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Beginning in the 1520s, Moretto da Brescia received numerous commissions
in Upper Italy. Until the late 1530s his works are remarkable for their elegant
synthesis of various painting styles: he combines Giorgione’s Venetian style of coloration and surface treatment with Lorenzo Lotto’s sharp delineation of light and subjective approach. There is evidence of the veneration of St. Justina in Upper Italy as early as the 5th century; Benedictine monks later spread the cult of the patron saint of Padua across the whole of Europe. Beginning in the early 15th century, she is usually depicted as a young princess in a long dress and cloak, and carrying a palm branch. Moretto further emphasises her virginity with the presence of a unicorn. This painting, which in early inventories was attributed at various times to both Titian and Raphael, is considered a major work of the High Renaissance in Upper Italy. Statuesque in her tranquillity, the saint also reflects the work of Raphael and thus Roman art of the time. The connection between the saints, their attributes and the (unknown) donor appears to be quite close so that this
devotional image also has somewhat the atmosphere of a love idyll. Taken
together, such details as the vertically falling ends of the scarf tied around her
waist, which gleam with a silvery light, the standing posture, which imitates the art of antiquity, Justina’s palm branch and the animal’s horn create a strong compositional structure that sets the saint off against the kneeling donor, despite the harmony of the composition.

© Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery, Vienna 2010

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