The painting, also called the Portuense Altarpiece, was executed between 1479 and 1481 for the church of Santa Maria in Porto Fuori at Ravenna, served by the Canons Regular of the Lateran. In the 16th century it was transferred to San Francesco in the same city, from where it entered the Pinacoteca after the Napoleonic abolitions. Under a majestic work of architecture is located the octagonal podium on which the Virgin’s throne stands; the base is decorated with panels simulating antique bronze reliefs, on the lines of the ones made by Donatello for the altar of Il Santo in Padua. They represent the Slaughter of the Innocents, Adoration of the Magi and Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.
At the sides of the throne appear St. Augustine, patron of the Lateran Order, on the left, and Pietro degli Onesti, its founder. The base of the throne is supported by columns through which an extraordinary stormy seascape is visible, probably alluding to the foundation of Santa Maria del Porto: on the voyage back to Ravenna from the Holy Land, Pietro degli Onesti had survived a shipwreck and promised the Virgin he would construct a large church as a votive offering for the miracle.
The altarpiece constitutes one of the finest examples of the composed and classical monumentality attained by de’ Roberti, who here mutes the frenzied dynamism of the frescoes in Palazzo Schifanoia at Ferrara and adopts more solid and measured forms, in which the figures are handled with a robust plastic modeling and the artist’s nervous expressiveness remains confined to the decorations.
Labels by famous authors
“Three formidable women, all relatives, all mothers, close ranks on a pedestal. One is expecting a child, one holds her child on her knee, and one’s child now sits beside her, a mother in her own right. Like three Fates, they are the past, present, and future, not only of their own dynasty, but of the whole world. With their serenity they have calmed a crashing tempest over Ravenna, but they are here, now, to calm storm-tossed souls.”
AUTHOR Ercole de Roberti
DATE 1479 - 81
OBJECT TYPE AND MATERIAL Oil on canvas
DIMENSIONS cm 323 x 240
Work on display
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