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Madonna and Child with Saints (“Sacra Conversazione”)

Jacopo Sansovinoc. 1530

Bode-Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Bode-Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

In Venetian sculpture, the decisive turning-point between the High Renaissance and so-called Mannerism came about through the Florentine Jacopo Sansovino. In 1527, following the sack of Rome, he had moved to Venice. His formal idiom shows him taking his bearings from works of antiquity and also from Raphael and Michelangelo. In the Berlin Sacra Conversazione, which shows the Madonna standing with the Christ Child before a throne, flanked to the left by St. Catherine of Alexandria (?) and St. James and to the right by St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare, Sansovino chose a compositional approach that had traditionally been used principally for altar paintings. By sculpting the figures’ heads almost three-dimensionally and using an architectural background that offers layers of perspective, Sansovino is able to give depth to his scene. In the process, he takes up a religious theme that painters had often presented in artificial spaces, in front of an unreal gold background or brocade fabrics, and endows it with palpable reality. Equally unusual is the material he has used: terracotta. The white coloration evoked the character of a sculpture in marble. Traces of gilding, presumably original, remain on parts of the classical- style architecture, on the figures’ sandals, on St. Clare’s cross and on St. Francis’ book.

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