AUTHOR: Giovanni Bellini
CENTURY: 16th century
CHURCH: Church of San Zaccaria (on map number 2)
DATE: 1505
LOCATION: Second left altar
TECHNIQUE: Oil on panel
The artwork, signed and dated by the author in the cartouche attached to the second step of the throne, bearing the inscription “Joannes Bellinus MCCCCCV,” was executed for the second left altar. The Virgin is seated with the Child, who raises his left foot as a reference to his future resurrection, on a marble throne surmounted by the sculpted face of King David, his ancestor. The two main figures are surrounded by four saints in a symmetrical position, with Saint Peter and Saint Jerome in frontal position, and two saints in profile. One of them is easily identifiable as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (as she holds the wheel of her martyrdom), and the other, with a flask and palm of martyrdom, could be either Saint Ursula, a virgin with blond hair, or Mary of Bethany, or Saint Agatha. The altar and the altarpiece are in symbiosis through a continuous interplay between architectural reality and fictional space: the area delimited by the capitals and the real arches expands into the pictorial illusion. The sacred conversation takes place in an apse with a mosaic dome, whose ribbed vault, from which hung the chain with the ostrich egg, symbol of the Virgin Mary’s virginity and now suspended in emptiness, was cut in the 19th century. Originally, before the 19th-century amputation, the vertical development of the artwork, already outlined by the low horizon line, was even more pronounced. The vanishing lines converge on the head of the angel musician, the only one establishing a silent dialogue with the observer. The architectural framing opens to a timid landscape insertion on the sides, which infuses a warm and natural luminosity that softens the figures and sweetens the monumentality. The novelty of the altarpiece lies in the integration of the sacred scene into nature, perhaps influenced by the suggestion exerted by Giorgione’s Castelfranco Altarpiece. Bellini, now over seventy, demonstrates his ability to establish a dialogue with his young student and renew himself.