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San Zaccaria Altarpiece - Painting Description and Analysis

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Name: San Zaccaria Altarpiece (Madonna Enthroned with Child and Saints)
Date: 1505
Artist: Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516)
Medium: Oil painting on wooden panel
Genre: Religious art
Movement: Renaissance in Venice
Location: Church of San Zaccaria, Venice

Description/Composition: The figures of the Virgin and the saints are vividly drawn, although their dignity and individual characteristics are preserved, along with a simple symmetry. The end result is a grouping of five figures plus the Christ-child, all of whom appears self-contained but are very much aware of the divine presence.

Bellini based his composition on the standard 'pyramid' grouping popular in Renaissance art, placing the most important figures - the Virgin and Child - at the apex of the pyramid. The other figures - none of whom were alive at the same time as the others - are given clear identifying characteristics. Saint Peter is on the left, attired in blue and orange robes, clutching the keys to the kingdom by Perugino. Standing next to him is Saint Catherine of Alexandria, clearly identified as a martyr due to the palm branch she is holding. The broken wooden wheel which can be seen at her side alludes to the first unsuccessful attempt to kill her, after which she was beheaded. Next in line is Saint Lucy, noted for being blinded because of her faith, who holds a bowl containing her two eyes. 

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