Vittore Carpaccio
Biography of Venetian Renaissance Painter.

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The Meeting of the Betrothed, and
The Departure for the Pilgrimage.
From The Legend of St. Ursula (1495)
Galleria dell'Accademia, Venice.

Vittore Carpaccio (c.1465-1525)


Early Life and Training
Early Works
Legend of St Ursula
Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni
Later Works
Style of Art
Selected Paintings

Two Courtesans (1510)
Museo Correr, Venice.

For details of the pigments
used by Vittore Carpaccio,
see: Renaissance Colour Palette.

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.


An important representative of Venetian Painting, Vittore Carpaccio is noted for his decorative art - mostly large-scale, detachable wall-paintings illustrating the lives of saints - which he completed for a number of "scuole" (fraternities) in the city. Although influenced by Gentile Bellini (c.1429-1507), as well as his brother Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516) - two of the greatest contributors to Renaissance art in Venice - as well as Antonello da Messina (1430-79), who introduced Venetian painters to the advanced oil painting techniques of the Netherlandish Renaissance, Carpaccio was a conservative artist whose work contained little of the Humanism which had reshaped Renaissance art during the quattrocento. That said, he had a remarkable eye for detail and an inexhaustible taste for pictorial anecdote, qualities which are clearly reflected in his two main works: a nine-part series (The Legend of Saint Ursula) depicting scenes from the life of St Ursula, painted in the 1490s for the Scuola di Santa Orsola; and a cycle on the lives of St Jerome, St George and St Trifon, painted 1502-7 for the Scuola di S. Giorgio degli Schiavone. In these extensive series of pictures, the artist relates the lives of the saints, transferring them to Venetian surroundings. A master of oils as well as tempera painting, he also produced a number of religious panel paintings. In addition to these series of works, Carpaccio also painted some striking individual portraits.


Early Life and Training

Vittore Carpaccio was born in Venice, the son of Piero Scarpazza, a leather merchant (he changed his name to Carpaccio during the late 1480s). There is some evidence to suggest that his family originated in Slovenia/Croatia, but his early life is poorly documented and few details are known. It is unclear, for instance, where he learned drawing and painting: he may have trained in the Bellini workshop under Gentile Bellini, since - judging by the content and style of his painting - he was clearly influenced by Gentile's work. Also it is known that during the period 1501-7 he helped Giovanni Bellini to decorate the Hall of the Great Council in the Doge's Palace. (Unfortunately all these works were destroyed in the famous fire of 1577.)

Early Paintings

As far as his career as an artist was concerned, Carpaccio completed most of his major works between 1490 and 1519, making him one of the early masters of the Venetian Renaissance, which itself lagged somewhat behind the High Renaissance of Rome and Florence. His earliest known works include Salvator Mundi (c.1485-7, Collezione Contini Bonacossi) and Pieta (c.1486, Palazzo Pitti), both of which borrowed heavily from Giovanni Bellini and Antonello da Messina - particularly in its handling of light and colour.



Legend of St Ursula

In 1490 he began the famous Legend of St Ursula, for the Scuola di Santa Orsola. Such "scuole" (Italian for 'Schools') bore no resemblance to modern day schools at all. They were more like societies, fraternities or brotherhoods, for groups of people with similar professions and interests. In any event the St Ursula paintings were typical of Carpaccio's style, for although Saint Ursula is said to have lived in the 5th century, Carpaccio paints her as if she were living in the late 15th century, showing the detail of his own time. In 1494, Carpaccio participated in the decoration of the Scuola di San Giovanni Evangelista, for which he executed one of his most famous works, the Miracle of the Relic of the Cross at the Ponte di Rialto (now in the Venice Academy Gallery), which anticipates the 18th-century paintings of Canaletto (1697-1768) and Francesco Guardi (1712–1793).

Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni

By about 1451 many people from Dalmatia (a coastal region of Croatia that had been a Venetian possession since 1420) had arrived in Venice. These people spoke a Slavonic language, so were known as Slavs. Because so many Dalmatian Slavs had settled in Venice, the Venetian authorities allowed them to build their own 'scuola' - La Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavone (The School of Saint George of the Slavs). During the first decade of the cinquecento, Carpaccio was commissioned to paint pictures depicting scenes from the Dalmatian Slav's patron saints: St Jerome, St George and St Trifon. His inclusion of middle-eastern landscape features gave the series a distinctly "orientalist" feel. The works themselves were placed high up, rather like a frieze, around the walls of the main room of the scuola. There are nine paintings on canvas, all of which still occupy their original position.

Another example of Carpaccio's "orientalism" is his series on the Life of the Virgin, painted for Santa Maria degli Albanesi (1504-8). This cycle - completed with the help of several assistants from his workshop - is now shared between the Accademia Carrara of Bergamo, the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, and the Ca'd'Oro in Venice.

Later Works

Having finished the St Ursula and the St George/Jerome series of pictures, Carpaccio never managed to repeat his achievement, although he continued to attract prestigious commissions. Mostly works of religious art, they featured an increasing amount of altarpiece art, for which he had little natural ability. In contrast, his portrait art was much more striking: see, for instance, his celebrated Two Courtesans (Two Venetian Ladies) (1510, Correr Museum, Venice).

He also continued his mural painting on the lives of Saints. During the period 1511-20, for instance, he painted five canvases on the Life of Saint Stephen for the Scuola di Santo Stefano. Completed with the help of assistants, who were responsible for peripheral elements, the best canvas is The Disputation of St. Stephen (1514, Pinacoteca di Brera), due to its clear, all-pervasive lighting and wonderfully drawn imaginary buildings. Another important late work by Carpaccio is The Apparition of the Martyrs of Mount Ararat in the Church of St Anthony (1515, Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice), which is noted in particular for its unusual style of landscape painting and use of symbolism.

Style of Art

Carpaccio combined the depiction of real and legendary subjects with motifs and details of his own invention. Although this narrative method still shows the influence of Early Renaissance painting, the clever use of light (The Vision of St. Augustine) and the perfectly constructed linear perspective (The Birth of the Virgin) of his pictures are highly innovative. For example, Carpaccio uses light to convey atmosphere, giving even large and complex paintings (The Apparition of the Martyrs) a certain unity. This, together with his minutely detailed portrayal of events, gives his pictures their unique character. Although outshone by younger rivals like Giorgione (1477-1510), and later figures such as Titian (c.1485/8-1576), Tintoretto (1518-1594) and Paolo Veronese (1528-1588), Carpaccio is still rated as second only to Giovanni Bellini as the greatest Venetian painter of his generation.

Selected Paintings

Works by Vittore Carpaccio can be seen in several of the world's best art museums, notably the Venice Academy Gallery (GdA), in Venice. Here is a short selection of his most famous works.

- Portrait of Man with Red Beret (1490-93) Museo Correr, Venice.
- The Pilgrims Meet the Pope (1491) Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice.
- Legend of St. Ursula (1490-96) Scuola di Santa Orsola, now GdA, Venice.
- Miracle of the Relic of the Holy Cross (1494) GdA, Venice.
- The Dream of St. Ursula (1495) Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice.
- Two Venetian Ladies (1495) Museo Correr, Venice.
- Christ between Four Angels (1496) Civic Museums, Udine.
- The Healing of the Madman (1496) GdA, Venice.
- The Flight into Egypt (1500) National Gallery, Washington DC.
- St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Veneranda (1500) Verona.
- Lives of St George/Jerome (1502-7) San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, Venice.
- Vision of St. Augustine (1503) Scuola San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, Venice.
- Birth of the Virgin (1504) Accademia Carrara, Bergamo.
- The Marriage of the Virgin (c.1505) Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.
- The Presentation of the Virgin (c.1505) Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.
- Holy Family and donors (1505) Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon.
- Holy Conversation (1505) Musee du Petit Palais, Avignon.
- The Virgin Reading (1505-10) National Gallery, Washington DC.
- Madonna and Blessing Child (1505-10) National Gallery, Washington DC.
- St. Thomas in Glory (1507) Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart.
- St. George Baptizing the Selenites (1507) Scuola di Schiavoni.
- The Burial of Christ (1510) Staatliche Museen, Berlin.
- Two Courtesans (1510) Museo Correr, Venice.
- Portrait of a Woman (1510) Galleria Borghese, Rome.
- Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (1510) GdA, Venice.
- Portrait of a Young Knight (1510) Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.
- The Meditation on the Passion (1510) Metropolitan Museum, New York.
- St Stephen is Consecrated Deacon (1511) Staatliche Museen, Berlin.
- The Sermon of St. Stephen (1514) Louvre, Paris.
- Disputation of St. Stephen (1514) Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.
- The Apparition of the Martyrs (1515) Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice.
- St George and the Dragon (1516) San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice.
- The Lion of St Mark (1516) Doge's Palace, Venice.
- The Stoning of St Stephen (1520) Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart.
- The Dead Christ (1520) Staatliche Museen, Berlin.

• For more about famous Venetian painters, see: Homepage.
• For analysis of important pictures from Venice, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed.

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