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Current time:0:00Total duration:5:32

Video transcript

we're in the Church of sounds acharya in venice and we're looking at one of Giovanni Bellinis last altar paintings this is the son zakaria altarpiece it's a sacra conversazione a which is something that we see a lot of in Venice a group of saints from different time periods around an enthroned Madonna and Child starting on the Left we see st. Peter he holds a book in his right hand and it keys to heaven in his left following him we see st. Catherine she supports a wheel that she was martyred on in the middle of enthroned is the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child below them is an angel playing a small archaic instrument that is related to the violin on the other side we see Saint Lucy who holds a crystal she's associated with sight she's actually the patron saint of the blind her eyes were plucked out according to legend for her faithfulness to Christ and then all the way on the right we see Saint Jerome the translator of the Bible into Latin the Vulgate and so he's associated with learning he's a father a doctor of the church and therefore is wearing cardinal red and is often shown bearded and with a book but what I see across all of these figures is a tremendous degree of solemnity of quiet of contemplative nosov meditation of prayer of devotion absolutely like in masaccio's painting of the Holy Trinity Bellini opens up the wall so we don't believe that it's a wall anymore but rather a chapel it's interesting that the interior architecture the depicted architecture seems to relate to the frame of the painting the physical stone because we can see for instance arches moving towards us on the upper left and upper right that frame well that frame the landscape that we seem to be able to walk out but we don't know how much of the original frame remains this painting was taken to Paris by Napoleon it was stolen obviously eventually returned but we're not even sure if this painting is in its original location so it seems to me Bellini is working hard to make this into a space that we can participate in or at least understand but on the other hand we see the figures from very far below and we look up at them and so there's a real distance that's also there we are looking at the sacred conversation that is not entirely available to us in other words we can approach it we can certainly pray to it but we're not quite invited to participate in it so this is painted in oils and we know that Bellini was one of the leaders in exploring the possibilities of oil paint unlike tempera which is opaque you can't see through it oil if you thin it down you can see through it and applied to a white ground in thin layers you could create color with a depth and saturation that artists were never able to do before Bellini is also able to introduce a kind of subtlety of light look at the way in which the eyes of the figures are downcast and in shadow look at the way in which the light articulates that semicircle behind the Virgin there is this real sense of volume the painting as it's currently sits in the church is aligned so that the actual light from the Sun outside corresponds perfectly with the light and shadow in the painting that's right as we stand and look at it the doorways make sense in relationship to the painting where we see shadows moving from the left toward the right then we see that beautifully also in the apse mosaic there is this golden mosaic that is a reminder of Bellinis lifetime interest in the Byzantine tradition the place that Bellini would have been most familiar with that exemplified that tradition is the Church of st. Mark's here in Venice that is covered with golden mosaics very much like the one we see in the apse here and yet there's also a classical and also biblical set of references if you look for instance at the blasters you have Corinthian capital if you look at the throne that married sits on you see a classicizing head above it and we think that might be King David a reminder of Christ's regal ancestry according to tradition there is that sense of calm and contemplative nests and it comes I think also in part from the symmetry it's not a rigid symmetry there is a real sense of balance and harmony two figures on either side the figures close to us facing front looking down the two female figures looking inward Mary who tilts toward her right the angel who tilts in the opposite direction that sense of harmony and elegance is drawn out also in gentle arcs that we can see throughout the composition look for instance of the arc of the sleeve of Saint Peter that's echoed by the palm frond held by Catherine and her drape look at the way that that's echoed again by the lighter color worn by the angel you're right there are these subtle curving forms that help to unite the composition I think it must be five o'clock in time to go you