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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Art Galleries Of Northern Italy

( Originally Published 1913 )



Art developed late in Venice. For some time the Venetians were content to import their art from Constantinople and Mount Athos. When the early fourteenth century artists began to paint religious pictures, these showed strong influence of Byzantine painting.

At the close of the eighteenth century, Napoleon temporarily held Italy in his grasp and among the radical changes initiated was the suppression of churches and monasteries and other religious orders. The art which many of these sheltered was preserved and given a permanent abode in the Scuola della Charita-the home of the oldest' brotherhood in Venice. This organization was founded in 1260, being a charitable lay fraternity. In early years it had for its avowed purpose the ransoming of Christians held by Mohammedans; other charitable objects claimed attention after the Crusades. Although begun in the thirteenth century, the greater portion of the building was erected in the middle of the sixteenth century. The Accademia della Belle Arti is suitably housed in it-a few of its paintings having been made for the places they still occupy when the brotherhood was active and prosperous. The paintings in the possession of the Academy are most of them Venetian and present an excellent opportunity for studying the development of painting in this sea-set city.

The Bellinis-the father Jacopo Bellini, and his sons Gentile and Giovanni-are regarded as the founders of the Venetion School. Giovanni Bellini (1427-1516) was most illustri ous. He concerned himself with religious themes while his brother was fond of portraying pageants. Gentile's pictures are valuable to us for the light they throw upon Venetian life of the sixteenth century. One room on the Academy is named for Giovanni Bellini, but his paintings are scattered through several rooms and we know that some of his finest work was destroyed by the burning of the Ducal Palace. The Madonna of the Two Trees is one of his best in the Academy. Painted for an altar piece, the Madonna and Child are shown with St. Paul on one side, St. George on the other. Giovanni Bellini developed a distinct type of Madonna. The sweet face of the young mother is always overshadowed by a premonition of the tragedy that lies before her Babe.

Along the eastern coast of Italy, where often the pestilence swooped down without warning, were built what were called the "plague churches." One of these, dedicated to St. Job, because it was felt that he could best sympathize with the afflicted, commissioned Bellini to supply an appropriate altar piece. This is now exhibited in the Academy. A beautiful Madonna holds the Child protectingly, San Giobbe-St. Job -on one side, St. Sebastian, pierced with arrows of the plague on the other, while on a step below sit three of Bellini's sweetest angel musicians, dispelling soft music.

Gentile Bellini's most famous painting is the Procession of the True Cross in the Piazza. A religious guild of Venice had in its possession what was accepted as a fragment of the cross Christ bore. This was treasured greatly and was carried in all public processionals, of which Venice had not a few. A series of eight pictures representing cures wrought by this relic were ordered by the guild. Gentile painted three-the one above mentioned referring to the miraculous cure of a young man as it was carried through the streets. The value of the picture today lies in its historic reflection of Venice in 1496. So distinct is it in detail that it is possible to discern mosaics in the facade of St. Mark's that were later replaced by others much inferior in quality.

Another early painter whose pictures are noteworthy was Carpaccio, a follower of Gentile Bellini. He loved legend and tells stories on canvas as others have related them in prose or rhyme. A series of nine were painted by him following the St. Ursula legend. These are shown in the Hall of St. Ursula in this picture gallery. While several others are more elaborate, the Dream of St. Ursula is wonderfully charming in its sweet simplicity. The story of this young woman who became the guardian of young girls and those who teach and care for them was full of pictorial possibilities.

The greatest name of Venice is Titian, and Titian's greatest creation is in the Academy: the Assumption of the Virgin. The room containing it is known by its name-the Hall of the Assumption. No painting has ever shown more perfect unity. Everything is centered upon the Mother as she is borne upward on clouds of glory accompanied by the most winning cherubs ever conceived; above the Almighty awaits the Queen of Heaven. Many there may be who would prefer another subject, but this picture of Titian's is considered one of the six greatest paintings in the world.

In the Hall of the Presentation is another by this master of color, this one occupying the space for which it was made: the Presentation in the Temple.

"It was in the nature of Titian to represent a subject like this as a domestic pageant of his own time, and seen in this light, it is exceedingly touching and surprisingly beautiful. Mary in a dress of celestial blue ascends the steps of the temple in a halo of radiance. She pauses on the first landing place, and gathers her skirts, to ascend to the second. The flight is in profile before us. At the top of it the high priest in Jewish garments looks down at the girl with serene and kindly gravity, a priest in cardinal's robes at his side, a menial in black behind him, and a young acolyte in red and yellow holding the book of prayer. At the bottom are people looking up, some leaning on the edge of the steps, others about to ascend, Anna, with a matron in company; Joachim, turning to address a friend. Curious people press forward to witness the scene, and a child baits a little dog with a cake. Behind and to the left and with grave solemnity, some dignitaries are moving... From the windows and balconies the spectators look down upon the ceremony, or converse with groups below. With instinctive tact the whole of these are kept in focus by appropriate gradations of light, which enable Titian to give the highest prominence to the Virgin, though she is necessarily smaller than any other person present.

"The picture is built up in colours, the landscape is not a symbol, but scenic, and the men and palaces and hills are seen living or life-like in sun and shade and air. In this gorgeous yet masculine and robust realism Titian shows his great originality and claims to be the noblest representative of the Venetian school of colour."

Tintoretto (1518-1594) had by inheritance the name Robusti-Jacopo Robusti was the son of a dyer whom he frequently assisted as a boy, hence the name by which he is everywhere known today-Tintoretto, "little dyer." As a boy he went to study with Titian but after a while, Titian refused to accept him longer as a pupil. Some have declared that the master was jealous of his gifted charge, but this is scarcely probable. The explanation that some misbehaviour brought this punishment is much more reasonable. No artist was ever petted by fate and fortune more than Titian and his splendid success and recognition in his own day gave small opportunity for such a manifestation of pettiness as the charge of jealousy would imply. Tintoretto showed the fibre of which he was made when, instead of being disheartened, he set to work with a will to master the art he loved. He not alone grew skillful in use of color-what Venetian painter has failed?-but he studied Angelo until he had mastered form as well. Many of his paintings are here, Doges and other men of prominence as well as religious subjects. Whatever the title of his picture, the people are much the same-always the ones he knew in his beloved Venice. His Madonnas are Venetians. Whether saint or sinner, the one depicted was such a one as Tintoretto had known and seen. For this reason his pictures have historic as well as artistic value.

His friend and contemporary, Paul Veronese, is calm where Tintoretto is violent; he uses soft colors where the other uses deep, lavish, insistent ones. No allied theme offers pleas anter occupation for the investigator than the use of color by the Venetian masters. The extraordinary situation of Venice is thoroughly understood. She has made colorists of all painters, yet the masters did not use the sea as a rule in their canvases. Rather, their skies give greater indication of Venice's influence. Titian always saw Cadore-the autumnal tints of his mountain home, these are in his pictures. The flesh tones were modified by Venice where the water gave the skin a warmth without injuring it as do the elements in many localities. It is evident that Venice influenced the early painters differently than those of recent years and the differences offer interesting comparisons.

Paul Veronese (1528-1588) painted with "his brush dipped in light." His paintings evince his rare gifts. Compo sition, color, form-these all are excellent. Four of his paintings were executed to fill commissions from monasteries for the refectory. Supper in the House of Simon the Pharisee, done for a Dominican monastery in Venice is a sumptuous production. Van Dyck did not love rich stuffs, brocades and velvets more than Veronese. Venice, with its oligarchy of rich merchants, afforded greater display of costly raiment than other Italian centers. These men grew opulent in their successful and ceaseless trade, plying here, there, everywhere, until new routes diverted commerce into other channels.

Bordone's Doge and the Fisherman deserves mention for its magnificence as well as for the legend it commemorates. This is the story, which has endless varieties and differences. A gondolier dozed in his gondola, waiting for custom. He roused from his dreams when three men stepped into his craft; it was late and the uncertain light allowed him to scan them but slightly, yet he thought one of grave mien, like a patriarch, and the other two appeared to be soldiers. They asked to be rowed to the Lido and soon the water which had been tranquil became rough and boisterous. Moreover, strange apparitions, half men, half fish, rose up into the air and threatened by their noise and hideous laughter to destroy the gondola and its human freight. But the motion of the elder one's hand and the swords of the others caused these monsters to explode with tremendous confusion and sulphurous breath ere they did injury. So hours passed. When at length the contest was over and the boat returned to its moorings, the men stepped out of the bark and the venerable personage announced that he was St. Mark and that these were his friends -St. George and St. Theodore. Having heard that devils intended that night to destroy Venice because of the excesses therein committed, he had gone forth to save the city of his protection. He slipped the ring from off his finger and told the gondolier to take it to the Doge, who would fill his cap with coins-thus to reward his night's labor. Thereupon St. Mark returned to his place on the porch of the Cathedral, St. George to his niche in the Ducal Palace and St. Theodore to the top of his column. But for the beautiful ring in his hand the gondolier would have doubted his senses. When he presented himself before the Doge next morning with the story of his night's adventure, search revealed the fact that the ring, kept under several locks was indeed gone. Thus it was plain a miracle had been enacted and the city celebrated its rescue, the Doge liberally rewarding the gondolier. Bordone has seized upon the moment when the fisherman falls upon his knees before the Doge. The curiosity manifest upon the faces of the spectators makes the scene live before us.

Venice of the Renaissance was a luxurious center with palaces rich almost beyond belief and each more splendid than its neighbor, but most splendid of all was the Ducal Palace. The Bellinis had adorned it and Titian's brush had rendered it more magnificent, but the fires of 1574 and 1577 destroyed most of their productions. Tintoretto and Paul Veronese decorated the walls that rose in place of those destroyed but posterity suffered irreparable loss with this catastrophe.

The old Hall of the Grand Council is one of the largest reception halls in the world. It looks still larger than it is. Paintings extend all around the room, broken only by the windows. A frieze of portraits of the Doges reaches above the pictures. The largest wall is covered with Tintoretto's Paradiso-probably the largest picture ever executed. The Hall of the Four Doors and its anteroom are appropriately adorned. The Anti-Collegio, or waiting room of ambassadors, possesses four of the most pleasing paintings of Veronese : Murcury and the Graces, Vulcan's Forge, Pallas with joy and Abundance driving away Mars and Ariadne consoled by Bacchus. In this palace is also his Rape of Europa. "Sky clouds, trees, flowers, meadows, seas, tints, draperies, all seem bathed in the glow of an unknown Elysium."

Venice Enthroned, Paul Veronese's masterpiece, was painted for the ceiling of the Grand Council Hall. Tintoretto and Palma Giovane also contributed to this ceiling decoration but their work fades in comparison with that of Veronese. Taine was enraptured by it, describing it thus:

"This work is not merely food for the eye, but a feast. Amidst grand architectural forms of balconies and spiral columns sits Venice, the blonde, on a throne, radiant with beauty, with that fresh and rosy carnation peculiar to the daughters of humid climates, her silken skirt spread out beneath a silken mantle. Around her a circle of young women bend over with a voluptuous and yet haughty smile, possessing that Venetian charm peculiar to a goddess who has a courtesan's blood in her veins, but who rests on a cloud and attracts men to her instead of descending to them. Thrown into relief against pale violet draperies and mantles of azure and gold, their living flesh, their backs and shoulders, are impregnated with light or swim in the penumbra, the soft roundness of their nudity harmonizing with the tranquil gayety of their attitudes and features. Venice in their midst ostentatious and yet gentle, seems like a queen whose mere rank gives the right to be happy, and whose only desire is to render those who see her happy also. On her serene head, which is thrown slightly backwards, two angels place a crown. What a miserable instrumentality is language. A tone of satiny flesh, a luminous shadow on a bare shoulder, a flickering light on floating silk, attract, recall, and retain the eye for a long time, and yet there is but a vague phrase with which to express the charm... Beneath the ideal sky and behind a balustrade are Venetian ladies in the costume of the time, in low-neck dresses cut square and closely fitting the body. It is actual society, and is as seductive as the goddess. They are amazing, leaning over and smiling; the light which illuminates portions of their clothes and faces falls on them or diffuses itself in such exquisite contrasts that one is moved with transports of delight. At one time a brow, at another a delicate ear, or a necklace or a pearl, issues from the warm shadow. One, in the flower of youth, has the archest of looks; another, about forty and amply developed, glances upward and smiles in the best possible humor. This one-a superb creature, with red sleeves striped with gold, stoops, and her swelling breasts expand the chemise of her bodice. A little blonde, curly-headed girl in the arms of an old woman raises her charming little hand with the most mutinous air, and her fresh little visage is a rose. There is not one who is not happy in living, and who is not merely cheerful, but joyous. And how well these rumpled, changeable silks, these white, diaphanous pearls, accord with these transparent tints, as delicate as the petals of flowers! Away below, finally, is the restless activity of the sturdy, noisy crowd; warriors, prancing horses, grand flowing togas, a trumpeter bedizened with drapery, a man's naked back near a cuirass, and in the intervals, a dense throng of vigorous and animated heads, and in one corner a young mother and her infant; all these objects being disposed with the facility of opulent genius, and all illuminated like the sea in summer, with superabundant sunshine. All this is what one should bear away with him in order to retain an idea of Venice... I got someone to show me the way to the public garden; after such a picture one can only contemplate natural objects."

The Milanese School of Painting was founded by Vincenzo Foppa, Ambrogio Borgognone and Bernardino Luini. The first two mentioned antedated Leonardo's coming to Milan in 1482. Luini profited by the work of Leonardo but could not be said to have imitated it in the least. One of his most charming pictures is St. Catherine carried away by Angels. The legend of her death was that angels carried the dead body to Mount Sinai, where it was entombed in a beautiful sarcophagus.

The Palazzo di Brera, built in 1651 for a Jesuit College, has become the home of the Milan art gallery-known as the Brera. Gentile Bellini's St. Mark's Preaching at Alexandria is here. It gives evidences of his sojourn at the Sultan's court when sent thither at the request of the Sublime Porte to paint the ruler's portrait. Tintoretto's Finding of the Body of St. Mark belongs to this collection.

Greatest of Milan painters was Leonardo, if he can be thus classified because of his years spent here in the service of Lu-dovico. Sforza. His masterpiece, The Last Supper, was painted for the Convent of St. Maria della Grazie, located in this city.

Upon the defeat of Sforza, Leonardo went to France, where he later died. The Brera contains but a small collection, but Milan possesses valuable art in other places-in churches and in private collections.



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