The Venetian School
Summary of The Venetian School
A celebratory lust for life, a thriving commercial port, and the influence of High Renaissance ideals of beauty and grandeur led artists in 15th and 16th century Venice to inject a bold new sumptuousness into the world of art. The Venetian School, which arose during this thriving cultural moment, breathed fresh life into the worlds of oil painting and architecture by combining inspiration from classical-oriented forebears with a new impetus toward lush color and a distinctly Venetian adoration of embellishment. With a slight nod toward the hedonistic, much of the artwork of this time, regardless of subject matter or content, was woven with the underlying message that the joyous act of being alive was to be considered with a sense of revelry and enjoyment.
The Venetian School refers to the distinctive art that developed in Renaissance Venice beginning in the late 1400's, and which, led by the brothers Giovanni and Gentile Bellini, lasted until 1580. It's also called the Venetian Renaissance, and its style shared the Humanist values, the use of linear perspective, and naturalistic figurative treatments of Renaissance art in Florence and Rome. The second, related use of the term is the Venetian School of Painting, which beginning in the Early Renaissance lasted until the 18th century, and includes artists like Tiepolo, associated with the Rococo and Baroque movements, as well as Antonio Canaletto, known for his painting of Venetian cityscapes, and Francesco Guardi.
- The Venetian School's groundbreaking emphasis on colorito, or using color to create forms, made it distinct from the Florentine Renaissance emphasis on disegno, or drawing the forms then filling in the color. This resulted in works of revolutionary dynamism, unparalleled richness, and distinct psychological expression.
- Artists in Venice painted primarily in oils, first on wood panels, then pioneering the use of canvas, which was better suited to the humid climate of the city, and emphasized the play of naturalistic light and atmosphere and dramatic, sometimes theatrical, human movement.
- Portraiture was revitalized during this time as artists sought a naturalistic treatment of their subjects that simultaneously conveyed their social importance. They focused not on the idealized role of a person, but their psychological complexity. These portraits also started utilizing more of the figure in the painting, rather than just the upper bust and head.
- New genres were born during this period including grand depictions of mythological narratives and the introduction of the female nude of its own accord rather than as a reflection of a religious, mythical, or historical tale. Eroticism began to appear, entwined in these new forms of subject matter, unconstrained by moralistic messages.
- A new architectural direction that married Classical influences alongside carved bas-relief and decidedly Venetian adornments became so popular that a whole industry of designing private residences cropped up in Venice.
Overview of The Venetian School
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."
Important Art and Artists of The Venetian School
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.
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."
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.