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The Venetian School Collage

The Venetian School

Started: 1470

Ended: 1580

The Venetian School Timeline

Quotes

"I purposely avoided the styles of Raphael and Michelangelo because I was ambitious of a higher distinction than that of a clever imitator."
Titian
"...painting is a profession that requires peace of mind. The painter must always seek the essence of things, always represent the essential characteristics and emotions of the person he is painting."
Titian
"He who improvises can never make a perfect line of poetry."
Titian
"Beautiful colors can be bought in the shops on the Riato, but good drawing can only be bought from the casket of the artist's talent with patient study and nights without sleep."
Tintoretto
"Grant me paradise in this world: I'm not so sure I'll reach it in the next."
Tintoretto
"We painters use the same license as poets and madmen."
Paolo Veronese
"I paint my pictures with all the considerations which are natural to my intelligence and according as my intelligence understands them."
Paolo Veronese

KEY ARTISTS

TitianTitian
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TintorettoTintoretto
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Paolo VeronesePaolo Veronese
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"Beauty will result from the form and the correspondence of the whole."

Andrea Palladio

Beginnings

The Culture of Venice

Gentile Bellini's <i>Procession of the True Cross</i> (1479) shows a procession of priests, monks, and religious leaders bearing the True Cross through the square to the Byzantine Church of San Marco, also called “the church of gold,” in the background.
Gentile Bellini's Procession of the True Cross (1479) shows a procession of priests, monks, and religious leaders bearing the True Cross through the square to the Byzantine Church of San Marco, also called “the church of gold,” in the background.

While the Venetian School was informed by the innovations of Renaissance masters like Andrea Mantegna, Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, and Michelangelo, its style reflected the roots of the very distinct culture and society of the Venice city-state. An emphasis on rich color permeated creation, bringing the atmosphere of the area and its people alive in a visual representation of the time. As art historian Evelyn March Phillipps wrote, "Venetian color, when it comes into its kingdom, speaks for a whole people, sensuous and of deep feeling, able for the first time to utter itself in art."

This photograph of the Doge's Palace, located in the Piazza San Marco, in Venice shows the arches and delicate tracery that exemplified the Venetian Gothic style.
This photograph of the Doge's Palace, located in the Piazza San Marco, in Venice shows the arches and delicate tracery that exemplified the Venetian Gothic style.

Venice was known throughout Italy as "the serene city" due to its prosperity. Because of its geographical location on the Adriatic Sea, Venice had become a vital hub for trade, linking the West to the East. As a result the city-state was worldly and cosmopolitan, emphasizing the pleasures and riches of life, rather than driven by religious dogma, and proud of its independence and the stability of its government. The first Doge or Duke to rule Venice was elected in 697, and subsequent rulers were also elected by the Great Council of Venice, a parliament made of aristocrats and wealthy merchants. Magnificence, entertaining spectacles, and lavish feasts marked by carnivals that went on for weeks, defined Venetian culture, and became part of its joyous artistic sensibility.

This photograph shows a mosaic, made of brightly color bits of stone, and a gold leaf background, above the entrance to San Marco in Venice.
This photograph shows a mosaic, made of brightly color bits of stone, and a gold leaf background, above the entrance to San Marco in Venice.

Unlike Florence and Rome, which were under the sway of the Catholic Church, Venice was primarily associated with the Byzantine Empire, centered in Constantinople that ruled Venice in the 6th and 7th centuries. As a result, Venetian art was strongly influenced by the Byzantine use of bright colors and gold in church mosaics and Venetian architecture was informed by the Byzantine use of domes, arches, and multi-colored stone, inspired in part by the Islamic architecture of the Middle East.

By the mid-1400s the city was a rising power in Italy, and Renaissance artists like Andrea Mantegna, Donatello, Andrea del Castagno, and Antonello da Messina visited or lived in Venice for extended periods of time. The Venetian School style synthesized Byzantine color and golden light with the Renaissance innovations of these artists.

Predecessors

Andrea Mantegna

This image is a photographic reconstruction depicting Andrea Mantegna's <i>Stories of St. James</i> (1448-1457), an innovative fresco in Padua. Most of the fresco was destroyed in World War II.
This image is a photographic reconstruction depicting Andrea Mantegna's Stories of St. James (1448-1457), an innovative fresco in Padua. Most of the fresco was destroyed in World War II.

The artist Andrea Mantegna first introduced the linear perspective, naturalistic figurative treatment, and classical proportionality that defined Renaissance art to Venetian artists as he worked in nearby Padua, his native town, on his Stories of St. James (1448-1457). His work was to profoundly influence Jacopo Bellini who became one of the first Venetian artists to employ linear perspective, and taught the technique to his sons, Gentile and Giovanni, later leaders of the Venetian School. A lifelong artistic and familial connection developed, as Mantegna married one of Jacopo's daughters. Mantegna's influence can be seen in Giovanni Bellini's The Agony in the Garden (c. 1459-1465) referencing Mantegna's The Agony in the Garden (c. 1458-1460), both paintings based upon a drawing by Jacopo Bellini.

Antonello da Messina

Antonello da Messina's <i>Portrait of a Man</i> (c. 1475-1476), believed to be a self-portrait, exemplified why art historian John Pope-Hennessy wrote that the artist was “the first Italian painter for whom the individual portrait was an art form in its own right.”
Antonello da Messina's Portrait of a Man (c. 1475-1476), believed to be a self-portrait, exemplified why art historian John Pope-Hennessy wrote that the artist was “the first Italian painter for whom the individual portrait was an art form in its own right.”

Antonello da Messina worked in Venice from 1475-1476 and had a noted impact on Giovanni Bellini's adoption of oil painting and emphasis on portraiture. Credited with introducing oil painting to Italy by Giorgio Vasari, Antonello first encountered the art of the Northern European Renaissance while he was a student in Naples. As a result, his works were noted for their synthesis of Italian Renaissance and Northern European principles and influenced the development of the Venetian School's distinctive style.

Giovanni Bellini, “Father of Venetian Painting”

Giovanni Bellini's <i>Madonna and Child</i> (late 1480s), an early work of the artist, employed rich color and vibrant light, both in its depiction of the two figures and the landscape revealed at the left.
Giovanni Bellini's Madonna and Child (late 1480s), an early work of the artist, employed rich color and vibrant light, both in its depiction of the two figures and the landscape revealed at the left.

Pioneering oil painting in Venice, Giovanni Bellini has been called the "Father of Venetian painting." Both he and his older brother Gentile were renowned, making the Bellini family workshop the most popular and celebrated in Venice. Important early commissions by the Bellini brothers were primarily religious subjects like Gentile's Procession of the True Cross (1479) and Giovanni's work depicting the Deluge of Noah's Ark (c. 1470), now lost. Giovanni Bellini was particularly popular for his treatments of the Madonna and Child, a subject for which he had a deep affinity, and his depictions combined a kind of devotional gravity with a sense of charm and delight in the light and color of the world itself. However, it was Giovanni's emphasis on depicting natural light, and synthesizing Renaissance principles with Venetian color, that made him the leader of the Venetian School.

Giovanni Bellini's <i>Transfiguration of Christ</i> (c. 1480) emphasized the effects of light and color, particularly in the three central figures and the treatment of the landscape.
Giovanni Bellini's Transfiguration of Christ (c. 1480) emphasized the effects of light and color, particularly in the three central figures and the treatment of the landscape.

By the early 1480's Giovanni Bellini, shaking off the influence of Mantegna, had mastered oil painting as seen in his Transfiguration of Christ (c. 1480). He pioneered the Venetian School's emphasis on portraying natural light and atmosphere by employing color and tonal gradations. His Doge Leonardo Loredan (1501) established the Venetian School's stylistic treatment of portraiture and the importance of the genre in Venice. In later works, he turned to mythological subjects, like his Feast of the Gods (1504), which established a new genre of painting. Writing from Venice in 1506, Albrecht Dürer described Bellini as "the best painter of all." He was also a noted teacher, as both Giorgione and Titian, subsequent leaders of the movement, were trained in his workshop.

Concepts and Trends

Portraiture

Giovanni Bellini was the first great portraitist among Venetian artists, as his Doge Leonardo Loredan (1501) created a compelling image that, while naturalistic and conveying the play of light and color, idealized the subject and his social role as leader of Venice. The much-acclaimed work fueled the demand for portraiture by aristocrats and wealthy merchants, who sought a naturalistic treatment that simultaneously conveyed their social importance.

Titian's <i>Portrait of Pope Paul III</i> (c. 1543) conveys the shrewd and powerful presence of the pontiff.
Titian's Portrait of Pope Paul III (c. 1543) conveys the shrewd and powerful presence of the pontiff.

Giorgione and Titian both pioneered new treatments of the portrait. Giorgione's Young Woman (1506) developed the new genre of the erotic portrait that was, subsequently, widely adopted. Titian extended the view of the subject to include most of the figure, as seen in his Portrait of Pope Paul III (c. 1553), and emphasized not the idealized role, but the psychological complexity of his subjects.

Paolo Veronese also painted noted portraits, as seen in his Portrait of a Man (c. 1576-1578) showing a full-length view of an aristocrat dressed in black standing against a pediment with columns. Jacopo Tintoretto was also known for his compelling self-portraits.

Mythological Subjects

Titian's <i>Bacchus and Ariadne</i> (1522-1523) portrays Bacchus, the god of wine, arriving with his followers, at the dramatic moment when Ariadne has just realized she has been abandoned by her lover, Thetis.
Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne (1522-1523) portrays Bacchus, the god of wine, arriving with his followers, at the dramatic moment when Ariadne has just realized she has been abandoned by her lover, Thetis.

Bellini pioneered the mythological subject in his Feast of the Gods (1504). Titian further developed the genre into depictions of bacchanal scenes such as his Bacchus and Ariadne (1522-1523), painted for the Duke of Ferrera's private chamber. Venetian patrons were particularly drawn to art based upon classical Greek myths, since such subjects, unconstrained by religious or moralistic messages, could be enjoyed for their eroticism and hedonism. Titian's work included a wide range of mythological subjects, as he created six large paintings for King Phillip II of Spain including his Danae (1549-1550), a woman seduced by Zeus disguised as sunlight, and his Venus and Adonis (c. 1552-1554) depicting the goddess and her mortal lover.

Titian's <i>Venus and Cupid</i> (c. 1550) depicts the goddess with her son Cupid, his bow and arrows lying at her feet.
Titian's Venus and Cupid (c. 1550) depicts the goddess with her son Cupid, his bow and arrows lying at her feet.

Mythological contexts also played a role in launching the genre of the female nude, as Giorgione's Sleeping Venus (1508), which pioneered the form. Titian further developed the subject by emphasizing an eroticism played toward the male gaze as in his Venus of Urbino (1534). Their titles placed both works within a mythological context, though their pictorial treatments elided any visual references to the goddess. Other works by Titian were to include such references as seen in his Venus and Cupid (c. 1550). The mythologizing impulse, so popular among the Venetians, also influenced their development of contemporary scenes as dramatic spectacles, as seen in Veronese's Feast in the House of Levi (1573) painted on a monumental scale, measuring eighteen by forty-three feet.

Venetian Architecture

Nicholas Benois's <i>Scuola di San Marco</i> (1841) depicts the Lombardo brothers' carved reliefs of the façade that create the illusion of depth.
Nicholas Benois's Scuola di San Marco (1841) depicts the Lombardo brothers' carved reliefs of the façade that create the illusion of depth.

A coastal city noted for its system of canals, Venice had little solid ground upon which to build. As a result, many architectural projects involved redesigning buildings, often by creating new facades. The first architects of the Venetian Renaissance were the brothers Antonio and Tullio Lombardo, who rebuilt the Scuola di San Marco (c. 1490). Trained as sculptors, they carved the façade in relief to create an illusionistic perspective.

Jacopo Sansovino's Library of St. Mark's (1537-1587) shows his classical design, employing columns, mathematical proportions, and statuary combined with elements that reflect the Venetian love of decorative embellishment. Photograph by Maria Schnitzmeier
Jacopo Sansovino's Library of St. Mark's (1537-1587) shows his classical design, employing columns, mathematical proportions, and statuary combined with elements that reflect the Venetian love of decorative embellishment. Photograph by Maria Schnitzmeier

While Renaissance innovations via the work of Filippo Brunelleschi, Leon Battista Alberti, and Donato Bramante did influence Venetian architects, it was the Byzantine and Gothic tradition that continued to dominate architectural design. That changed in the 1500s, when the sculptor and artist Jacopo Sansovino moved to Venice after the 1527 Sack of Rome. Appointed chief architect of Venice in 1529, he was commissioned to design various public buildings in St. Mark's Square. His love of High Renaissance ideals led him to create a new style incorporating classical traditions alongside the Venetian love of lavish decoration. His masterpiece was the Biblioteca Marciana (1537-1587), the Library of Saint Mark's, praised by Andrea Palladio as the "best building since Antiquity."

Andrea Palladio's design for La Rotonda, his most influential work, was included in <i>Il Quattro Libri dell' Architettura</i> (<i>The Four Books of Architecture</i>) (1570).
Andrea Palladio's design for La Rotonda, his most influential work, was included in Il Quattro Libri dell' Architettura (The Four Books of Architecture) (1570).

The greatest and most influential of Venetian architects, Andrea Palladio, was known not only for his designs but his Il Quattro Libri dell' Architettura (The Four Books of Architecture) (1570), which included his architectural rules and concepts and was widely read throughout Europe. The Humanist scholar and architect Gian Giorgio Trissino was Palladio's lifelong mentor. Trissino, a friend of Leonardo da Vinci in Milan, was influenced by Leonardo's designs employing radial symmetry and his interest in the architectural principles of Vitruvius. As a result, Palladio employed Vitruvian classical elements and mathematical proportions but reinterpreted them toward simple designs that, using locally available and inexpensive construction materials, were easily reproducible. Though he designed the Venetian churches San Giorgio Maggiore (1565) and Il Redentore (1576), he was primarily known for his residential architecture. His country villas and city palazzos became the standard for aristocratic homes.

Later Developments

The Venetian School declined around 1580, in part due to the impact that the plague had upon the city as it lost a third of its population by 1581, and in part due to the deaths of the last living masters, Veronese and Tintoretto. Both artists' later works, emphasizing expressive movement rather than classical proportions and figurative naturalism, had some influence upon the development of the Mannerists that subsequently dominated Italy and spread throughout Europe.

However, the Venetian School's emphasis on color, light, and delight in sensory life, as seen in the works of Titian, also created a contrast with Mannerism's more cerebral approach, and informed the Baroque works of Caravaggio and Annibale Carracci. The Venetian School had an even greater influence beyond Venice, as kings and aristocrats from throughout Europe avidly collected the works. Artists in Antwerp, Madrid, Amsterdam, Paris, and London, including Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, Rembrandt, Poussin, and Velázquez, were widely influenced by Venetian art. The story goes that Rembrandt, when told as a young artist to visit Italy, replied that it wasn't necessary, because "it was easier to see Italian Renaissance art in Amsterdam than to travel from town to town in Italy itself."

Modern art is hardly imaginable without the influence of Titian, as critic Jonathan Jones noted, "The three most influential post-Renaissance painters, Velázquez, Rubens and Rembrandt, were devoted to Titian - Rembrandt modeled one of his own self-portraits on Titian's A Man with a Quilted Sleeve (c. 1510); Velázquez learned his luxurious style from Titians in the Spanish royal collection; Rubens copied many of his paintings." That influence has continued into the modern era as artists like Francis Bacon and Chris Ofili have noted his influence.

In architecture Palladio was equally influential, particularly in England where Christopher Wren, Elizabeth Wilbraham, Richard Boyle, and William Kent embraced his style. Inigo Jones, called "the father of British architecture," built the Queen's House (1613-1635), the first classical inspired building in England based upon Palladio's designs. As a result the British 17th century became dominanted by the "Palladian" style, and in the 18th century, Palladio's designs informed the architecture in the United States. Thomas Jefferson's design for his home at Monticello and for the U.S. Capitol building were predominantly influenced by Palladio and Palladio was named "Father of American architecture" in a 2010 decree by the U.S. Congress.

Well beyond the Renaissance era, the work of the Venetian School remained distinctive. As a result, the term "the Venetian School of Painting," continued to be used into the 18th century. Venetian artists like Giovanni Battista Tiepolo extended the distinctive style into both the Rococo and Baroque movements, with which he was associated. Other 18th century artists like Antonio Canaletto, known for his painting of Venetian cityscapes, and Francesco Guardi, are primarily discussed within the Venetian School of Painting. Guardi's work was later influential upon the French Impressionists.

Most Important Art

The Venetian School Famous Art

Doge Leonardo Loredan (1501)

Artist: Giovanni Bellini
This commanding and compelling portrait depicts Leonardo Loredan, the Doge of Venice from 1501-1521, in a three-quarter pose. He is wearing his formal robes of state, including the corno ducal, or ducal hat, worn over a cap, with its traditional large buttons. The Doge is looking out from a balcony, his serious and calm gaze staring into the distance. The rich deep blue of the background contrasts with the sheen of the Doge's platinum robe intricately embroidered with gold and conveys a sense of serenity. A kind of majestic space is conveyed, its blue evoking heaven, and contributing to the sacredness of the character and role of its subject. Art historian John Pope-Hennessy who called Bellini, "the greatest fifteenth-century official portraitist," said of this particular work that, "the tendency towards ideality...enabled him to codify, with unwavering conviction, the official personality." The artist has signed his name in Latin on the small piece of paper painted in the foreground parapet.

Bellini pioneered Venetian portraiture and use of oils, both of which dominated Venetian painting. His approach became the distinctive Venetian style - emphasizing color contrasts, naturalistic light, and a focus on pattern and texture, as the fabrics seem to clothe a three-dimensional form, beckoning the viewer to touch them. Venetian artists did not aspire to the classical harmony and beauty of Renaissance Florence and Rome but rather to the ripple of light, the shimmer of color, and created a new, more intimate relationship to the viewer.
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Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Kimberly Nichols

" Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Kimberly Nichols
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