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Europe 1300 - 1800

Course: Europe 1300 - 1800 > Unit 3

Lesson 3: Painting in central Italy

Veneziano, St. Lucy Altarpiece

Domenico Veneziano, Saint Lucy Altarpiece, 1445-47, tempera on wood panel, 82 1/4 x 85" or 209 x 216 cm (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence) Speakers: Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(piano music) Steven: We're in the Uffizi, looking at Domenico Veneziano's Saint Lucy Altarpiece. This is an artist who's actually a Venetian, but this was made for a Florentine church. Originally there were five small predella panels underneath. Beth: That are now in different museums. One of the most interesting thing about this painting is it's a new type of altarpiece. Usually an altarpiece would have an elaborate gold frame, with subsidiary figures in separate panels, but here the different saints occupy the same space as the Madonna, so we have less emphasis on elaborate gold frames and the carpentry and carving involved in those, and more emphasis on the figures and the believable space that they occupy. Steven: That's what I was going to say. When I look at this, this is a remarkably occupiable space. In other words, I feel like I could walk around without hitting my head on the architecture, which was so often the case in the previous century. Beth: If you think about Masaccio's Holy Trinity as the first really believable space created by the use of linear perspective, just twenty years before, this is in a way a much more complex space, and the greens and the rose colors and the white marble remind me of so much architecture that we've seen, like the Duomo here in Florence. Steven: It's true; there really is attention to the architectural space. I'm really taken with the severely foreshortened tile on the floor, which is a tour de force expression of linear perspective, and saying, "Well, I can do far more "than a straight line of tiles on this floor." Beth: Look at John the Baptist's feet. So firmly on the ground; his foreshortened right foot; a cast shadow behind him, also the influence of Masaccio. To me this is a bringing together of so much that Masaccio and Brunelleschi did in the 1420s and '30s. Steven: There's also a kind of specificity in the rendering of the figures. Lucy, at the extreme right, is so beautiful, and in a perfect profile, almost as we would expect a Renaissance portrait. The figure next to Lucy is Saint Zenobius, one of the few saints associated with Florence. Christ is a real child here. There is an understanding of the anatomy of an infant, with its babyfat and that large head, and there's a real sense of his mother's delicate touch. Look at the way her finger just comes under his toe. It's really just lovely, whereas John the Baptist, he looks tough. It's so interesting to see these figures all in one space. Think about the figures chronologically. You have the Virgin Mary and Christ, who lived roughly fifteen-hundred years before this was painted, and Francis, who would have lived just a few hundred years before this was painted. Beth: Right; Domenico Veneziano is mixing saints up, from all different time periods, and bringing them together into this one space. Steven: And that's really the definition of the word that's often used for these kinds of paintings, which is sacra conversazione. That is, to bring figures from different historical periods together into an altarpiece environment. Beth: And "sacra conversazione" means "a sacred conversation." (piano music)