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Work The Sermon of St. Stephen at Jerusalem

Department of Paintings: Italian painting

The Sermon of St. Stephen at Jerusalem

© 2009 Musée du Louvre / Erich Lessing

Paintings
Italian painting

Author(s):
Bastien Speranza

This work belongs to a cycle of paintings devoted to the life of St. Stephen, created for the upper hall of the Scuola di Santo Stefano in Venice between 1511 and 1520. Three other paintings from the cycle are conserved in Berlin, Milan, and Stuttgart; the fifth has disappeared.

Staging the scene

The scene takes place within the walls of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. St. Stephen preaches from an ancient pedestal, partially in ruins, which symbolizes victory over paganism. Pointing his finger skyward, the saint invites his audience to contemplate God. In the foreground, a group of eastern women sit cross-legged on the ground, captivated by the sermon. Around them eastern men in turbans, Greeks - recognizable by their high hats (far left) - and westerners offer proof to the universality of the saint's message. The temple behind, a symbol of Judaism, is depicted as a "tempio" of the Italian Renaissance. On the hill of Jerusalem one can make out the church of the Holy Sepulchre. The city - which some historians have identified as Damascus - is rendered as a conglomerate of ancient buildings and minarets of a mineral-like austerity.

Rendering materials

Aside from the blue in the cupolas, the architecture is painted in tones of pearly white, occasionally tinted with ochre. In the background, a landscape of Italian hills lost in mist is somewhat evocative of the art of Leonardo da Vinci. A crowd of figures populates this world. The work makes evident Carpaccio's fondness for rendering materials - crimson velvets and brocade (on the saint's chasuble) - as well as a fascination for the Orient, which he shared with the other Venetian painters.
The cycle of paintings is based on the theme of historical continuity between Judaism and Christianity. One of Carpaccio's later works, The Sermon makes use of a narrative vein that the artist himself had invented two decades earlier in the History of St. Ursula cycle, found today in the Academia museum in Venice.

A cycle devoted to St. Stephen

This painting, whose frame once bore the date 1514, is the second and most famous of the cycle that originally comprised "The Consecration of the Host" (Berlin), "The Sermon", "The Judgement of St. Stephen" (now missing), "The Stoning of St. Stephen" (Stuttgart), and the "Disputation of St. Stephen" (Milan). The episodes illustrate the life of the saint, such as it was related by Jacobus de Voragine in Legenda Aurea (Golden Legend, 1264). Commissioned in 1511 and completed in 1520, the cycle was meant to decorate the chapel - "albergo" - of a Venetian devotional brotherhood called the Scuola de Santo Stefano. The majority of the members were stonecutters for whom Stephen - martyred by stoning - was patron saint; this also helps to explain the omnipresence of stone architecture in the painting.

Technical description

  • Vittore CARPACCIO (Known in Venice in 1472 –Venice, 1525-26)

    The Sermon of St. Stephen at Jerusalem

    1514

    Painted for the Scuola di Santo Stefano, Venice

  • Oil on canvas

    H. 1.48 m; W. 1.94 m

  • Entered the Louvre in 1812

    Inv. 181

  • Paintings

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Grande Galerie
    Room 5

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