(b. 1472, Venezia, d. 1526, Capodistria)
The Dream of St Ursula1495
Tempera on canvas, 274 x 267 cm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice
Canvas No. 5 of the series of nine large paintings "Stories from the Life of St Ursula".
Carpaccio's masterful ability at grasping each detail while still preserving the unity of the scene and its symbolic value reaches its peak in this cycle in the painting of the Dream. In the preparatory drawings, now in the Drawings Collection in the Uffizi in Florence, there is an intensely lyrical feeling of space, which in the painting becomes even more magical and enchanted. The elements of reality are arranged in perfect perspective constructions, creating scenes that will remain part of our memory for the rest of time: he is capable of describing a late Quattrocento Venetian bedroom with an objectivity that reminds one of Vermeer.
Below a canopy supported by tall thin rods, the sleeping Ursula is visited in her dreams by the angel (notice the sharp shadow he casts on the ground) who tells her of her imminent martyrdom. The light shines brightly behind the angel and penetrates into the room from the roundels below the beams, from the windows and from the half-open door leading into the next room; but it does not succeed in dispelling all the shadows in the bedroom.
In this chiaroscuro atmosphere, every detail is rendered with subdued light and soft shadows: the little slippers, the gold crown and the little dog at the foot of the bed; the little table with the hourglass on it and the book, still open at the page where Ursula stopped reading; the pots on the window ledge with carnations and myrtle growing in them, plants that symbolize earthly and heavenly love; the holy image lit by the smoking candle that we can see through the elaborately carved frame and the equally richly carved chair below it; the antique gilded bronze statuettes of Hercules and Venus above the door-frames; the cupboard with its doors ajar so that we can see its contents.