Venice and its hidden treasures: Antonio da Negroponte’s Altarpiece

Discovering a hidden treasure... Let’s walk away from the most famous and crowded areas of our city and discover a real jewel of an unusual, hidden Venice, which you can better appreciate on a guided tour.
We can enter a special church, San Francesco della Vigna (the church of St. Francis of the Vineyard), in the district of Castello.

The Church of San Francesco della Vigna

Antonio da Negroponte

Let us stop in front of an artistically exquisite work of art: “The Holy Mary and Baby Jesus enthroned”, by Antonio da Negroponte.

The Holy Mary and Baby Jesus Enthroned, by Antonio da Negroponte

Unfortunately, there are too few documents about this painter, who signed his masterpiece as “Frater Antonius de Negropon. Pinxit” (i.e. Painted by Brother Antonius from Negroponte).
As we can understand, he was a friar who for some time moved to Venice from an island called Negroponte (Negroponte is the way the Venetians used to call Euboea, an island in Central Greece) and left only this unique art work in our city.
Painted with tempera colors on wood, the painting is 3 meters high and 2.35 meters wide (10 x 7,7 feet), and it probably dates back to 1450-1460.
A historical note: in those years Euboea belonged to the Venetian Republic, but in 1470 the island was conquered by the Turks and Venice lost it completely.

The masterpiece
One element that immediately hits the viewer is the damask cloak of the Holy Mary, embellished with green details that recall, in perfect chromatic unity, the garden and the plants that surround the throne.
The hourtus conclusus (i.e. enclosed garden) stands for Mary’s virginity.

Baby Jesus is placed horizontally on his Mother’s lap, the color of his flesh is similar to the color of Mary’s face and hands, as to form the base of a triangle which ideally supports the world.

Detail with Baby Jesus and Mary

The precision and accuracy with which plants, fruits, flowers and animals are represented leaves the viewer almost breathless. Behind the throne and at the basis of the two large white marble steps the entire creation is displayed in front of our eyes.
A wide range of different birds, a tortoise, a frog appear to create sort of a movement and some noise, thus interrupting the sacred silence of the scene. The leaves, grass, fruits and flowers, represented in detail, seem to be almost palpable, as if one could touch them, could feel their delightful smell…

Detail with plants

The two little Gothic aedicules are simply marvelous: from the top of these architectural elements, a garland of flowers creates an arch that frames the Holy Mary in adoration of Baby Jesus.

Detail with aedicules

From a stylistic point of view, this a late Gothic painting: in that period, the Gothic style was coming to an end, opening the way to the new Renaissance language.
The two large steps, in fact, are represented in correct perspective, although surrounded by Gothic elements: this is then a clear example of this transitional period.

Detail, the two large steps 

The perfect stylistic and chromatic harmony of the painting is interrupted by the figure of the Almighty, which was added later by Benedetto Diana, a master of the Venetian Renaissance.

Detail with God the Almighty

These few words that we have written, however, are not enough to describe the feeling of the light atmosphere, of the perfume of this masterpiece… this is the reason why we will be waiting for you to take you on a guided tour and admire this work of art together! Ciao!