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

Disputation of St Stephen

Tempera on canvas, 147 x 172 cm
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

Thanks to the penetrating clarity of the light and brilliant architectural fantasy, mingling classical and oriental elements, the episode now in Milan is certainly the best of the cycle. Eastern scholars mix with the brothers of the School as they listen to St. Stephen's sermon.

In the scene of the Disputation of St Stephen, the saint is shown below a wide and spacious loggia, clearly modelled on the architecture of Pietro Lombardo, placed slightly at an angle. On the bases of the columns in the foreground, in the most visible place, Vittore Carpaccio signed his name and inscribed the date, 1514. Around the deep greens and browns of the Venetian hills he has arranged a series of buildings, in a varied combination of architectural styles which suggest a fairytale Orient and a Western world that is also a product of the imagination. In this painting Carpaccio gives his imagination free rein, creating the most eccentric architectural constructions of any of his works; such as the equestrian monument placed on very high marble supports pierced by free-standing sculptures; or the pyramid that blends into the opalescent sphere; or the elaborate building to the right, next to the walls that recede in a typical diagonal perspective foreshortening.

Against this totally imaginary architectural background, highlighted and animated by the colour patches of the groups of characters, Carpaccio has given us a series of concrete and realistic portraits, probably of members of the confraternity who were much more interested in having their portrait painted than they were in the debate between St Stephen and the Orientals.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.