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Vittore Carpaccio

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A Venetian painter whose real name was Scarpazza, b. at Venice about 1455; d. in the same city between 1523 and 1526. He was one of those Venetian masters who formed a link between the earlier artists, such as Jacobello del Fiore and the classic painters like Giorgione and Titian. Lazzaro Bastiani was his teacher, not, as Vasari has maintained, his pupil. Being an artist who worked for the middle classes of Venetian society, Carpaccio enjoyed neither the official position nor the aristocratic patronage that fell to the lot of the Bellinis. It was only in 1501 that he received orders for the Doge's Palace, where he painted the "Lion of St. Mark ", still to be seen there, and the "Battle of Ancona ", destroyed in the fire of 1577. In 1508 he was one of the commission appointed to set a valuation upon Giorgione's frescoes at the Fondaco dei Tedeschi.

Nearly all of Carpaccio's lifetime was spent in painting for the scuole (schools) or religious confraternities either of artisans or foreigners. It was for one of these that he executed the most celebrated and extensive of his works "The Life of St. Ursula ", now preserved in the Academy of Venice. His other paintings were produced, doubtless, under similar circumstances. They usually depicted the lives of the saints, and they included such subjects as: "The Life of the Virgin", "The Life of St. Stephen ", "The Life of St. Jerome ", and "The Life of St. George ". The first two are found in museums of Europe, but about 1560 the others were placed, with the "Miracle of St. Tryphonius" and the "Call of St. Matthew ", in the little Venetian church of San Giorgio de Schiavoni, the best place in the world in which to make Carpaccio's acquaintance. The eight unframed panels found in the church of Saint Alviso, signed "Carpathius" and dealing with the histories of Joseph, the Queen of Sheba, Job, and Rebecca, are attributed, although without positive proof, to the youthful period of the master.

Carpaccio's style, like that of all the Venetian painters of the time, bore the imprint of Mantegna's influence. Architecturally he was inspired by Lombardi, but his peculiar charm lay in knowing better than any other artist how to reproduce the incomparable grace of Venice. Long before the time of Guardi and the Canalettis, Carpaccio was the historian and the poet of its calle and canali , and his work, together with Marin Sanudo's Journal, provides the best picture extant of the golden age of the republic. Carpaccio was the most truly Venetian of all the artists of Venice, and, of course, it is there that he can be best understood and appreciated. Moreover, he was the most Oriental, and his work abounds in the costumes and views of the East. In 1511 he had completed a panorama of Jerusalem that he offered in a letter to the Marquis of Mantua. It might naturally be supposed that Carpaccio had accompanied Gentile Bellini to Constantinople, but it has been ascertained that he limited himself to copying Reuwich's pictures in Breydenbach's "Itinerary", published at Mainz in 1486.

His genius is of a most realistic turn. He has nothing of Giovanni Bellini's deep, religious lyricism; besides, his expression lacks vigour. His "Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand of Mount Ararat" in the Academy of Venice is among his feeblest efforts, being merely a happy, tranquil, although quite pleasing, conception, luminous and life-like, and characterized by exquisite dignity and an indescribable air of cheerful heroism. His great equestrian picture of St. Vitalis at Venice was the most beautiful piece of decorative painting prior to the time of Paul Veronese. When pathetic, Carpaccio is charming. Nothing is more instructive than to compare his "Life of St. Ursula " with Memling's famous shrine in Bruges. With the Venetian everything merges into splendid spectacles and ceremonies. However, his "Saint's Vision" is one of the most beautiful paintings of virginal sleep ever made. His "St. Jerome in his Cell" yields nothing in point of nobility to Dürer's fine print, and his last pictures, such as "The Holy Family" at Caen and the eloquent "Pieta" at Berlin, reveal a soulful intensity of which his earlier productions gave no promise.

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