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

Birth of the Virgin

Tempera on canvas, 126 x 128 cm
Accademia Carrara, Bergamo

Carpaccio painted the Stories from the Life of the Virgin between 1504 and 1508 in the Scuola degli Albanesi, consecrated to Mary and to St Gall. This building, which still exists, was constructed around the year 1500 on a piece of land belonging to the monastery of the Augustinian friars at San Maurizio; the confraternity it housed consisted mostly of the community of Illyrians who had settled in Venice in great numbers especially after the Turkish conquest of Scutari in 1479. The six small paintings are today in four different museums: the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo (Birth of the Virgin), the Brera in Milan (Presentation in the Temple and Wedding of the Virgin), the Giorgio Franchetti Gallery in the Ca' d'Oro in Venice (Annunciation and Death of the Virgin) and the Correr Museum in Venice (Visitation).

As compared with the earlier, the level of invention and innovation in these works is fairly poor, as is the range and depth of colour; this cannot be explained entirely by the fact that Carpaccio was assisted in this task only by mediocre helpers and that he was less interested in this commission than he had been in the cycle for San Giorgio degli Schiavoni. Carpaccio was quite obviously finding it difficult to develop his art in the climate of spiritual revolution initiated by Giorgione. And yet, in these subjects he occasionally shows a renewed interest in the everyday aspects of existence. Especially in the Birth of the Virgin he investigates with great attention to detail the interior scenes, and every last element of the decoration, recreating a mood of intimacy thanks to a use of soft tints, further mellowed by a diffuse lighting.