(b. 1472, Firenze, d. 1517, Pian' di Mugnone)

God the Father with Sts Catherine of Siena and Mary Magdalen

Panel (transferred), 361 x 236 cm
Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Mansi, Lucca

Following his trip to Venice, Fra Bartolomeo produced the God the Father with Sts Catherine of Siena and Mary Magdalen in which critics have observed that the colour and especially the light have points in common with the art of Giovanni Bellini. The figures are restrained in their gestures but fully evolved physically, as are the fine nude children who encircle the blessing Father. The women down below are arranged to provide a central void articulated by a low-lying landscape. They float above the ground, but their solidity is unchallenged.

Here, too, is a trompe l'oeil element, this time a book close to the bottom of the picture; on it rests Catherine's attribute, lilies. The two saints are perfectly balanced yet sufficiently differentiated to offer diversity without discord. God the Father is stark, awesome, blatant, rhetorical.

The formal structure of this altarpiece is rather simple. The number of figures is held to a minimum both in the zone of the two unaccompanied saints and in that of God the Father, whose heavenly company is limited to a few puttis. The low horizon silhouettes the figures of the saints almost entirely against the pale sky.