sacra conversazione

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St Cecilia …

Enamelled gold pendant set with pearls, in the form of a quatrefoil with a central blue-stained chalcedony surrounded by four lobes of red enamel on a tooled-gold ground with a scalloped border. The reverse is decorated with red and blue champlevé enamel. Also displays Inscription and maker’s mark. Circa 1898-1902

Inscription Translation: As Raphael to Cecilia, so Cecilia [gives] to you.

Source: British Museum Collection
(The St. Cecilia Altarpiece oil painting ..image source, Wikipedia)

This pendant is a faithful copy by Luigi Marchi (1824-1906) of the jewel worn by St Cecilia in the painting by Raphael of La Sacra Conversazione, showing St Cecilia with SS Paul, John the Evangelist, Augustine and Mary Magdalene, painted for the Pucci chapel dedicated to Saint Cecilia in S. Giovanni al Monte in Bologna and installed in 1514.

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Fra Angelico

Called “Angelico” for his inimitable depictions of paradise, this artist (1400? -1455) and Dominican friar succeeded Masaccio as the foremost painter of the early Renaissance in Italy. Fra Angelico’s painting has been beloved for centuries since as an emblem of the flowering genius of quattrocento Florence.

In his engaging new appraisal, John Spike reveals the unexpectedly innovative qualities of Angelico’s art, including his use of linear and geometric perspective (even before the publication of Leon Battista Alberti’s famous treatise). Another of Angelico’s inventions was the Renaissance altarpiece known as the sacra conversazione (sacred conversation), in which the Virgin and Child and saints, formerly each rigidly enclosed in separate panels, now gesture and relate to each other within a clearly unified space.

Fra Angelico had a lifelong fascination with the written word, and as Spike persuasively demonstrates, the accuracy of his Greek, Latin, and Hebrew inscriptions reveal his participation in the linguistic studies that flourished in Florence and Rome in the first half of the fifteenth century. He created some of the most visionary and learned compositions of his century, from his Deposition for the private chapel of the humanist Palla Strozzi to the extensive commissions in Rome for the erudite Pope Nicholas v. In this volume Spike presents a major discovery: the secret program of the forty frescoes in the cells of the Dominican monastery of San Marco in Florence. All previous studies of this artist had concluded that the subjects and arrangement of these frescoes, the artist’s masterworks, were chosen at random, or by the friars themselves. Instead, as the author now shows, Fra Angelico drew upon the mystical writings of the early church fathers to construct a spiritual exercise organized into three ascending levels of enlightenment. The San Marco frescoes can finally be seen as not only the most extensive cycle of works by any single painter of this century, but indeed the most complete pictorial expression of Renaissance theology.

With fresh insights that will influence studies of quattrocento art for years to come, Spike uses his perceptive eye and judicious readings of documents to reassess the works of Angelico, his masters, and his assistants. This essential volume contains an extensive essay on the artist’s life and work, followed by large color plates with detailed discussions of individual works. Finally, a catalog presents the artist’s oeuvre, as revised by the author’s new attributions. With lavish details of Angelico’s works and an up-to-date bibliography, this volume is not only a feast for the eyes but an indispensable resource for anyone interested in this critical period of the Renaissance.

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Antonio (Murano 1420 ca.-Venezia 1484) e Bartolomeo Vivarini (Murano, 1430 circa – dopo il 1491)
Polittico della Certosa
1450, Bologna, Pinacoteca Nazionale
tempera su tavola, 393 x 263 cm
-
Giovanni Bellini (Venezia 1433-1516)
Pala di San Zaccaria
1505, Venezia, S. Zaccaria
olio su tavola trasportata su tela, 402 x 273 cm
-
Giorgione
(Giorgio Barbarella, Castelfranco Veneto 1478 ca – Venezia 1510)
Pala di Castelfranco
1502-04 ca, Duomo di Castelfranco Veneto
tempera su tavola, 200 x 152 cm
-
Palma il Vecchio (Jacopo Negretti, Bergamo 1480 – Venezia 1528)
Sacra Conversazione
1525 ca, Napoli, Museo di Capodimonte
olio su tavola, 131 x 194 cm
-

Oggi quattro quadri ar prezzo de uno, ma nun te preoccupà che ‘a faccio breve. Stamo in zona Venezia, città lagunare portuale e traffichina, tra metà Quattrocento e metà Cinquecento, e vedemio come cambieno ‘e pale d’artare.
‘A più antica è un polittico vecchio stile, che già l’amo visti questi qua fatti a scomparti tipo carte da gioco, caa madonna ar centro e li santi de qua e de là belli ordinati ognuno drento ar riquadro suo come che fosse no schedario fondo oro e merletto tardogotico.
Ai primi der secolo dopo, vedemio che ‘a cornice s’allarga e ‘o spazio diventa uno solo, e li santi piano piano s’avvcineno. ‘A Madonna sale un gradino più in alto perché vabbè che amo aperto ‘e frontiere però statevene ar posto vostro e nun ve scordate chi sò io; e i santi se metteno in posa tipo foto de classe, metà de qua metà de là, sciorti ma non troppo, rispettosamente in piedi anche se un po’ se ponno move, e comunque sempre in ordine e simmetria. Bellini tii piazza drento no spazio prospettico bello rinascimentale tipo chiesa; er Giorgione osa un po’ de più, tii mette sì in posa ma come a na specie de terazzino aperto su ‘o sfonno, che se vede er paesaggio. E’ come si sentissimo che sti santi vonno uscì, se sò stufati de sta in piedi a lato Madonna a regge stendardi, calici o corone, e vonno esse libberi.
E finarmente ce riescheno. ‘A pala d’artare se trasforma in Sacra Conversazione, tipo qui Parma er Vecchio (che nun è nato Vecchio ma se chiama così pe distinguelo da Parma er Giovane) che finarmente a sti santi je dà er pomeriggio libbero, ‘i porta in campagna, ‘i fa mette a sede,  come che stessero a fà un Sacro Picchenicche. E ‘a Madonna je fa a Giovanni Battista: “Bada, chi ha preparato i panini e tutto? Chi devo ringrazià, chi paga?”, e lui je indica i donatori, che manco a dì, mo se metteno a sede pure loro e se fanno sto pranzo ar sacco co Maria, santi vari e Bambin Gesù, a tu per tu, ar fresco e in sciortezza.

Madonna and Child with Two Saints (Sacra Conversazione), detail (c.1490). Giovanni Bellini (Italian, 1426-1516). Oil on wood. Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice.

The two saints are traditionally identified as Sts Catherine and Magdalene but it is more likely that they are two noble Venetian ladies who commissioned the painting. The light, softly progressing over the faces and garments, strikes from the side of the assorted figures, silent companions in sacred contemplation.

Which of the saints was without a cross or trial on this earth? Not even Jesus Christ, our Lord, Whose every hour on earth knew the pain of His passion. “It behooveth Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead, … and so enter into his glory.” How is it that you look for another way than this, the royal way of the holy cross?

- Imitation of Christ