DOMENICO VENEZIANO
(b. ca. 1410, Venezia ?, d. 1461, Firenze ?)

The Madonna and Child with Saints

c. 1445
Tempera on wood, 209 x 216 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

The work, signed and dated about 1445, comes from the Florentine church of Santa Lucia dei Magnoli and shows the Madonna enthroned with Child among the saints (left to right) Francis, John the Baptist (whose face is the self-portrait of the painter), Zenobius and Lucy. The sacra conversazione is placed in a completely Renaissance architectural setting, where the perspective study get perfection with the foreshortening of the floor. The natural light and the absence of gold on the backgrond of the picture, make this altarpiece one of the first achievements of the new Renaissance art.

The traditional tricusped frame of Gothic triptychs is transformed in the Magnoli Altarpiece into an elegant loggia decorated with lovely marble intarsia. Sheltered by this construction stands the throne, with the Madonna and Child and four saints. Each one of these characters has his own physical and moral individuality, conveyed not only by the very sculptural relief with which the beautiful faces are drawn, but also by the precise position they hold within the space so clearly defined by the architectural structure.

If we compare this painting with the Berlin Adoration of the Magi, painted about five years earlier, we can see how Domenico's palette has changed: the dark and bright colours in the Berlin tondo, a legacy from Gentile and Pisanello, have been replaced by lighter colours and more delicate hues. But what really stands out in the Uffizi altarpiece is the presence of this pale and delicate light coming from a natural source, like an open window with a ray of warm sunlight streaming in, lighting up the peaceful composition and creating a shadow against the background, as evidence of its existence. This particular idea of lighting is Domenico's greatest debt to the art of Fra Angelico, and also one of his most extraordinary and original achievements.