(b. 1472, Venezia, d. 1526, Capodistria)
The Ambassadors Return to the English Court1495-1500
Tempera on canvas, 297 x 527 cm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice
Canvas No. 3 of the series of nine large paintings "Stories from the Life of St Ursula".
The canvas showing the Return of the Ambassadors to the English Court also contains views of Venice and scenes from the everyday reality of the city in the late 15th century. See, for example, at the far left of the painting, next to the marble base that supports the pennant from which the standard is shown flapping in the sea breeze, the seated "scalco" or steward with his club and his gold chain, and the boy playing the rebec, both of them protagonists of the Venetian Republic's ceremonial protocol for receiving newly arrived foreign delegations.
The view of the city is dominated by the splendid Renaissance palace, almost a symbol of Vittore Carpaccio's architectural painting. The description of the interiors is suggested by the volumetric structure of the building, whose wide arch depicted in deep shadow recalls the buildings painted about twenty years earlier by Antonello da Messina in his St Sebastian for the church of San Giuliano in Venice (the painting is now in the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden). The facades consist of luminous surfaces, enclosed by frames of projecting cornices and strips of coloured marble, decorated with marble basreliefs of classical subjects and with an extremely elegant row of windows opening onto a wide balcony.
The diagonal perspective lines of this majestic construction, whose perfect architectural forms are reminiscent of the buildings that Codussi was designing at around that time, provide the basic structure on which all the elements of the composition are arranged: the bridge and the banks full of spectators, each carefully portrayed in costumes that denote social standing and origin; the pinkish brick paving, surrounded by the green grass of the "campo"; the octagonal royal pavilion; the two mediaeval towers in the background, protecting the canal. The enchanted magic of the different planes, set out in the perfect construction of this ideal geometrical form, is paralleled in the rich density of the colours; in the pale lighting of this late spring morning the colours take on entirely new tonalities, especially in the shining silk costumes and in the imaginative headdresses. And, as always, Carpaccio grasps every last detail, like the swift trireme that has just docked at the pier next to a "cocca," the typical Venetian freight vessel, or the casements of the balcony crowded with people, silvery cylinders of glass, some of which are broken.