The Madonna In Art by Estelle M. Hurll. Part. 2b.The Madonna Enthroned

To understand Venetian art aright, we must distinguish the character of the earlier and later periods. With Vivarini, Bellini, and Cima, the Madonna in Trono was the expression of a devout religious feeling. With Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese, it was merely one among many popular art subjects. Thus arose two different general types. The earlier Madonna was a somewhat cold type of beauty; the faultless regularity of her features and the imperturbable calm of her expression make her rather unapproachable; but she shows a strong, sweet purity of character, worthy of profound respect.

One of Cima's most important works is the Madonna of this type in the Venice Academy. High on a marble throne, she sits under a pillared portico, behind which stretches a pleasant landscape. Three saints stand on each side,—an old man, a youth, and a maiden. On the steps sit two choristers playing the violin and mandolin.

Palma's great altar-piece, at Vicenza, is another splendid enthroned Madonna. Attended by St. George and St. Lucy, and entertained by a musical angel seated at her feet, the Virgin supports her beautiful boy, as he gives his blessing.

Bellini's enthroned Madonnas are known throughout the world. The picture by which he established his fame was one of this class, originally painted for a chapel in San Giobbe, but now hanging in the Venice Academy. Ruskin has pronounced it "one of the greatest pictures ever painted in Christendom in her central art power." It is a large composition, with three saints at each side, and three choristers below.

The Frari Madonna is in a simpler vein, and consists of three compartments, the central one containing the Virgin's throne. The angioletti, on the steps, are probably the most popular of their charming class in Venice.

Giovanni Bellini.—Madonna of San Zaccaria.
The San Zaccaria Madonna was painted when Bellini was over eighty years old, and has certain technical qualities surpassing any the artist had previously attained. The depth of light and shade is particularly remarkable; the colors rich and harmonious. The attendant saints are St. Lucy on the right, a pretty blonde girl, with St. Jerome beyond her, absorbed in his Bible; opposite, stand St. Catherine, pensively looking down, and St. Peter, in profound meditation. The entire picture, both in conception and execution, may be considered a representative example of the times.

Following the Bellini school, and forming, as it were, a connecting link between the earlier and the later art, was Giorgione. Less than a score of existing works give witness to the rare spirit of this master, who was spared to earth only thirty-four years. These are of a quality to place him among the immortals. The enthroned Madonna is the subject of two, one in the Madrid Gallery, and another at Castel-Franco. They create an entirely distinct Madonna ideal,—a poetic being, who sits, with drooping head and dreamy eyes, as if seeing unspeakable visions.

The Castel-Franco picture expresses the finest elements in Venetian character. Every other composition seems elaborate and artificial when compared with the simplicity of this. Other Madonnas seem almost coarse beside such delicacy. The Virgin's throne is of an unusual height,—a double plinth,—the upper step of which is somewhat above the heads of the attendant saints, Liberale and Francis. This simple, compositional device emphasizes the effect of her pensive expression. It is as if her high meditations set her apart from human companionship. There is, indeed, something almost pathetic in her isolation, but for the strength of character in her face. The color scheme is as simple and beautiful as the underlying conception. The Virgin's tunic is of green, and the mantle, falling from the right shoulder and lying across her lap, is red, with deep shadows in its large folds. The back of the seat is covered with a strip of red and gold embroidery.

The later period of Venetian art is marked by a new ideal of the Virgin. She is now a magnificent creature of flesh and blood. Her face is proud and handsome; her figure large, well-proportioned, and somewhat voluptuous. No Bethlehem stable ever sheltered this haughty beauty; her home is in kings' palaces; she belongs distinctly to the realm of wealth and worldliness. She has never known sorrow, anxiety, or poverty; life has brought her nothing but pleasure and luxury. Her throne stands no longer in the sacred place of some inner sanctuary, where angel choristers make music. It is an elevated platform, at one side of the composition, as in Titian's Pesaro altar-piece, and Veronese's Madonna in the Venice Academy. This gives an opportunity for a display of elaborate draperies, such as we may see in Veronese's picture.

The peculiar qualities of art in Verona and Venice are blended in Paolo Veronese. No artist ever enjoyed more the splendors of color, or combined them in more enchanting harmonies. Such gifts transform the commonest materials, and, though his Virgin is a very ordinary woman, she has undeniable charms. An oft-copied figure, in this picture, is that of the little St. John, a universal favorite among child lovers.