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Fra Carnevale's the Birth of the Virgin

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Fra Carnevale's The Birth of the Virgin is one of a pair of fairly large panels which are well known to those who admire European art. The religious theme is subordinate to the general effect of the painting. However, the interpretation of the religious theme in terms of genre and the emphasis on the setting at the expense of the narrative are without precedent in paintings of this time period. One of the first impressions the beholder gets from the picture is one of architecture --- beautiful, smooth gray stone and plaster, elegant patterns that are crisply carved, spacious interiors that are cheerful with clear, cool light. The paving stones and lines of the open entry way are precise but also have a puzzling perspective; leading the eye every which way--to a church interior, to the edges of the panels, and beyond. The open shape of each entryway is used to convey emotions and ideas. There is a greater sense of movement when looking into an open space; as well as an open mind for the flow of ideas and flexibility. The architectural setting and the carefully conceived perspective of the palace suggests that the painter also had quite in interest in the subject matter.

The human figures are only one fifth as high as the entire picture. They take up little space, and are accurately proportioned and scaled, as though the painting was done from a distance. Their outfits are of clear but delicate colors that are melodious against the sustained gray and white of the masonry. The harmonious blending of the figures and the architectural structures creates a balance.

Carnevale uses a deep shade of blue for the sky that appears so bright and intense next to the unrelenting shades of gray and white in the architecture. He also mixes complementary hues, such as dull blues and pinks that neutralize the effect of the contrast shown in the upper left corner. Like most other artists, he also focused on the shading of colors to show folds that help to achieve a realistic looking drapery. The viewer can also see shadows of the figures, which suggests that the light source comes anywhere from the middle left to the lower left corner of the painting. One can also determine the light source from the brightness of the walls in the large splendid room.

In Fra Carnevale's The Birth of the Virgin the foreground is sparingly occupied by idealized looking ladies moving to and fro with quiet dignity. The movement of the figures is gentle, but alert. The slow and unified movement of the figures creates a calming, yet realistic and balanced scene for the viewer. One woman leads a child by the hand and two greet each other with a handclasp. The holding and clasping of each other's hands not only suggests visitation, but also can be seen as a representation of responsibility and the embracement of one another.

The significant scene of the Virgin's nativity is certainly the focal point of the painting and takes place far away within a stately open room



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