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Sacred conversation : Mother and Child, St Catherine
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16th Century
Born 1480 Italy, Died 1576
Sacred conversation : Mother and Child, St Catherine
[Sacra Conversazione : Madonna con Bambino e i Santi Caterina e Domenico con il donatore]
Oil on canvas
138 x 185 cm  [HxW]
Fondazione Magnani-Rocca, Corte di Mariano

Titian painted numerous Holy Conversations in the early stages of his activity, all of them with a splendid quality of colour. Of these, the painting now in the Magnani collection is undoubtedly one of the greatest achievements made in his youth in terms of religious painting. The canvas was probably commissioned by a Venetian nobleman, Domenico Balbi, to whose name that of the saint beside the portrait of the donor may be linked. Further confirmation of this hypothesis can be found in the fact that, right from the 16th century, the painting was housed in Palazzo Balbi di Piovera in Genoa, where it stayed until 1952.

The extremely broad compositional structure is clearly divided in two: on the left, there are the figures of the Virgin and Child with St Catherine, dressed in sumptuous clothes with bright colours against a dark background, who stand out very clearly. On the right, there are the figures of the saint and donor, whose simple, exclusively black and white clothes make a clear contrast. They are placed against a broad landscape filled with light, very similar to those in the frescoes Titian painted in 1511 at the school named after the saint in Padua. The figures are brought to the close foreground and are extremely imposing: in that of the Virgin, who is turning her head to the right to receive the supplication of the donor, presented by St Dominic, it is possible to discern the influence of the Michelangelesque models of the Sistine Chapel, which Titian may have seen in the form of prints or drawings when they were first made, since borrowings like these can already be found in his earliest works. The figures on the right — of which that of the donor is certainly a portrait — display great attention to realism and extraordinary psychological sensitivity: the very elements we also find in his fertile production of portraits in that period.

Filippo Pedrocco

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