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The Venetian School

The Venetian School Collage

Started: 1470

Ended: 1580

"Beauty will result from the form and the correspondence of the whole."

Andrea Palladio

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.

Key Ideas

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.
The Venetian School Image


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."

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