To be able to paint light reflecting in glass is one of the hallmarks of a virtuoso still-life artist. Mystically-inclined interpreters see it as a suggestion of supernatural light. As his early biographers commented, Caravaggio's painting of drapery, skin and objects manage without reflected light. This distinguished him from the Mannerist painters of the preceding generation. And it makes it all the more interesting to observe how unusually he renders the round crystal-vase in this picture - he flattens it. In so doing, he inverts the lighting of the whole picture, by concentrating the light areas on the left and the dark ones on the right.
This canvas with its larger than life-size figures is one of three versions which El Greco painted of the subject. The impression of the artist's Venetian years, and particularly the works of Titian, can still be felt in the strictly centralized composition, in the relatively plastic modelling of the figures, and above all in the sophistication of the the palette. The way in which the figures below left are sliced by the frame, and the slight foreshortening empolyed in the figure of Christ, who appears to be leaning backwards into the picture, suggest that the canvas was destined to be hung at some height. If we consider in this regard the luminous red of Christ's robe, by which he is made to stand out from the crowd, and the multiple verticals of the figures and lances, the painting seems to point beyond its immediate subject to the coming ascension.
The Colonna Madonna is named for that Roman princely and papal family. Painted c. 1508, Raphael's first year in Rome, its colouring is remarkably blond; a similar tonality throughout suggests that the painting may not be entirely finished. Mary is distracted from her reading by Jesus. He looks to the spectator while reaching for her neckline, clearly wanting to nurse. A complex torsion to these figures is a far cry from the complacent, static world of Perugino.
Four almost square paintings by Tintoretto, Bacchus, Venus and Ariadne; Minerva Sending Away Mars from Peace and Prosperity; Vulcan's Forge; Mercury and the Graces) are set in stucco frames and arranged symmetrically on the walls of the Sala dell'Anticollegio in the Palazzo Ducale. Originally they were on the walls of the Atrio Quadrato (Square Anteroom) in the same palace. The four works have mythological or allegorical subjects and were originally part of a compact program to celebrate the good government of Doge Gerolamo Priuli. The figures and landscapes enshrine images of concord and prosperity and are classical in inspiration. The paintings were meant by the author to extol the unity and glory of the Venetian Republic.
In the Mercury and the Graces, the Graces intermingle, as complementary and contiguous as the sides of a die, flaunting the rose and myrtle of Venus under Minerva's olive tree. Mercury monitors this admixture of reason, love and peace.