Giovanni Bellini, The Barbarigo Altarpiece

1488
Oil on canvas, 78.7 x 126 in. (200 x 320 cm.)
Location: Church of St. Peter Martyr, Murano, Italy
Provenance: The Barbarigo palazzo in Venice, then after the doge's death the convent of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Murano.

As patron of the city of Venice, St. Mark presents the Doge Agostino Barbarigo to the Virgin and the infant Christ. On the right is the doge's namesake, St. Augustine, wearing the "splendid pontificals" that are that saint's attribute.

Barbarigo's dress is also splendid. He wears the corno, the fabric crown that doges wear on official occasions, and the ermine cape worn on the most solemn of those occasions. His family crest, surmounted by the corno, is in the roundel on the base of the dais that supports the Madonna. As a matter of policy this doge strove to present himself as the embodiment of a magnificent Venice that during his reign had attained important victories on the mainland. This may be the point of the fortress and mountains in the right background — and of the stork and crow on the right, which may represent a claim to personal virtue on the part of the doge. In the Physiologus of Epiphanius the stork is a model of sexual self-restraint and filial piety, while the crow is notable for monogamy: even if its mate dies, it will spurn all others.

However, the peacock standing in front of the landscape adds a note of caution to any claim of magnificence. For Epiphanius, that bird rejoices pridefully in the beauty of its feathers until it happens to look down and notice its ugly feet, which are likened to the sins of a man who has been exulting in his virtuousness. Seconding this note of humility, the doge kneels with his hands pressed in prayer and casts his glance modestly down and away as he receives the blessing of his Savior.

This image in full resolution
More of St. Mark
More of St. Augustine
More of the Madonna and Child

Photographed at the church by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.