. Ursula, daughter of Maurus, the Christian King of Brittany, agreed to marry the son of the pagan King of England, on condition that the prince and his court were baptised and she was allowed to make a pilgrimage to Rome. On the way home, she and her eleven thousand virgin attendants were slaughtered during the siege of Cologne.
The nine canvases were taken to the Accademia in 1812, after the Napoleonic suppressions, but not exhibited as a unified cycle until 1895. The way in which they are currently displayed, running clockwise like a frieze around a single room, corresponds to their original arrangement. Some canvases are fairly well preserved, while others are severely damaged. There have been many restorations. The first was as early as 1521, when an unnamed artist 'painted the canvases in various places where they were broken'. There was a major restoration in 1981-85, when all the canvases were lined and mounted on wooden stretchers. A new conservation campaign was underway from 2013 and completed in 2019.
**Arrival of the English Ambassadors. Canvas, 275 x 589.
In the open loggia in the centre, the English ambassadors ask the King of Brittany, flanked by four of his councillors, to give the hand of his daughter Ursula to the English Prince. In the adjoining chamber on the right, Ursula discusses the marriage proposal with her father. She ticks off the conditions on her fingers: the Prince should be baptised and accompany her on a pilgrimage to Rome with a retinue of ten noble virgins, each of whom would occupy a ship with a further thousand virgins on board. Signed, centre bottom. The rectangular gap at the bottom edge accommodated a doorway.
*The Ambassadors Depart. Canvas, 280 x 253.
The ambassadors take their leave of the King of Brittany. The scene is set in sumptuous Chancellery, decorated with coloured marbles and with a huge candelabrum hanging from the high ceiling. A member of the court dictates to a scribe a missive to the King of England setting out the marriage conditions. Through the doorway on the right, there is a glimpse of blue sky at the end of a long corridor with a stairway above. Signed, bottom left.
**The Ambassadors Return. Canvas, 297 x 527.
The disembarking ambassadors are welcomed by a seated Scalco (steward with a club) and a boy playing a fiddle (rebec). The King of England and his court await their news in an octagonal pavilion. The centre background is dominated by a magnificent Renaissance palazzo, while the towers on the left resemble those of the Venice Arsenal. A cargo vessel (cocca) and galley are moored on the canal. Signed, bottom left. The first three canvases in the cycle, illustrating the comings and goings of the English ambassadors, are undated but were probably the last to be painted.
**Meeting of the Betrothed Couple and the Pilgrims’ Departure. Canvas, 280 x 611.
This, the longest canvas of the series, combines several episodes from the story. The young English Prince kneels to take leave of his father (left). He arrives in Brittany and meets Ursula for the first time (right of centre). The Prince and Princess kneel to take leave of Ursula’s parents (far right). To the accompaniment of trumpets from a marble balcony, the young couple and the retinue of virgins file towards the longboat that will ferry them to the waiting ships (right distance). The two castles on the left have been identified as the Venetian fortresses at Rhodes and Candia. Signed and dated 1495 on the flagpole’s marble base. The scorpion on the flag probably refers to the Feast of St Ursula on 21 October, when the sun enters the Sign of the Scorpion.
*Dream of St Ursula. Canvas, 274 x 267.
An angel appears to the sleeping Princess to tell her of her mission and martyrdom. Light floods into the high-ceilinged bedroom, which is full of meticulously described objects and furniture (wooden clogs placed beside the four-poster bed and Ursula’s crown laid on a bench at its foot; a little dog lying awake; a holy image on the wall illuminated by a smoking candle and, below it, a holy water pot and sprinkler hanging from a nail; an open book and hourglass resting on the table; pots of carnations and myrtle on the widow ledge; and gilded statuettes of Hercules and Venus over the doors). Signed and dated 1495 at the foot of the bed. The most damaged canvas in the cycle, trimmed on all four sides and much repainted. John Ruskin became obsessed with the picture, making a copy in watercolour (now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) and writing about it in Fors Clavigera (1872-6). Amy Lowell, the American poet, wrote a sonnet on it (included in A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass, 1912). There is a preparatory sketch in the Uffizi.
*The Pilgrims arrive in Rome. Canvas, 281 x 307.
St Ursula and the English Prince, followed by the retinue of virgins, kneel before Pope Cyriacus outside the walls of Rome. The prominent figure, dressed in senatorial red, standing next to the Pope has been identified as the eminent humanist scholar Ermolao Barbaro, who was Venetian ambassador to the Vatican. The great castle on the right is the Castel Sant’Angelo. Signed but undated.
*Arrival at Cologne. Canvas, 280 x 255.
As their ship docks at Cologne on the return journey, Ursula and Pope Cyriacus lean over the side to speak to a boatman. In the right foreground, a message is read betraying the arrival of the Christian pilgrims to the Huns, who were besieging the city. Signed and dated September 1490 (bottom left) and the earliest in the series.
*Martyrdom and Funeral of St Ursula. Canvas, 271 x 561.
The left side of the canvas shows the violent slaughter of the pilgrims by the Huns. Ursula, kneeling in the foreground, awaits the fatal shot from a fair-haired archer drawing his bow. The tiara falls from the head of the Pope, who is slain just behind her. The Hun staring at Ursula as he sheathes or unsheathes his sword is probably Prince Julian, who was suddenly smitten with love for her. The right side shows the saint’s funeral outside Cologne. The mourners include bishops, Dominican friars and members of the Scuola – some undoubtedly portraits. The plinth of the pillar dividing the two scenes is decorated with the arms of Nicolo Loredan and his wife Eugenia Caotorta, and bears the date 1493. Eugenia, who was already dead in 1493, may be portrayed as the donor kneeling on the right.
Apotheosis of St Ursula. Canvas, 481 x 336.
St Ursula, standing on a bundle of palms, is surrounded by angels and welcomed into heaven by God the Father. A great crowd of her fellow virgin martyrs kneel upon the ground. The altarpiece of the chapel. The date 1491 (inscribed on the palm bundle), though not original, is likely to follow an old tradition. However, some critics have argued, on stylistic grounds, that the picture must have been repainted some years later.
Venice. Museo Correr.
*Ladies on a Balcony ('Two Courtesans’). Wood, 95 x 64.
The bottom right-hand section of a much larger composition. The top right-hand section, showing bird-hunting on the Venetian lagoon, is in the Getty Museum, Los Angeles. The popular title seems to date only from the mid-nineteenth century: the décolleté dresses, hair pieces and wedge platform sandals were apparently quite normal for Venetian bourgeois women of fashion, and the picture appears to contain symbols of chastity (the lily, handkerchief, string of pearls) and marital fidelity (the female peacock, the greyhound, the parrot, myrtle, turtledoves). The child playing between the two balusters is presumably the son of one of the women. On the vase of flowers is the escutcheon of the Torelli family, and the picture has been seen as a portrait of two ladies of that family. There were originally hinges on the right-hand side of the panel, suggesting that it could have been used as a decorated window shutter or as a door to a cabinet or small study. From Teodoro Correr’s collection, which was bequeathed to the city of Venice in 1830. John Ruskin helped to popularise the painting, even describing it extravagantly as the best picture in the world (St Mark's Rest (1877-84)).
Saint Peter Martyr. Wood, 105 x 36.
The Dominican saint is depicted, as usual, with book, martyr's palm, dagger in the heart and cleaver in the skull. This vertical panel was part of a polyptych from the church of Santa Fosca in Venice. The polyptych was removed from the church and broken up in Napoleonic times. Other surviving panels are at Bergamo (Saint Roch and a Donor) and Zagreb (Saint Sebastian). The Zabreb panel bears the date 1514.
Portrait of a Man in Red Hat. Wood, 35 x 23.
The unknown man, nearly full-face, wearing a red beretta at an angle over long fairish hair, looks straight ahead with an absent-minded, perhaps contemplative expression. The luminous river landscape is described with almost Flemish precision. This well-known portrait has proved hard to attribute, and is not even certainly a Venetian work. The attribution to Carpaccio (favoured until recently by the museum) was first published by Crowe and Cavalcaselle in their monumental History of Painting in North Italy (1871). Attributions have also been made to Bartolomeo Montagna (Berenson), the young Giovanni Bellini (Fiocco), Lorenzo Lotto (Coletti) and, more recently, 'an anonymous Ferrarese or Bolognese painter' (Augusto Gentili). The panel has been cut down on the left (and possibly also at the bottom) and the surface is much abraded. From Teodoro Correr’s collection.
Pietà. Wood, 61 x 82.
The form of pietà showing the dead Christ supported on the Virgin's lap, rather than standing upright in the tomb, was common in Northern Europe but comparatively rare in Venice. This smallish devotional panel, part of Teodoro Correr's original bequest of 1830, has been attributed to Carpaccio only recently. It was discovered in the museum storerooms by Giorgio Fossaluzza and published by him (2012 Bollettino dei Musei Civici) as an early work of about 1490.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 56 x 42.
This Bellinesque Madonna is another recent discovery from the museum storerooms. It was described as a work of Carpaccio in Teodoro Correr's collection, but was later largely forgotten. Long catalogued simply as a sixteenth-century Venetian work, it was reattributed to Carpaccio in 2011, after restoration had removed extensive repaint and revealed the remains of a signature on the parapet. There is a close resemblance to the Virgin in a sacra conversazione formerly at Berlin (destroyed in 1945). Probably very early (late 1480s).
Madonna with Reading Child and Infant Baptist. Wood, 67 x 53.
Yet another recent discovery from the museum storerooms. This damaged small panel, which is almost identical in composition to a well-known painting at Frankfurt, came from the Servite monastery of San Giacomo alla Giudecca (demolished in 1837). It entered the museum in 1840 as a work of Carpaccio, but in 1957 the museum's conservator, Giovanni Pedrocco, declared it a forgery and it was withdrawn from exhibition. Following restoration in 2003 (which removed thick layers of dicoloured varnish) and X-ray examination (which revealed significant pentimenti), the panel has been reinstated by the museum as an authentic early work and returned to display.
Venice. Palazzo Ducale.
Lion of St Mark. Canvas, 130 x 368.
The winged lion, symbol of Venice's patron saint, stands with its hind legs in the water and its fore-paws on dry ground. In the left background is a view of the Doge's Palace, Campanile and Piazzetta as seen from the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. The Latin inscription on the book reads: ‘Peace unto you, Mark my Evangelist’. The large canvas came from the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi in the Rialto, and was probably intended to adorn the wall of a government office. Signed and dated 1516.
Venice. Ca d’Oro.
Annunciation. Canvas, 130 x 140.
Mary kneels at her desk in a Renaissance loggia, while Gabriel stands outside to deliver his message. God the Father appears in the top left corner to release the dove of the Holy Spirit. Mary's perpetual virginity is symbolised by the wooded garden behind the high crenelated wall and fastened gate (the hortus conclusus of the Song of Solomon 4: 12). The Annunciation is from the cycle of six canvases painted by Carpaccio (and his workshop) for the Scuola degli Albanesi. The inscription states that it was commissioned in 1504 by Zuan de Nicolo – a cloth-shearer who was guardian of the Scuola.
Visitation. Canvas, 128 x 137.
The pregnant cousins, Mary and Elizabeth, embrace. Mary's husband Joseph is on the left, seated on a tree trunk. Elizabeth's husband, the elderly Zacharias (Zechariah), is on the right, leaning on a fragment of ancient stone. At least some of the various animals and birds are likely to have symbolic significance. The white rabbit plausibly symbolises the Virgin's sinless fertility, while the stag can be a symbol of both piety and Christ. The prominent red parrot, a rare bird in Renaissance art, has been variously interpreted as representing the Immaculate Conception, as symbolising the future eloquence of the unborn Baptist or as prefiguring the angelic greeting 'Ave Maria, but it could have been included as merely a decorative or exotic detail. The turbaned figures, the palm trees, the Oriental rugs hanging from the balconies, and the minarets in the left distance might be intended to evoke the Holy Land (though Carpaccio and other Venetian painters frequently incorporated such colourful Oriental details in their narrative paintings). The canvas was another of the six pictures illustrating the Life of the Virgin painted for the Scuola degli Albanesi. It was deposited with the Correr Museum in 1840 and transferred to the Ca d'Oro early this century.
Death of the Virgin. Canvas, 130 x 141.
The canvas largely repeats, in a horizontal format, the composition of the altarpiece at Ferrara. The Virgin on her deathbed is attended by the Apostles and by angels dressed in blue and red. Her soul, in the form of a naked child, is received by Christ seated in glory on a bank of cloud and surrounded by seraphim. The three kneeling figures, robed and holding candles, are presumably governors of the Scuola degli Albanesi. The Annunciation and Death of the Virgin were taken to Austria in 1838 and returned to Venice after the First World War. Other canvases from the cycle are in the Accademia Carrara at Bergamo (Birth of the Virgin) and the Brera in Milan (Presentation of the Virgin and Marriage of the Virgin).
Venice. Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni.
Cycle of Nine Painting.
The Scuola was founded in 1451 by some two hundred Dalmatian immigrants as a confraternity for Dalmatian (Schiavoni) merchants and sailors living in Venice, and all but two of Carpaccio’s nine (originally ten) canvases depict stories from the three protectors of Dalmatians – St George, St Tryphon and St Jerome. The cycle, executed between about 1502 and 1508, is the only one of Carpaccio’s four cycles to have remained in the scuola for which it was painted. However, its location is not original: it was moved in 1551 from the upstairs room to the ground floor. In the present arrangement, the series begins at the left of the entrance and proceeds round the room to the right.
**St George fights the Dragon. Canvas, 136 x 352.
The barren ground is littered with the remains of the dragon’s victims. Lizards, snakes and toads crawl among the skulls, bones and half-eaten corpses. On the left, the anxious population of Selene crowd the city’s walls and towers. The Oriental buildings are freely copied from Erhard Reuwich's woodcuts in Bernhard von Breydenbach's Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam (1486). The city gate is based on one at Cairo and the multi-towered building on the church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. On the right, the princess – the dragon’s intended next victim – prays for deliverance. Restored for the 2022-23 Carpaccio exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Washington. There is another version of the picture in the church of San Giorgio Maggiore.
*Triumph of St George. Canvas, 141 x 360.
The saint beheads the dragon, which he has brought captive into the city square using the princess’s belt as a lead. The coup de grâce is watched on either side by crowds lavishly dressed in Oriental costume. On the left, the King rides forward holding his daughter by the hand. There is a preparatory drawing in the Uffizi.
*St George baptises the King and the Princess. Canvas, 141 x 285.
Dated 1507 on the scroll on the steps. The section in the lower left corner, below the group of musicians, is a later addition to fill a gap left for a doorway. For his depiction of Islamic buildings and costumes in the three St George scenes, Carpaccio is thought to have drawn on woodcuts in Bernard von Breydenbach’s account of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The St George scenes may have been commissioned to mark the donation to the Scuola of a relic of the saint in April 1502. (The relic had been given by the Patriarch of Jerusalem to Paolo Valaresso, a Venetian whose family was of Dalmatian origin.) A fourth scene from St George’s life, showing his martyrdom, is lost.
*St Tryphon subdues the Basilisk. Canvas, 141 x 300.
Tryphon, a shepherd boy or goose herder with the gift of healing, was summoned to Rome by the Emperor Gordion, whose daughter was possessed by a demon. He exorcised the demon – represented by Carpaccio as a Basilisk – and was rewarded by many gifts, which he gave to the poor. The execution may have been delegated largely to an assistant. Much damaged.
Agony in the Garden. Canvas, 141 x 107.
There are some similarities with the paintings of this subject by Mantegna (Tours and London) and Giovanni Bellini (London).
Calling of St Matthew. Canvas, 141 x 115.
Matthew, called by Christ from his post as a tax collector, is represented as a Venetian moneychanger at his banco de tapeto. The scene was previously thought to be set in the walled-in Venetian Ghetto, but the location has been recently identified as the Campo San Giacomo at Rialto. Dated 1502.
*St Jerome and the Lion. Canvas, 141 x 211.
The saint fearlessly receives a lion that came to the monastery with a thorn in its foot. The buildings in the background resemble those that were in the neighbourhood of the Scuola – including the old Scuola building itself, as it appears in Jacopo de’ Barbari’s famous woodcut map of Venice (1500).
*Funeral of St Jerome. Canvas, 141 x 211.
The old Scuola building appears again – this time from the side (on the left with a wooden balcony on the front). Signed and dated 1502, centre bottom. There is a sketch for the composition in the University Library at Uppsala in Sweden.
**Vision of St Augustine. Canvas, 141 x 210.
The ecclesiastical scholar in his study was previously believed to represent St Jerome. However, as recognised in 1958 (by Helen J. Roberts in the Art Bulletin), the subject is actually St Augustine experiencing a vision of St Jerome’s death. According to a letter allegedly written by St Augustine (published in Venice in 1485), he was writing to St Jerome to seek advice on a theological point, when a supernatural light and an ineffable fragrance flooded his cell, and he heard Jerome’s voice telling him of his death and ascent to heaven. The interior of the room is described in impeccable perspective, the orthogonals converging on the saint’s writing hand, poised above the letter he was writing. The profusion of books (cluttering the desk, strewn about the floor, lying on a bench and lining a shelf) attest to Augustine’s great learning, while the large sheet of music resting on the floor in the bottom right-hand corner of the painting and the small music book standing open on the lectern nearby refer to the treatise (De Musica) he wrote on musical theory. The centre of the picture is occupied by a niche with a bronze statue of the Risen Christ and Augustine’s bishop’s mitre and crosier. The little dog, like his master, is transfixed by the miraculous light streaming through the window on the right. The head of St Augustine has been variously claimed to be a portrait of the eminent scholar-prelate Ermolao Barbaro, Cardinal Johannes Bessarion and the Apostolic Legate Angelo Leonino – all of whom had been benefactors of the Scuola. The painting was restored for the 2022-23 Carpaccio exhibition at Washington. There is a preparatory pen and ink drawing for the whole composition in the British Museum (which substitutes a cat, or possibly weasel or ermine, for the dog).
The Virgin and Child (canvas, 138 x 71) over the altar was placed there only in the mid-nineteenth century. It is usually ascribed to Carpaccio’s son Benedetto, from his father’s design, and is much damaged.
Venice. San Giorgio Maggiore.
*St George and the Dragon. Canvas, 180 x 226.
A variant of the painting in the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni. The scene of the Stoning of Stephen in the right background is similar to the painting of 1520 in Stuttgart. In the left background, St Benedict is shown as a hermit – reading and throwing himself on a thorn bush. The integral predella depicts four scenes from the martyrdom of St George (he is beaten with iron rods; he is thrown into a caldron filled with molten lead; he kneels before the pagan provost Dacian; and he is beheaded). Signed and dated 1516. The picture is sometimes described as having come from the abbey of Santa Maria del Pero, near Treviso; but it was certainly in the church of San Giorgio by the eighteenth century, when it was described by Zampetti.
Venice. San Vitale.
*Altarpiece. Canvas, 445 x 215.
Below: St Vitalis (a Roman soldier who was buried alive by the Emperor Nero as punishment for giving St Peter a decent burial) is represented as a knight in armour mounted on a white charger; he is flanked by his wife St Valaria (holding a martyr’s palm) and St George (with a banner) on the right, and by St. James (with book and pilgrim’s staff) and St John the Baptist (with the lamb) on the left. Above, on the balcony: St Andrew (with his cross), St Peter (with a book) and the two martyr sons of Vitalis (St Gervasius and St Protasius). In the sky: the Virgin and Child in glory. Signed and dated 1514, and still above the high altar for which it was painted. The church, now deconsecrated, has been restored and is used for concerts.
Two Female Saints. Two panels, 54 x 21.
St Catherine is clearly identifiable by her wheel and martyr’s palm; the other saint has sometimes been identified as Veneranda, but the little angel with a basket, lower left, suggests that she is Dorothy. The two small panels were bequeathed to the museum in 1871 with the Bernasconi collection as works of Francesco Bissolo. The attribution to Carpaccio was published by Gustav Ludwig and Pompeo Molmenti in their 1903 Italian monograph. The two panels, which were framed together in the nineteenth century and separated in a 1963 restoration, were probably originally the side panels of a small altarpiece. A lunette representing the Dead Christ supported by Two Angels is likely to have come from the same complex. (The lunette (53 x 32) was acquired in London in 2010 for the 'Alana Collection' – a collection of paintings formed by the Chilean economist Alvaro Saieh and his wife Ana Guzmàn and housed in their residence in Newark, Delaware.) Probably early (around 1490).
Washington. National Gallery.
Virgin Reading. Canvas (transferred from panel), 78 x 51.
A fragment: the picture's original size and shape are unknown. The fashionably-dressed Virgin appears to have been reading to the Christ Child, who was sitting on a cushion on a balcony or porch. A child's arm and the toes of a foot, previously concealed by overpaint, were revealed at the left edge during a recent restoration. A similar figure of the Virgin, identically dressed but on a slightly smaller scale, appears in the Birth of the Virgin at Bergamo. The fragment may date from around 1505-10. It was probably acquired in Italy at the end of the seventeenth century by John Cecil, 5th Earll of Exeter. It remained at Burghley House until 1888, when it was sold at Christie's (as a work of Cima da Conegliano). It subsequently passed into Robert and Evelyn Benson's superb collection of Italian Old Masters, which Joseph Duveen bought en bloc in 1927 for £500,000. Acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1937 and gifted to the Washington gallery in 1939.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 85 x 68.
Similar to the Madonna and Child in the upper part of Carpaccio’s altarpiece of Thomas Aquinas (dated 1507) at Stuttgart. The goldfinch, perched on the red marble parapet, is a familiar symbol of Christ's Passion. The white rabbit (crouching in the field on the left) and the two stags (in the meadow on the right) are probably also Christian symbols. The three tiny figures in Oriental costume, conversing on the river bank in the right middle distance, conceivably represent the Magi. In the left distance, on an even smaller scale, two shepherds mind their sheep. The early morning landscape – with a fortified town crowning the hilltop to the left and another town nestling in the river valley to the right – is one of Carpaccio’s finest. Nothing is known of the picture before 1954, when it was acquired by Kress (via Wildenstein & Co.) from a private collection in Marseilles. Extensive repaint was removed in a 1998 restoration.
*Flight into Egypt. Wood, 75 x 112.
The composition could have been influenced both by Giotto's early fourteenth-century fresco in the Scrovegni Chapel at Padua and by Dürer's woodcut from his Life of the Virgin series (1504-5). Probably painted for a domestic setting or religious confraternity rather than a church. It was one of the many hundreds of early Italian paintings acquired by the Berlin Museum in 1821 from the remarkable collection amassed by the English merchant Edward Solly. It was sold by the museum (as ‘Venetian School, about 1500’) in 1924 and passed into the hands of the Florentine dealer and restorer Luigi Grassi, who is alleged to have restored it himself. Bought by Otto H. Kahn of New York in 1927, and bequeathed to the National Gallery by Andrew Mellon in 1937. Berenson (1927-57) consistently ascribed it to Giovanni Bellini, but the attribution to Carpaccio (suggested by Fiocco in 1931) is now widely accepted. Probably relatively late (1510s). The richly decorated Renaissance-style tabernacle frame is modern: it was made in Florence around 1927 by Duveen's Italian framemaker, Ferruccio Vannoni.
Zadar (Croatia). Museum of Sacred Art.
Six Panels from a Polyptych.
The panel most often reproduced shows St Martin and the Beggar (112 x 72). It is signed (bottom left on a cartellino). Other panels represent: St Jerome and a Donor (112 x 72); St Anastasia and St Simeon (each 101 x 68); and St Peter and St Paul (each 102 x 55/50). One panel is lost. The polyptych is from the Cathedral of St Anastasia at Zadar (Zara). It stood over an altar in the right aisle that had been donated in 1480 by a Canon Martin Mladosich (presumably the kneeling donor in the St Jerome panel). The polyptych has been dated to about 1493 on the strength of a sheet of drawings that combines studies for the St Jerome with drawings for the Martyrdom of St Ursula (Accademia, Venice), which was painted that year. It was still in situ and largely intact until at least 1746, and was later moved to the sacristy. The panels are in poor condition. During the Second World War, they were stored in a cellar beneath a church tower. They survived when the church was destroyed by Allied bombing but were badly affected by damp. (To judge from old photographs, they were almost indecipherable prior to treatment in 1947-48.) Restored in 2008-13.
Zagreb. Strossmeyer Gallery.
Saint Sebastian. Wood, 104 x 43.
One of three surviving panels from an altarpiece from the Venetian church of Santa Fosca. This panel bears the date 1514. For several years in the 1980s it was on show in the Correr Muesum, Venice, in the same room as another of the panels, representing St Peter Martyr. The third panel, representing St Roch and a Donor, is at Bergamo. Two other long panels (representing St Christopher and St Paul) and a Madonna and Child (from the upper section of the altarpiece) are lost. The three surviving panels from the altarpiece were reunited for an exhibition (Carpaccio: Vittorio e Benedetto da Venezia all'Istria) held at Conegliano in 2015.
Zogno (16 km. north of Bergamo). Grumello de' Zanchi. Santa Maria Assunta.
Five panels from a polyptych, which has been divided up and reassembled. The present arrangement is unlikely to be correct, and some elements (including a central panel or statue) may be missing. Two small square panels (each 49 x 45) represent Saint Jerome (seated in a landscape, with his lion, before a skull propped on a tree) and Saint Anthony Abbot (also in a landscape, with his tau-shaped staff, bell and pig, praying before a crucifix). Two vertical panels (each 97 x 45) represent full-length figures of Saint James the Great and Saint John the Evangelist. The God the Father in the lunette (46 x 67) is probably a copy.
The polyptych, now situated over the first altar on the left of the church, probably stood originally at the high altar. It is unrecorded before the eighteenth century, when the Bergamasque art historian and collector Giacomo Carrara made a sketch of the Saint James. Carrara ascribed the polyptych to Lorenzo Lotto, and there were later attributions to Marco Basaiti, Francesco da Santacroce and Cima da Conegliano. It was only in 1932 that Roberto Longhi and Giuseppe Fiocco (independently) suggested Carpaccio. The execution is usually attributed partly or wholly to his workshop. A drawing of God the Father in the Getty Museum, Los Angeles, closely corresponds to the figure in the lunette, while a drawing on the other side of the same sheet appears to be a study for the figure of Christ in the altarpiece of the Blood of the Redeemer (dated 1496) at Udine. The polyptych was stolen in 1973, but recovered the following year and reassembled over the altar of the church in 1977. There were restorations in 1932, 1955 and 1975.