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Video transcript

we're in the Accademia in Venice and we're looking at a relatively early Giovanni Bellini this is the San Joe be altarpiece this was made for a church here in Venice dedicated to prayers for plague victims one of five plague churches in Venice Venice was a place that especially suffered from the plague so this is we think the very first sacra conversazione a that is set within the architecture of a church painted in Venice and one of the first examples anywhere in Italy saga conversación a is a group of saints from different time periods together in the same space with the Madonna and Child this was certainly a new trend in painting in the late 15th century we see it in the work of Piero della Francesca in his Brera altarpiece and we also see it in the san zeno altarpiece were invited to join the court of heaven Marian Christ surrounded by saints and angels and one of those Saints is quite literally inviting us into this space if you look on the extreme left you see the st. Francis and he is not only displaying his stigmata that is the holes in his hands and his feet and his side that he received as a kind of honor because he lived his life so closely to Christ but he's actually beckoning us if we can be as faithful as he we could join this spiritual company that invitation is there in the very construction of the painting the painting had around it an architectural frame that had on either side plasters with capitals very much like the ones that we see in the painted space that's right this painting in its original frame had married the architecture of the actual church with the architecture of the invented space Bellinis also joining our space with space of the Madonna and saints by creating this coffered barrel vault that extends into our space from which a canopy or about the Kino hangs so we really feel this joining of our own space in the space of the painting but the architectural references in this painting are not so much to the church of san gob as to the most important Church in Venice that is the Basilica of st. mark we can see that if we look up at the apse above and behind marian christ this is exactly what the inside of st. mark looks like with mystical golden light created by the mosaics you can also see references to the san marco in the beautiful pyla decorative marble that exists in back of the throne after Venice have plundered Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade they brought back all of these treasures including this very decorative marble which is all over the exterior of san marco and we see it replicated here in Bellinis painting let's go back to those saints for a moment though in addition to st. Francis you can see that there are two other saints on the left side in the background Saint John the Baptist and then Jobe himself who is offering prayers in the direction of Christ and the Virgin Mary and then on the other side we see Saint Dominic in the foreground the nearly naked st. Sebastian and then in the back Saint Louis of Toulouse now remember this is just the beginning of what we will call the high Renaissance and Bellini is really interested in geometry here you can see that the three Saints on the left side create a kind of triangle with their heads pointing back into space with Saint John the Baptist's head as the furthest most point on the right side we have another triangle of heads and so we have these inverted triangles we also have a pyramid in the three angels at the bottom of the throne and then Mary herself holding the Christ child her body forms a pyramid something we see very often in high Renaissance art we might recall for example Leonardo's virgin of the rocks-- where Mary and Christ and Saint John and an angel form a pyramid geometry is bound up with our understanding of the high Renaissance because it can help provide a sense of stability of balance and a sense of the eternal so what Bellini is doing so different from earlier sacra conversazione ace if we could think for example of Domenico Veneziano st. Lucia altarpiece there there's a clear white light that permeates that space but here Bellini has created a golden warm tonality and atmosphere that unifies the figures and I think that also comes right out of Bellinis experience in San Marco that architectural space has such a kind of rich internal atmosphere that is full of mystery that is full of shadow and Bellini has brilliantly found a way of bringing that to the painted surface in so many ways this painting is a continuation of something started by Masaccio of creating an illusion on the wall of real space but the naturalism of the Renaissance its emphasis on real bodies and real space is tempered I think by Bellini that golden light the meditative mood of the figures this all gives us a sense of transcendence of looking at something spiritual one of the things that I find most powerful about this painting is the rendering of the human bodies you have two figures that are almost completely nude and whose bodies are defined so beautifully by the subtle light and Sebastian really stands out in this regard look it's beautiful contrapposto there is this attention to the beauty of the body which is such an expression of the thinking of the Renaissance you