Author: Giovanni Battista Cima, known as Cima da Conegliano

Year: 1503-1509

Century: 16th century

Technique: Oil and tempera on panel

Location: Altar of Saint Joseph (second right altar); on the map number 2


The work, characterized by great compositional and chromatic originality, was commissioned by Giovanni Calvo, a wealthy silk fabric manufacturer and merchant who died in 1509 and was buried at the foot of this altar. In the painting, the Madonna, dressed in a red gown and a white veil on her head and around her shoulders, kneels with clasped hands next to the sleeping Child, aware of the tragic destiny of the Son of God. The face is a realistic portrait to which the artist has added a slight compositional abstraction of religious significance, absent in the two saints on the left. The figure of the infant Jesus, portrayed in all his human fragility, is highlighted by the luminosity of his very light complexion and the pristine drapery in which he is wrapped. The high spur of rock and earth on the right acts as a natural backdrop to the sacred scene unfolding in the foreground. Next to the Madonna stands the Archangel Raphael, in chromatic contrast with the background rock wall, wearing white and orange garments. He is depicted leading the young Tobias by the hand, dressed like a page of the time with a corset and a short robe. The presence of the Archangel is certainly a reference to the patron’s parish, the Church of the Angel Raphael in the Dorsoduro district. In the center of the painting is Saint Joseph, to whom the artist gives unprecedented relevance. With an attentive and engaged expression, he seems to point to the Child for a kneeling man, dressed as a shepherd, who is likely to represent the patron Calvo. The man presents a basket of medlars and two turtle doves as a gift, symbolizing purification. He is accompanied by a child behind him, probably his son, and a dog on the right, alluding to loyalty. The left side of the painting is occupied by Saint Catherine of Alexandria (in memory of Calvo’s deceased wife of the same name), holding the palm of martyrdom in her hand and at her feet the wheel of torture to which she was condemned, and by Saint Helena, carrying the true cross. The two saints are dressed in the rich costumes of the time. In the background, a wide hilly landscape is visible, dominated by a medieval castle. In this bucolic atmosphere, a flock of sheep led by a young shepherd can be seen in the distance.