Progression of Art
Doge Leonardo Loredan
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.
Oil on panel - National Gallery, London, United Kingdom
Feast of the Gods
This six by six foot canvas, large for its era, shows a feast where mythological figures have gathered, taken from a story by the Roman poet Ovid. Jupiter drinks wine in the center of the canvas, flanked by a dark eagle. A satyr with a wine jug on his head dances at the far left, and the god Mercury with his helmet and staff sits left of center with an empty cup at his feet. The nymph Lotis sleeps to the right while Priapus stealthily lifts her gown in an attempt to rape her. According to the story, the donkey on the left, associated with Silenus standing beside it, brayed and woke up Lotis, and Priapus was driven away by her and the group's ridicule. The tense dynamic is emphasized by the strategic use of rich color, as the darker browns, reds, and oranges move toward lighter touches of pink, yellow, and blue.
One of Bellini's later works, and one of the few with a mythological subject, the painting was completed in 1516 prior to his death. Subsequent scholarship has revealed that the painting was reworked a number of times. He reworked the canvas in 1514, repainting the figures of the two standing women with more revealing clothing, to suit his patron, the Duke of Ferrara who commissioned the work for his camerino, or private chamber. And on at least two occasions it was reworked by Dosso Dossi, and then Titian, who overpainted Dossi's work (except for the pheasant in the tree on the right) and repainted the landscape. The figures remain Bellini's. The Duke was to commission additional works from Titian and Dossi for the space, all of them depicting bacchanals, feasts of the gods, or nudes with an erotic content.
Bellini's work was innovative in pioneering the new "Feast of the Gods" type of scene, which became a common motif in subsequent art. As art historian George Holmes wrote, the room "constituted a large novelty in the European imagination...Secular life came into high art by the back door as the representation of the stories of the classical gods, in whom no one believed, but who, since they were not real gods, could be placed in embarrassing situations. The pictures in the Camerino were perhaps the crucial stage in this revolution."
Oil on canvas - National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
This portrait depicts a young woman in a three-quarters pose as she faces to the left, her gaze serious, her face unsmiling. She wears a red robe made of expensive fabric and lined with fur, which softly drapes her bare chest with right breast exposed. A sheer sash curves from her left shoulder, disappearing into the fold of fur just above her nipple, drawing the viewer's attention to the central eroticism of the piece. She is framed by thickly leaved branches.
The work's compelling sense of mystery led to its being titled "Laura" in the 1600's, referring both to the laurel branches behind her, and to the Italian poet Petrarch's famous 14th century sonnets to Laura. As art critic Jonathan Jones wrote, "his painting is amorous and poetic; there is a burden of imagery. But we can't decipher it. This woman lives, silently, intelligently, enigmatically, in her labyrinth of symbols."
Giorgione's innovation here was the creation of the first erotic portrait, and the approach became popular in Venetian art in the 1500s. The work influenced Titian's Flora (1516-1520), later artists like Caravaggio, as seen in his Boy with a Basket of Fruit (1593-1594), and 20th century artists like Pablo Picasso with his Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, a 1932 portrait of his lover, Marie-Therese.
Oil on canvas on wood - Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria
This iconic masterpiece shows a soldier standing on the left gazing toward a nude woman, who breast-feeds an infant while looking toward the viewer. The work's title is taken from the storm gathering in the distance over a city, its pale buildings outlined against a turbulent sky of clouds and lightning. The surrounding landscape is a contrast of classical ruins and verdant growth, perhaps suggesting the fecundity of nature. A ravine that runs from the shadowed cleft of the lower left, up through the center of the canvas where a river darkens within the storm's shadow and a bridge horizontally transects the work, divides the pictorial plane. The composition is notably arranged, as the vertical movement of the ravine separates the two figures, while the horizontal bridge in the center also places the two figures within a separate space. Both the supposed relationship of the two figures and also its ambiguity are emphasized.
Traditionally, artists painted only images of the Madonna breast-feeding Jesus because when seen within the religious context, the exposed nudity found an acceptable justification. Giorgione's work was innovative in presenting the scene with an everyday nude woman, and because of her setting within a natural landscape, he may have been suggesting the perfect organic acceptability of the naked body to human life.
The meaning of this work has been much debated; some critics suggest it is based upon an unidentified classical poem, and others insist it is a still undeciphered allegory. Yet the sensuous color and naturalistic atmosphere make the painting compelling regardless, and revolutionary. Giorgione's innovations have been called "mood-landscapes," as he avoided narrative, and instead created a lyrical mood. His works became fundamental to the Venetian School influencing Titian, Tintoretto, Sebastiano del Piombo, Dosso Dossi, and even his teacher Giovanni Bellini. So much so that art historian Walter Pater was to call the Venetian painters "The School of Giorgione."
Oil on canvas - Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice, Italy
This revolutionary painting depicts a female nude on a red pillow and ivory sheet, languidly looking toward the viewer within a naturally depicted landscape in subtle color gradations. The dark outcrop above her frames her head as the hills echo the undulations of her form. As a result, the composition creates a harmonious effect that emphasizes the beauty of the woman and the natural world. Her left hand rests upon her genital area in a Venus pudica pose, though any classical or allegorical references to the goddess have been left out. The work was completed the year that the young Giorgione died of the plague and Titian is credited with having finished the work, painting the red pillow and the farmhouse on the upper right. He also added a small figure of Cupid which restoration has, subsequently removed.
Giorgione was closely associated with the cultural and intellectual leaders of Venetian society. The scholar Aldus Manutius and the poet Pietro Bembo greatly influenced his developments in presenting the human figure as one in harmony with the landscape. The painting contributed to the burgeoning genres of the female nude and landscape painting. As art historian Giovanni Morelli wrote, "This'Venus' became the prototype, among painters of the Venetian School," for both its realism and its refinement.
Oil on canvas - Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, Germany
Assumption of Mary
This altarpiece depicts Mary as she rises, aloft on clouds in the center, arms raised and gazing toward heaven where God descends to meet her. Attending angels form a horizontal diagonal between the arches at the top of the painting, along with nude cherubim, their forms and gestures a swirl of excitement. In the lower third of the painting, the disciples look upward, their gestures signaling amazement.
This painting was innovative, even shocking for its time, with its emphasis upon movement and its energetic figurative treatment. The use of color and light innovatively animates the figures and their emotionally expressive dynamics. Additionally, Titian left out any elements of landscape and employed light as a compositional element.
This work, the largest altarpiece at that time in Venice, was commissioned by the Frari Church, and the initial response was described by Ludovico Dolce, an artist of the era, as "the oafish painters and the foolish masses, who until then had seen nothing but the dead and cold works...which were without movement or modeling, grossly defamed that picture. Then, as envy cooled and the truth slowly dawned on them, people began to marvel at the new style established in Venice by Titian."
Oil on panel - Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice, Italy
Venus of Urbino
This iconic work is one of the most famous and influential of nudes. It shows a woman as she reclines on a red lounge covered with white sheets, peering at the viewer with an intriguing gaze. Wearing only a gold, jewel encrusted bracelet on her right arm, she holds a flower, from which one red petal has fallen, and her left hand rests over her genitals in a classic pudenda pose. Above her feet, a small dog sleeps, while in the background in the upper right an older woman with robes over her shoulder watches a younger woman who kneels before an open cassone, or chest traditionally used for bridal garments. To the left of the two a window opens into a green luxuriant view.
The composition is divided into thirds, the upper half of the composition vertically divided between the black background behind the nude and the scene of the two women in the tiled room, so that the nude's reclining form fills the lower horizontal plane further emphasizing her languorous form. As a result, the painting separates public space - the hall where the servants work, and the window opening to the outer world - from private space, creating an effect of an intimate encounter with the nude, the implicit male gaze of the patron seeing her as if "for his eye's only."
The elements in the work from the cassoni to the dog, a traditional symbol of fidelity, have led to various interpretations. On the one hand, the work is said to have been a commission by Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici and the woman thought to be his mistress, or a courtesan. Alternately, it is said to have been commissioned by the Duke of Camerino for his wedding. As art critic Jonathan Jones wrote, "one of Titian's best known paintings, and probably his most provocative... the work feeds the ambiguity regarding the protagonist's social status by blurring generic boundaries. It is a pagan allegory, it is a private image that celebrates matrimony and, apparently, it is also a portrait."
The work also echoes Giorgione's Sleeping Venus (c. 1510-1511), and some scholars argue that both depict the same model shown on the same set of bed draping. But Titian has innovatively placed the nude within an indoor contemporary setting in order to focus on its unabashed eroticism. As art historian Charles Hope wrote, "It has yet to be shown that the most famous example of this genre, Titian's Venus of Urbino, is anything other than a representation of a beautiful nude woman on a bed, devoid of classical or even allegorical content."
This work influenced many later masterworks, as seen in Francisco Goya's The Nude Maja (1798-1800), Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres's La Grande Odalisque (1814), and Édouard Manet's Olympia (1863).
Oil on canvas - Uffizi, Florence, Italy
Miracle of the Slave
This work shows a nude slave lying on the ground as he is about to be martyred by the crowd, and yet he is rescued by the intervention of Saint Mark, descending toward him. The intense but unusual color palette, as seen in its almost neon blue and pink, heighten both the chaotic ferocity of the scene, and the dramatic moment of the saint's appearance, making the slave invulnerable to the torture implements, which lie broken on the ground around him. The architecture evokes classical antiquity but departs from the proportional rationality of the Renaissance to create a theatrical scene, as seen in the figure peering down, perched somewhat precipitously on the right. What matters is the dynamic movement of the crowd, swirling around the center of the work, bisected by the vertical of the saint and the slave.
Tintoretto's innovations included spatial distortions as seen in the foreshortening of the descending saint and the use of a white undercoat to create a color palette that could evoke jarring human emotions. There is a story where as a student in Titian's workshop, he was expelled for his distortions of color and form that were meant to convey strong religious feeling.
The Scuola Grande di San Marco commissioned this work, along with three other paintings by Tintoretto, depicting the posthumous miracles of Saint Mark, Venice's patron saint. The series, which evolved toward a highly expressive, even sometimes surrealistic effect, had an influence on the development of Mannerism, and its emphasis on the dramatic moment to create awe-inducing emotion in the viewer also informed the Baroque period.
Oil on canvas - Galleria dell'Accademia, Venice, Italy
Feast in the House of Levi
This large painting depicts a festive and action-filled gathering that includes street entertainers, soldiers, and elegant aristocrats at a feast in the audience of Christ. Christ sits in the middle of the table, his importance reckoned by the beam of exquisitely rendered white light coming down from above. At the left end of the table, a red robed cardinal, bored and dissolute, turns away from Christ to watch the gathering, as does Judas, his face in shadow at the table's other end. The figures are precisely distinct, vivid with color and dramatic interaction. The magnificence of the architectural setting adds to the overall hedonistic effect, as linear perspective, most noticeable in the balustrade railings, draws the viewer's eye toward the center and creates a convincing depth so that the figures appear to inhabit a real space under the columns and their arched vaults, leading toward a view of the city in the background.
Stylistic innovations here include the artist's use of color gradations, rather than chiaroscuro, to convey the effects of light, retaining chromatic brilliance even in shadowed areas. The monumental scale of the work at 18 x 42 feet makes it one of the largest of 16th century paintings, which also contributes to the success of its trompe l'oeil effect in which it appears to be a life-sized, living and breathing scene amongst its surroundings. The subject matter, too, with its spectacle of contemporary life, was radically new. As art critic Jonathan Jones noted, "It does not seem to matter to Veronese which meal he is portraying. What he loves is the opportunity to show a diverse crowd of diners, waiters and entertainers enjoying a banquet. In reality he is portraying the high life of Venice, the city where he lived."
The church of Saints San Giovanni and Paolo commissioned this work to replace an earlier work by Titian, destroyed in a 1571 fire. Originally the work was called The Last Supper, but its depiction of the characters of Venetian society and street life made it questionable for religious authorities. As a result Veronese was called before the Inquisition on July 18, 1573. Rather than painting out the offending "buffoons, dogs, weapons" as defined by the Inquisition, the artist simply changed the title to "The Feast of Levi," a religious subject that allowed for the inclusion of questionable characters. Jonathan Jones finds him an early "hero of artistic freedom...a brave man who stood up to authority - and won."
Influencing later artists like Peter Paul Rubens, Veronese made a noted impact upon 19th century French painters, like Antoine Watteau, Delacroix, and Renoir. The art critic Théophile Gautier described him as, "the greatest colorist who ever lived," and Delacroix wrote, that Veronese "made light without violent contrasts, which we are always told is impossible, and maintained the strength of hue in shadow."
Oil on canvas - Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice, Italy
Villa Almerico Capra Valmarana (La Rotonda)
For this iconic hilltop villa, Palladio featured a central staircase, flanked by two statues on either end, leading up to a portico with Ionic columns that rise to a triangular pediment, where three classically inspired statues punctuate the vertical uplift. The four porticos and their staircases create a cross shape which intersects the square of the central building. As a result, approaching from any direction, this grand entrance meets the viewer, while, at the same time, each side gives the residents a magnificent view of the surrounding woodlands and meadows. Combining classical simplicity with a sense of grandeur, such homes perfectly conveyed the social standing of their owners.
The overall design, including the interior rooms, was mathematically proportioned according to Palladio's system defined in his Four Books of Architecture (1570). As Palladio wanted the building to be in harmony with the landscape, he included slight variations in his design. As art historian Charles Hind wrote, "His ideas of proportion and symmetry trickled down into the fundamental DNA of the building trade."
This work is part of the "City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villages of the Veneto," which includes both city buildings and villas designed by Palladio, designated as a World Heritage Site. Inspired by the Roman Pantheon, the building had what art critic Stephen Bayley called, "the greatest ever influence on taste," as aristocrats aspired to Palladian residences of classical grandeur. It's been said that this design "lead to a thousand homes," in Britain and the United States, including Lord Burlington's Chiswick House, Horace Walpole's Houghton Hall, Paxton House in Scotland, and Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. As architectural historian David Watkin wrote, La Rotonda, "has been valued for centuries as the quintessence of High Renaissance calm and harmony."
Stucco, brick, stone - Venice, Italy