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        What is it?

      • sacra conversazione (Ital. holy conversation) is the name given to a representation of the Madonna and Child with Saints, in which the sacred personages are meditating, or reading, or aware of each other, or are united by some common action. This type of representation replaced the earlier form of altarpiece in which each figure occupied one panel of a polyptych: in a sacra conversazione the barriers have been broken down and all the figures have moved into a single, unified space. The earliest examples occur in the work of Fra Angelico and his contemporaries, Fra Filippo Lippi and Domenico Veneziano, but it has been suggested that the dismembered Pisa Polypych by Masaccio may have been the first. Donatello's altar in the Santo at Padua seems to have introduced the idea, in three-dimensional form, to the North, and Mantegna's S. Zeno altarpiece (1459) forms the link between the Florentine examples and the important altarpieces, all of c.1475, by Piero della Francesca, Antonello and Giovanni Bellini, which create a single, unified space for the figures and for the spectator by making the architecture in which the figures are placed an extension of the achitecture of the chapel itself.

      • Source: The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists (Penguin Reference Books)

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