My Favourite Painting: Jane Glover

Musicican Jane Glover chooses one of the greatest works of art in Venetian history.

Jane Glover on The Frari Triptych

’For four years in my early twenties, I lived in Venice for several months and I have returned there every year since. Among the city’s countless intoxicating treasures, this triptych in the Sacristy, tucked away from the blazing glories of the two great Titian masterpieces in the central nave, continues to stand out for me as a painting of total perfection and tranquillity.

‘The Madonna’s gaze is both serene and searching; on the right, St Benedict intriguingly turns to the viewer, rather than reverentially towards her; the two cherubs at her feet, one playing a lute, the other a recorder, balance the radiant trompe l’oeil apse above her. Henry James wrote: “Nothing in Venice is more perfect than this” and I wholeheartedly agree.’

Jane Glover is a conductor and music director of Chicago’s Music of the Baroque. Her books include Mozart’s Women and Handel in London.

John McEwen on Bellini and the Sacristy of the Frari

The Sacristy of the Frari in Venice, this picture’s home, is where Pietro Pesaro and his wife, Franchescina Tron, are interred. The painting was commissioned by their sons, Nicholas, Mark and Benedict. The Virgin and Child are flanked by the saintly pairings of St Nicholas and St Peter, St Mark and St Benedict, patron saints of Pesaro and his sons.

On the left for the viewer, St Nicholas the miracle worker predominates; on the right, St Benedict is to the fore, wearing a monk’s habit as founder of the Benedictine Order. That St Mark is secondary seems curious, given his significance as the patron saint of Venice.

The inscription above the Virgin reads: ‘Secure gateway to Heaven, guide my mind, lead my life, may everything I do be entrusted to your care.’

Landscape glimpses between the framing pillars give a sense of the infinite. In his charming guidebook, Venice for Pleasure, the late J. G. Links draws ‘delighted’ attention to the angels below the Virgin.

The importance of the painting is indicated by the fact that Bellini signed it and included the date February 15, 1488, on the back. The sumptuous wooden frame was carved by Jacopo de Faenza.

Considered the supreme Venetian painter of Madonnas, Giovanni was the greatest of the Bellini dynasty of artists — his father was Jacopo, his brother Gentile. Andrea Mantegna was his brother-in-law and Titian and Giorgione were among his pupils. One of the Titian altarpieces in the Frari — as were many other works of art — was also commissioned by the Pesaros, a family of great distinction over several centuries.