Monday, March 19, 2012

Art in Renaissance Venice, 1400–1515

Giovanni Bellini (Italian, Venetian, active by 1459–died 1516). Madonna and Child, ca. 1470. Tempera, oil, and gold on wood; Framed: 31 x 26 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975 (1975.1.81)

Venice’s territorial expansion in the surrounding mainland and its increasing power in the early 15th century, as well as its alliance with Florence in 1423, facilitated the influx of preeminent artists from Tuscany and other regions of Italy to execute important commissions in Venice and nearby Padua. These artists had a profound impact upon local masters, playing a fundamental role in introducing the Renaissance style to Venice. The installation illustrates the transition from the Late Gothic style of the early 15th century to mid-century, when Venetian artists began to respond to the Renaissance vocabulary of Florence and Padua.

Art in Renaissance Venice, 1400–1515 is divided into four galleries beginning with a section on Gothic art, that includes Gentile da Fabriano’s important painting Madonna and Child with Angels (ca. 1410), a rare work of the artist’s Venetian period. The influence of Gentile’s style can be seen in the paintings of Niccolò di Pietro and Michele Giambono, examples of which are on display in this gallery.

The next gallery explores Venice’s close ties with Padua, approximately 25 miles outside the city. In 1404 the city became part of the dominion of the Venetian Empire but maintained its identity as a thriving center of humanism and art. The Renaissance culture of Padua had a profound effect on Venetian masters. On view in this section are works by Marco Zoppo, who trained in Padua and was active in Venice for many years, and Carlo Crivelli, who was heavily indebted to the style of the Paduan school.

Art in Renaissance Venice, 1400–1515 presents a comparison of the two primary artistic dynasties during this period, the Bellini and the Vivarini, and explores their workshop practices and specializations in the context of the Venetian art market. The Vivarini had a thriving workshop that specialized in large altarpieces, which they mass-produced and exported widely beyond the city of Venice itself, to parish churches throughout the Veneto, along both sides of the Adriatic Sea, and to Southern Italy. The patriarch, Antonio Vivarini, was active beginning in the 1440s and, together with his contemporary Jacopo Bellini, was among the first Venetian painters to respond to the new Renaissance language. Works on view in this gallery include Antonio Vivarini’s Saint Peter Martyr Healing the Leg of a Young Man (probably 1450s) and two paintings by his brother Bartolomeo, who was greatly influenced by Paduan master Andrea Mantegna: Madonna of Humility and the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Pietà (ca. 1465) and The Death of the Virgin (1485).

The Bellini family—Jacopo Bellini and his sons, Gentile and Giovanni—were the preeminent painters of Venice from the mid-15th to the early 16th century and maintained the largest and most successful workshop in the city. Jacopo, who was active in Gentile da Fabriano’s studio in Florence, painted several half-length images of the Madonna and Child behind a parapet. This subject would also comprise the majority of Giovanni Bellini’s output and the mainstay of his workshop production, reflecting the art market’s strong demand for these private devotional objects. This gallery illustrates the evolving treatment of this sacred subject by the Bellini family and their workshop over the course of seven decades. A series of paintings of the half-length Madonna and Child also highlights Giovanni Bellini’s remarkable stylistic and technical progression from his early works.

Also on view in this gallery are examples of the Sacra Conversazione, or Holy Conversation, a compositional formula developed by Venetian painters for depicting the Madonna and Child with saints in a unified space that transformed the format of Venetian altarpieces. Giovanni Bellini popularized this formula and the large-scale painting Madonna and Child with Saints (ca. 1510), attributed to the painter and his workshop, is featured in this section.

Art in Renaissance Venice, 1400–1515 ends with a gallery devoted to Vittore Carpaccio, a younger contemporary of Giovanni Bellini’s, who is best known for the narrative cycles he painted for the scuole, or confraternities, of Venice. The works exhibited in this gallery, which include a devotional painting of a sacred subject as well as preparatory drawings for an altarpiece, showcase Carpaccio’s production of sacred works. The drawings on view, executed by Carpaccio and other early 16th-century artists of Venice, evoke the range of graphic techniques and media employed by Venetian draftsmen, as well as various ways in which preparatory studies functioned in a workshop. The works exhibited also show the pervasive influence of Giovanni Bellini upon his contemporaries as well as the subsequent generation of celebrated Venetian artists, including Giorgione and Titian.