Vittore Carpaccio was a Venetian painter whose actual birth date is guessed to be between 1455 and 1465. His real name was Scarpazza and although he was a very talented painter he did not have the connections or training of painters like Jacopo, Gentile and Giovanni Bellini. He was a painter for the middle class and his commissions were small, generally from schools or small religious brotherhoods. The popular themes of the day were religious subjects, especially the lives of the saints, moralistic stories and characters from Biblical times.
Carpaccio is believed to have been born in either Capodistria or in Venice. Capodistria was part of Venice in the 15th century, but is now a part of the port city of Koper, in Slovenia. His heritage was Istrian (Croatian), and his father was a leather merchant whose name was Piero Scarpazza. When Carpaccio joined with the Humanists, who were part of a cultural movement to preserve the Greek and Roman literature and classics, he changed his birth name from Scarpazza to Carpaccio. However, his association with the Humanists did little to change his painting style towards that of the developing Italian Renaissance.
He's reported as having been the student of Lazzaro Bastiani, a prominent artist with a very large art studio in Venice, although there some that had mistakenly thought that Carpaccio may have been the master of Bastiani. He had never traveled outside of Venice and it was probably with careful study of Reuwich's illustrations which were published in Breydenbach's Itinerary that he was able to paint scenes of Constantinople. The Early Netherlandish artwork that he'd been able to study, as well as Antonella de Messina's manner of painting, had a lasting effect on his own evolving painting style. Carpaccio had also been influenced, as many other painters of his time, by the style of Andrea Mantegna, but his charming paintings of Venice’s architecture, with the canals and winding streets are incomparable to others. Very few painters have ever given such an insightful historic view of Venice in her Golden Age.
His best works were sometimes full of soulful genius, such as his Saint’s Vision which is one of the most beautifully depicted scenes ever of virginal sleep, and yet others seemed to lack vigor or depth of feeling. More towards the end of his career he seemed to merge all of his talents into bringing forth emotional charges from his subjects, a challenge he’d not been able to overcome in his youthful pictures. These changes are evident in his Pieta, St. Jerome in His Cell, and The Holy Family. Carpaccio’s St. Vitalis in Venice is thought to be the best decorative painting produced before Paolo Veronese’s time.
His first and only invitation to paint for nobility came in 1501 from the Doge’s Palace. The Lion of St. Mark is still on display there, but his other work, The Battle of Ancona, was unfortunately destroyed in a fire in the Doge’s Palace in 1577. In 1560 a collection of a number of Carpaccio’s surviving paintings that spanned his career were brought together and put on public display in a small church in Venice called San Giorgio de Schiavoni. The paintings are set there in a museum-like setting, for all those who would like to experience first-hand the sense of a deeper connection to 16th century Venice and Vittore Carpaccio’s art.