(b. 1579, Venezia, d. 1620, Venezia)

Madonna and Child with St Anne

Oil on canvas, 180 x 155 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

Saraceni executed this altarpiece for the first altar to the right in the Church of San Simeone Profeta, which was reconstructed and decorated by Cardinal Lancellotti in 1610. The canvas came to the museum in 1929, following the suppression of the church. Scholars agree on attributing it to Saraceni, and as the commission is securely datable it constitutes (along with the Frascati Rest on the Flight into Egypt, securely dated to 1606) an important point of reference for the reconstruction of the painter's first Roman period.

Compared to the 1606 Frascati canvas, which shows only the first timid hints of naturalism, here the artist displays a significant maturing and reveals an absorbtion of Caravaggesque method. The background landscape has been eliminated and replaced with a deep shadow throughout, in accordance with the tenets of the new naturalistic style. The figures, all concentrated in the foreground, are set much closer to the picture plane, accentuating the emotional intereaction between themselves and the viewer.

The beautiful dove held by Saint Anne is a master passage of impressionistic brushwork, economically rendered with extremely rapid brushstrokes that are full of color and light. Likewise the cradle to the lower right, realized with an astonishing speed and lucid realistic effect, can be considered as a harbinger of the painting of Velázquez. This passage is an important parallel to the famous "basket" executed by Borgianni in these same years.