Sacra ConversazioneSacra Conversazione comes from the Italian meaning holy conversation; it is applied to an altarpiece in which attendant saints are grouped in a unified space around the centralised Virgin and Child in a single panel. It gradually replaced the polyptych form in the 15th century.
In 15th-century works the saints are only rarely engaged in actual conversation; they are frequently meditating or reading. Often one looks out at the viewer, while another gestures towards the Virgin and Child directing the viewer's attention to their presence as the focal point of the altarpiece.
During the 16th century interchange, if not conversation, becomes more common.
The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN