On 9 December 2011, after its restoration was completed, famous Italian master Cima da Conegliano’s painting The Annunciation was presented as part of Hermitage Days 2011.
The Annunciation occupies a well-deserved place of honor in the picture gallery of the State Hermitage Museum. This painting has been afforded glory and distinction through its long history. In 1604, it was mentioned in one of the first printed travel guides to Venice: “In the chapel dedicated to the Annunciation, which is located to the left of the main chapel, there is a wonderful altar painting that was created by the sublime artist Cima da Conegliano.”
This passage refers to the interior decoration of the chapel of Oratorio dei Crociferi, under the protection of the Weaver’s Guild, natives of Lucca (the names of the masters who headed this corporation are written on a paper cartouche in the lower part of the painting, as is the date of the creation of the altar, 1495).
The Oratorio dei Crociferi was discontinued in 1657, and the church was
transferred to the order of Jesuits; as a result, The Annunciation
was transferred to facilities belonging to the same guild in the Misericordia
Abbe and then to the Chapel del Rosario in the Cathedral of Saint Giovanni.
The painting’s condition at that time (1786) was already a cause for serious
In the beginning of the 19th century, this painting wound up in Moscow in the collection of the noble Golitzyn family, who had one of the largest private art collections in Russia. In 1873, the painting was transferred from its wooden backing to canvas (by Hermitage restorer A. Sidorov). In 1886, The Annunciation was acquired for the Hermitage along with the rest of the Golitzyn collection.
Even then, The Annuncation was recognized as one of Cima’s highest artistic achievements and a testament to his fully developed talent. In this painting, the artist achieves an exceptional balance of all its elements, what ultimately follows him to achieve unusual compositional harmony.
The painstaking elaboration of details in The Annunciation attracts particular attention; the veins in the marble of the arched window, the composed pattern of the columns and base of the canopy, the Hebrew text written along the border of the curtain (quotes from the book of Isaiah “The Virgin will take into her womb and give birth to the Son”), the markers between the pages of the book, the empty stained glass window frame of the cathedral, and, finally, the insects, the flies and the horseman. Even the landscape visible through the window has a real original; on the crown of a hill towers the fortress known as Castelvecchio di Conelyano and a winding country road descends from it. This is a real depiction of the Western wall of the castle, pierced by the di Ser Belle gates, with a corner tower and tower called Bemba s sadu Dzacci, beyond which tower the fortresses’ main tower. Against the background of such distinctly emphasized corporeality, the event itself has a timeless, sacred nature, which is produced by the statuesque quality of the poses and gestures of the Madonna and the Archangel Gabriel. This moment, captured in eternity is only emphasized by the archangel’s streaming hair, movement of his clothes, the morning light that streams through the open door, making the figures and objects cast distinct shadows.
The removal of the later, restored layers returned The Annunciation to its original color, which is characteristic of Cima’s best work; a cold, silvery spectrum with the finest possible nuances of light. The diversity of the shading in the transition from blue to white, from Gabriel’s clothes, painted in a white color that is simply dazzling, thanks to the diversity of silver-grey and blue shades in the shadows to the deep sky blue tone of the Madonna’s cape. The light shadows, cast by the figures and object, give the space a certain depth the earlier compositions lacked. Thanks to the play of light and shadow on the green bed curtain, creases are produced; a shadow bleeds through onto them from the right; the shadow of the figure of the Madonna.
The delicacy of the modulation of light and shadow gave a truly new, more tender and more inspired expression to the faces of both characters, and the incarnation took on a mother of pearl or porcelain tone. Underneath the book, on the end of the wooden stand, the artist’s fingerprints were discovered, which confirms the traditional Venetian practice of blending the last paints with one’s fingers. Finally, Latin letters were discovered bellow, the remnants of the artist’s signature, a virtual reconstruction of which is presented on a separate pad.
Introductory remarks by M.B. Piotrovsky