(b. 1480, Serina, d. 1528, Venezia)

Sacred Conversation

c. 1525
Oil on canvas, 127 x 195 cm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

In contrast with Lotto, Savoldo, Romanino and Moretto, Jacopo Negretti, known as Palma il Vecchio, worked wholly within the tradition of Venetian painting. Influenced in his early years by the example of the great painters of the fifteenth century, he soon absorbed the lessons of Giorgione's revolution and subsequently fell under the spell of the personality of Titian, with the result that in his paintings of the early 1520s figures and landscape are both rendered in the most sumptuous of colours, both inhabit a calm, restful, sentimental atmosphere whose climate is unchanging and unchangeable. The masterpiece of this phase of his career is undoubtedly this 'Sacred Conversation' which was perhaps the painting which Ridolfi quotes as hanging in the house of the Widmann family in 1648.

The canvas reveals utter fidelity to Titian's style of around 1520, above all in the head of St Catherine and the landscape with its castle which some critics believe was finished by Titian himself when the artist from Bergamo died and left some parts of the picture unfinished: for example the left hand of St Catherine and the right hand of St John the Baptist. The spacious, monumental cadence of the rhythms of the figures offers the coloured passages the chance to spread in sumptuous zones defined by the polished refinement of his line, while shapes acquire a clean, plastic integrity through the effect of the limpid play of chiaroscuro. The opulent use of colour to bind the figures together gives clear evidence of Palma il Vecchio's propensity for the recreation of reality in an ideal model, unmoving and unmoved.