(b. ca. 1426, Venezia, d. 1516, Venezia)
Madonna of the Meadow (Madonna del Prato)1505
Oil on canvas, transferred from wood, 67 x 86 cm
National Gallery, London
Having been assigned to Marco Basaiti for long time, this painting is now one of Bellini's undisputed masterpieces. Unfortunately a far from excellent state of preservation (partly due to its transfer from wood to canvas in 1949) has compromised the quality of its colour composition, especially in the group of the Madonna and Child.
The image is a kind of synthesis of Bellinian dictates, a height of unattainable unity of poetry and and metaphorical and religious meanings, which Bellini's complex culture on the one hand and his emotional depth on the other succed in reaching. Few works in fact have such a highly developed double nature, demanding therefore a comprehension and an interpretation that take account of different levels. Unequivocal is the poignant lyricism of the landscape, and its rarefied and intensely limpid presence. But the sky pervaded by an indefinitely serene light and, against its deep blue transparency, the golden weightless trees, the neat graceful buildings, the air devoid of sounds or disturbances, are also the ideal representation of the "quies" (spiritual reconciliation, idyllic or ascetic retreat into solitude) as the guiding principle of the Marian concept. Nor must we forget that if the Madonna sits down in a barren rocky land it is because she is a Madonna of Humility; if the lush and minutely depicted greenness of a meadow extends around her it is an allusion to the "hortus conclusus" of medieval hymns, while in the background other attributes referring to her are added: the fortress on the hill, the doorway, the well, the clouds (symbol of the humanity of Christ and also of divine mysteries), the struggle between the pelican and the snake.