Pope Alexander III Presenting a Ceremonial Umbrella..., n.d.Vittore Carpaccio (Italian, circa 1460-1465 - circa 1525-26)
Carpaccio’s scenes from the life of Saint Ursula, patron saint of a scuola, reveal the artist’s talent for naturalistic depictions of ceremonial events and exotic places.
The Venetian artist Vittore Carpaccio is best known for his series of canvases depicting events in religious and secular history. These were commissioned by charitable organizations known as scuole, lay confraternities that addressed the religious and social needs of their members and the poor and also provided ordinary citizens a chance to participate in civic life. Carpaccio’s scenes from the life of Saint Ursula, patron saint of a scuola, reveal the artist’s talent for naturalistic depictions of ceremonial events and exotic places. Such narrative cycles were commissioned from many Venetian artists by the government of the city-state as well.
Carpaccio was one of a team of artists chosen to collaborate under Giovanni Bellini for the decoration of the Sala del Maggior Consiglio, the main council hall in the Ducal Palace, in 1507. Scenes of military and diplomatic triumphs celebrated the origin and legitimacy of Venetian power. Completed in 1511, the cycle was destroyed by fire in 1577 and recreated by other artists, making the Crocker drawing the only record of Carpaccio's original composition. The scene celebrates the Pope’s recognition of Venice as an equal power in 1177, symbolized by bestowal of gifts that include an umbrella of the type commonly held above the heads of rulers at the time.