[See definitions, at bottom.

Older style:  (Trecento-style?) -- : 

4 examples: 

St. Peter Martyr;  Perugia
(Other: Compagnia; Cortona) 


St. Peter Martyr (panopticon) . . . . . .                                                        

Perugia . . . . . .



"New" style - Sacra Conversazione: 

4 examples:  Three altarpieces, 1 fresco:

Bosco ai Frati;
San Marco;
Madonna delle Ombre. 


Annalena Altarpiece:

Virgin and Child, with 6 saints (Annalena Altarpiece), c. 1445
       (2nd Sacra Conversazione; after San Marco   Altarpiece)  (San Marco Museum)

possibly the first Sacra Conversazione (or:  2nd Sacra Conversazione, after San Marco Altarpiece).   An "echo" of the old style, in that there are arches, although only in the background.                         

Bosco ai Frati Altarpiece: the merest whisper of an echo of the old style - arches well in the background.  


San Marco Altarpiece, 1438-40  (early Sacra Conversazione?)   Not even an echo - no arches at all. 

Fresco - Madonna delle Ombre.     Corridor:  in the corridor, across from Cells 6 & 7, and in between cells 25 & 26: Sacra Conversazione, c. 1450.   This fresco has been called Madonna of the Shadows (Madonna delle Ombre).  It is on the wall of the corridor off which the brethren's cells open, between cells 25 and 26.   It was one of Fra Angelico's last works at San Marco Dominican Friary.   Again - no arches; no suggestion of a compartment of any kind.



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the more rigid and hierarchical compositions of earlier periods.

earlier hieratic triptych or polyptych formats

Polyptych: the sacred personages are disposed in separate compartments


Italian, literally for "holy conversation"

A grouping of the Madonna, Child, and saints in the same spatial setting, so that they appear to be conversing with one another.

figures interacted within a unified perspectival space.

a depiction of the Virgin and Child amidst a group of saints in a relatively informal grouping,

all the sacred personages are disposed in a single pictorial space rather than in the separate compartments of a polyptych. Usually the figures are shown silently communing rather than conversing.

Usually the figures are shown silently communing rather than actually conversing.

a type of religious painting in which the Virgin and Child and several saints respond to one another within a unified space and lighting scheme.

. . .  the new form of altarpiece developed in Italy during the 15th and 16th centuries replacing the late medieval triptych or polyptych.

The sacra conversazione placed the Virgin and Child along with a selection of saints into an illusionistic space, usually defined by a continuous ground plane and an architectural setting that exploited the techniques of linear perspective.

When / Artists: 

Early examples are one by Fra Angelico and another by Filippo Lippi. Among other artists to depict such a scene are Piero della Francesca, Giovanni Bellini, Paolo Veronese, and Andrea Mantegna.

The type originated in Italy in the first half of the 15th century: Filippo Lippi's Barbadori Altarpiece (begun 1437, Louvre, Paris) is perhaps the first dated example.

The Florentine painters of the 1430s and 1440s, notably Fra Angelico and Domenico Veneziano , were among the first to explore this new type.

[Piero della Francesca's Brera altarpiece of the Virgin and Child ( c. 1475 ; Milan, Brera) is a fine example in which the pictorial space of the painting is linked to the real space of the spectator to extend the illusion. The sacra conversazione saw further development in Venice in the circle of Giovanni Bellini and it proved to be a very flexible and expressive form for Raphael in the evolution of the High Renaissance style in Rome.

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[From ArtLex -

[From Wikipedia -

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