Vittore Carpaccio (c. 1460 – 1525/1526) was an Italian painter of the Venetian school, who studied under Gentile Bellini. He is best known for a cycle of nine paintings, The Legend of Saint Ursula.
His style was rather conservative, showing little influence from the Humanist trends that transformed Italian Renaissance painting during his lifetime. He was influenced by the style of Antonello da Messina and Early Netherlandish art. For this reason, and also because so much of his best work remains in Venice, his art has been rather neglected by comparison with other Venetian contemporaries. His large scenes of Venetian city life give some of the best impressions of the city at the height of its power and wealth, and a strong sense of the civic pride of its citizens. In other paintings he shows a sense of fantasy that seems to look back to medieval romance, rather than sharing in the pastoral vision of the next generation.
Carpaccio was born in Venice, the son of Piero Scarpazza, a leather merchant. Few details of his life are known, but his principal works were executed between 1490 and 1519, ranking him among the early masters of the Venetian Renaissance. He is first mentioned in 1472 in a will of his uncle Fra Ilario. Upon entering the Humanist circles of Venice, he changed his family name to Carpaccio.
He was a pupil (not, as sometimes thought, the master) of Lazzaro Bastiani, who, like Giovanni Bellini and Vivarini, was the head of a large atelier in Venice. His first known solo works are a Salvator Mundi in the Collezione Contini Bonacossi and a Pietà now in the Palazzo Pitti. These works clearly show the influence of Antonello da Messina and Giovanni Bellini, especially in the use of light and colors, as well as the influence of the schools of Ferrara and Forlì.
In 1490 he began the famous Legend of St. Ursula, for the Venetian Scuola dedicated to that saint. The subject of the works, which are now in the Gallerie dell'Accademia, was drawn from the Golden Legend of Jacopo da Varagine. In 1491 he completed the Glory of St. Ursula altarpiece. Many of his major works were large scale detatchable wall-paintings for the halls of Venetian scuole, which were charitable and social confraternities of the wealthier Venetian classes.
Three years later Carpaccio took part in the decoration of the Scuola di San Giovanni Evangelista, painting one of his best know works, the Miracle of the Relic of the Cross at the Ponte di Rialto. In 1501-1507 he worked in the Doge's Palace, together with Giovanni Bellini, in decorating of the Hall of the Great Council. Like many other major works, the cycle was entirely lost in the disastrous fire of 1577.
In 1502-1507 Carpaccio executed another notable series of panels for the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni. Unlike the narrative sequence of the St. Ursula series, each concentrates on a single episode in the lives of the three Dalmatian Saints, St. Jerome, St. George and St. Trifon. Within the structural simplicity of each scene an aura of fantasy is created, enhanced by a perfectionist rendering of realistic details.
Dating from 1504-1508 is the cycle of Life of the Virgin for Santa Maria degli Albanesi, largely executed by assistants, and now divided between the Accademia Carrara of Bergamo, the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan and the Ca' d'Oro of Venice.
In later years Carpaccio appears to have been influenced by Cima da Conegliano, as evidenced in the Death of the Virgin from 1508, at Ferrara. In 1510 Carpaccio executed the panels of Lamentation on the Dead Christ and The Meditation on the Passion, where the sense of bitter sorrow found in such works by Mantegna is backed by extensive use of allegoric symbolism. Of the same year is a Knight, now in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection of Madrid.
Between 1511 and 1520 he finished five panels on the Life of St. Stephen for the Scuola di Santo Stefano. Carpaccio's late works were mostly done in the Venetian mainland territories, and in collaboration with his sons Benedetto and Piero. One of his pupils was Marco Marziale.