(b. 1472, Venezia, d. 1526, Capodistria)

The Arrival of the Pilgrims in Cologne

Tempera on canvas, 280 x 255 cm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

Canvas No. 7 of the series of nine large paintings "Stories from the Life of St Ursula".

In the scene of the Pilgrims' Arrival in Cologne some details of the event are relegated to marginal positions. While in the distance some of the vessels of the retinue are still out at sea, to the left the flagship has already docked; Ursula and Pope Cyriacus lean out to ask information from a boatman. To the right, in the foreground, four armed envoys have just finished reading out the message warning the Hun princes of the arrival of the Christian pilgrims. Carpaccio does not really demonstrate great self-assuredness in the composition of the scene or in the way the individual events are related to one another. But we can already begin to make out the characteristic features of his visual language: the slow, almost magically suspended rhythm of the narration, fixed in its most salient moment; the attention to the lighting of even the smallest details; the extraordinary brightness of the colours.

The event is portrayed in a fresh and lively scene of movement. At the top, the vessel's pennant and the mast are cut off abruptly, while to the left there is the suggestion of a vast expanse of water and to the right the urban density of Cologne. The setting is reminiscent of a misty autumn morning in Venice. In the greyish light the ships glide slowly over the still water, reaching the harbour just outside the city walls depicted in perspective towards a vanishing point on the horizon: this whole part of the scene looks very much like the older sections of the Arsenal in Venice.