Hidden treasures

The Nativity in the Carmini Church in Venice

Unknown places & works

The Nativity in the Carmini Church in Venice

Throughout the Christmas season we find ourselves surrounded by nativity scenes, both medium and large in size, but we must not forget that the Nativity of Jesus has also often been represented in paintings!

An excellent example, and a little different from the usual, is the Nativity painted by Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano in the Carmini Church in Venice.

The adoration of Baby Jesus takes place in an idyllic setting. Mary is near the wicker crib and behind her you can see Archangel Raphael and Tobiolo, with the fish and the dog. On the left, Saint Joseph is greeting a kneeling shepherd – whose portray is concealing the image of the person who commissioned the painting - who is offering a fruit basket and two pigeons as a gift. Behind them is another shepherd boy (maybe John the Baptist) and two noble female saints, Helena the Empress, with the True Cross, and Catherine of Alexandria, with the martyr’s palm and the broken spiked wheel at her feet. In the center of the representation are the ox and the donkey.

The work was commissioned by Giovanni and Caterina Calvo for the altar of a chapel in which Giovanni's tomb is located. The dating is uncertain, but could be around Catherine’s time of death, in 1508, which preceded her husband’s death occurred the following year. The presence of St. Catherine could refer to Giovanni’s late wife.

The painting features warmer chromatic tones than those previously painted by the artist, a sign indicative of his attention to the painting of a new style heralded by Giorgione and followed by Sebastiano del Piombo, Titian’s early works  and Bellini’s later ones.

The figures are represented with plastic compactness and chromatic sophistication, but also enlivened by gestures and gazes that give the painting a never seen-before affectivity. The surrounding environment, with the beautiful sky fading out on the horizon onto yellow ochre tones, presents an idyllic hue that perfectly complements the quiet intimacy of the characters in the foreground.

The church of Santa Maria dei Carmini is located in the Dorsoduro district, a few steps from the lively Campo Santa Margherita and the splendid 18th-century Ca' Rezzonico Museum in Venice.

By Insidecom Editorial Staff

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