This is one of the most traditional images of Western religious painting, a Madonna and Child devotional image intended for a church or private chapel.
Although this is undoubtedly a conventional subject, it is treated in a manner which is innovative for Venice in the 1500s. Venetian Madonnas were traditionally painted on a gold background in the manner of icons to render them sacred. Venetian painters in the late 15th century, inspired by Tuscan examples, dared to depict them in natural settings.
Thus Cima de Conegliano places his Virgin outside against a landscape reminiscent of the hills of his native Friuli. A warm late afternoon light softens the outline of the figures and creates a bond between the Holy pair and the landscape. The painter excels at imparting physical reality to the rather rounded oval face of this very young Mother and her chubby Child. Note Jesus’ natural and gracious gesture as he raises his hand to stroke his Mother’s cheek.
Finally observe the superb chromatic harmony between the cold, crystalline tones of the landscape and the warm tones of the complexions and clothing. The art of colour would become a characteristic feature of great Venetian painting of the next generation and Giorgione and Titian would recall the lessons of Cima da Conegliano.
M. A. P.