Carpaccio, in the Venetian dialect Scarpazza, was born about 1455 in Venice. A recent theory that he was born in Istria is seemingly disproved. Molmenti believes him to have been a pupil of Lazzaro Bastiani (1425?-1512). Carpaccio is first mentioned in 1490 when he began the series of pictures from the life of St. Ursula, work which shows him a follower of Gentile Bellini. Early in the next century he was employed with the Bellini in the decorations of the Ducal Palace. At the same time, 1502-1508, he was occupied with the pictures of their patron saints for the fraternal organization of the Dalmatians in S. Giorgio degli Schiavone. The series from the life of St. Stephen, painted in 1511-1515, is now widely scattered. Carpaccio’s finest altarpiece is the Presentation in the Temple, painted in 1510 for S. Giobbe. In 1514 his work shows signs of decline in the alterpiece of S. Vitale. Still later are several pictures in churches on the Dalmatian coast. In the Museo Civico, Venice, is a picture of Two Courtesans extravagantly praised by Mr. Ruskin. Carpaccio’s last work was done in 1522; he probably died in 1525.
NOTES ON THE PICTURES.
No. 360. St. Ursula’s Dream.
No. 361. English Ambassadors received by their King.
Both of these paintings, in oil on canvas, were executed about 1495. They belong to the series of nine pictures painted 14901498 for the Scuola di Sta. Ursula, that is, the Mutual Aid Society whose patron saint was Ursula. According to the legend, she was a Christian princess of Britain who made pilgrimage to Rome with the eleven thousand virgins given as her escort by her royal English lover, who, under pledge to her, went also to Rome for baptism. On their homeward way she and all her following were attacked by the Huns and suffered martyrdom at Cologne. Cf. D 3942, Memling’s Shrine of St. Ursula, completed in 1489.
361 represents the return of the English ambassadors, bringing to their king the conditions imposed by the father of Ursula regarding her marriage. One ambassador kneels before the king seated in the octagonal portico, while another approaches from the water front. The scene is completely Venetian, from the bridge, the buildings and the shipping, to the banner and the fine raiment embroidered with local emblems. Carpaccio’s pictures have more of narrative than those by Gentile Bellini, and are less formally arranged, but show the same interest in local life and setting.
360. A further development of Carpaccio’s interest in genre. To the sleeping Ursula comes the angel bringing the martyr’s palm. The story is charmingly told, but it is the painting of this tranquil interior that occupies Carpaccio’s attention, the neatness and simplicity of the articles in a young girl’s room, the plants silhouetted against the window, and over all the diffused and reflected light. This is one of the few examples in Italian Art of a theme that forms the basis for much of Dutch and Flemish art, from Jan van Eyck to the ” Little Dutchmen,” Terborch, Vermeer, and de Hooch.
No. 365. St. George in Combat with the Dragon.
S. Giorgio degli Schiavone, Venice.
Oil on canvas, 11 feet 8 inches by 4 1/2 feet, painted about 1505.
One of a series of nine canvases which form a frieze around the interior of the low-ceiled chapel. The Scuola of St. George of the Sclays was a charitable organization established in 1451 by Dalmatians, resident in Venice, for the help of seamen of their own nationality. The pictures of the frieze are scenes from the lives of the national saints George, Jerome, and Tryphonius.
Study the picture in its details, in its main theme;its composition and balance, the effect of the strong line of the lance, the onward rush of the horse. Compare with the St. George of Donatello, 434, of Mantegna, 299. Compare the Dragon with Pegasus by Jacopo Bellini,the fact that there is no point of interest in the center of balance (between horse and dragon) on which the attention may rest, aids the movement that is so essential a part of the composition. The eye must move and its movement is controlled and directed by the lines of the composition.
A comparison with the two other famous representations of St. George shows Donatello as the artist of actuality, the youthful knight who can and will accomplish the deed. Mantegna’s saint has already slain the dragon, but by virtue of miraculous power given to him. Carpaccio depicts the scene itself, but, as it were, in fairyland, a conception more purely imaginative than either of the others.
No. 366. Presentation of the Virgin.
Oil on canvas, 41 by 4 feet. One of six scenes from the life of the Virgin painted after 1504 for the Con-fraternity of the Albanians, many of whom had come to Venice after the capture of Scutari in 1479 by the Turks.
Compare with the Presentation by Giotto, 58, in form and in spirit. Compare also with the Presentation by Titian, C 291. A predella of the school of Jacopo Bellini suggests that both of these pictures may be based upon a composition by him.
No. 362. Meeting of Joachim and Anna.
Oil on wood, 6 feet 2 inches by 5 feet 6 inches, signed and dated 1515. Painted for the church of S. Francesco, Treviso. In the background the high priest rejects Joachim’s offering at the temple. The royal saints are Louis of France and Ursula. Compare the central figures with the detail from Giotto’s picture, 57. With much of beauty in individual faces there is here a lack of sincerity that contrasts sharply with the earlier representation, and with Carpaccio’s own early narrative pictures.
No. 363. Presentation of Christ.
No. 364. Angel playing the Lute : detail.
Oil, figures life size. Painted in 1510 for the church of S. Giobbe, where was one of Giovanni Bellini’s earlier altarpieces. Simeon is on the right; behind the Madonna is a woman with the offering of doves. The picture is circular above, showing the mosaic of the apse.
In its stately dignity, its fine balance, in the beauty and sincerity of the faces and in the charm of the angel musicians this is Carpaccio’s masterpiece.