Venice - The Academy - Hall Of Bonifazio.
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
This room is filled with the masterpieces of the latest age of art in Venice before the decadence. It contains an immense number of works of great artistic value, (now less admired than of old—and justly,) to relatively few of which, however, I can call attention, and that more from the point of view of explanation than of criticism. Do not think you must pass by pictures simply because I have not noticed them.
Modern research has decided that there were three painters of the name of Bonifazio, all related, whose works have only of late been critically distinguished. I mark them by the figures I., II., and III. But great uncertainty surrounds their productions, and no two critics agree which painted which among them.
End wall, L. of door as you enter,
269. Bonifazio II. (others say, III.). A beautiful Sacra Conversazione. In the centre, Our Lady and Child, with the little St. John the Baptist, now a common element in such pictures (borrowed from Florence). On the L., St. Joseph and St. Jerome ; on the R., two women saints (Mary Magdalen and Catharine?—the first seems to hold a box of ointment, the second a book, which may indicate the learned princess who was patroness of learning.) Fine rich colour. Above this,
274. A good Ecce Homo, by Palma the younger. Still higher,
317. Rocco Marconi, Christ enthroned between St. Peter and St. John the Baptist.
270. Tintoretto. A Madonna della Misericordia, interesting as showing the way in which this early and difficult subject is accommodated to the ideas of more modern art. The red and blue of Our Lady's robes are very characteristic of Tintoretto's colouring. The votaries evidently belong to some religious confraternity.
272. Torbido. Fine portrait of an old woman, probably intended as a Sybil.
275. Copy after Bonifazio II. ; another Sacra Conversazione, closely resembling the first, and showing the almost mechanical ease and grace of composition which this class of subject had now attained. L., St. James and St. Jerome ; R., St. Catharine with her wheel ; observe in both the landscape background.
278. Bonifazio II. (more probably I.). Christ and the Woman taken in Adultery ; a splendid specimen of this artist.
281. Bonifazio II. (according to others I.). Adoration of the Magi ; an excellent picture and splendid piece of colour ; interesting also as showing the later treatment of these old conventional subjects. The scene is the usual ruined temple ; in the background, the shed and stable ; over Our Lady's head, the star ; the eldest king kneels, as always ; the second king presents his gift, which the Child accepts. These two are evidently portraits of the noble donors ; their robes are gorgeous. To the extreme R. stands St. Joseph, a fine figure. In the and arch is the third or young king, represented as a Moor, (which is the rule in North Italian, German, and Flemish pictures.) A page kneels beside him and hands him his gift. (The three kings represent not only the three ages, but also Europe, Asia, and Africa, the two former more or less Christianised, the last still mainly Mahommedan or heathen, which accounts for the Moorish king being always represented as just entering, and being separated here from the rest of the picture.) The peeping figure behind him is characteristic of late Venetian art. This is a work of great dignity and pure for its period. But compare it with the mosaic of the same subject in the Baptistery at St. Mark's !
284. Bonifazio I. (Morelli says I I.—critics are much divided on all these attributions). Christ enthroned, a magistracy picture, one of several in this room, from the office of the Entrate (Customs). Extreme R., St. Mark with his lion, representing Venice ; extreme L., St. Justina with her unicorn, (symbol of chastity,) representing Padua. Below the Christ, three kneeling saints, probably (almost certainly) the name-saints of the magistrates, whose coats of arms are painted beside them. To the L., St. Louis of Toulouse, with the crown he rejected standing close by, and King David (?) or Sigismund (?) : to the R., St. Dominic in Dominican robes, with the lily. Christ holds an open book, with an inscription enjoining on the magistrates to act with justice. This a very characteristic magistracy picture.
Skied above these three last, and along the whole wall, are several admirable figures of saints, in pairs and threes, which consideration of space compels me to omit, and the grouping of which will now be tolerably comprehensible to the reader. The names on the frames must suffice at this stage of your knowledge. They are all magistracy pictures, and they usually bear the coats of arms of the donors, which, with the saints, give their Christian names and surnames. Many of them are very fine pieces of colour, and all are good solid workmanlike paintings. Especially good is 277, St. Matthew and St. Oswald—an English saint, rare in Italy.
287. Bonifazio II. Adoration of the Magi ; another tolerable work, which may be compared with the previous one. Note the cavalcade of the Magi to the R., as well as the arms of the donors. The evolution of the later Madonna and Child from the earlier type is an interesting subject of study. Compare this backwards with the Titians, Cimas, Bellinis, Vivarinis.
291. Bonifazio I. His masterpiece, and one of the finest pictures in this room. Lazarus and Dives ; in reality a genre picture of a splendid lordly entertainment. Dives bears some resemblance to Henry VIII. of England, who is said to be represented in his person. He sits at table, richly clad, between two courtesans, handsome and regally-robed Venetian ladies. The one to the R. listens to music, in a pensive attitude somewhat suggestive of regret for lost days of innocence. The musicians, and the page who holds the book of music, deserve close attention. To the extreme R., Lazarus begs, and dogs lick his sores ; but his introduction is just a bit of make-believe, to justify the central motive of the picture. Art was long before it could get over the superstition that every work must at least pretend to a sacred subject. Note the large architecture and the expansive sense of space in this and other late Venetian pictures. Also, the domestic episodes in the background. The lordly style of art in the Venice of the 16th century, proper to a great commercial city, may be very well compared with the similar development of Flemish art in Rubens and his contemporaries, when Antwerp had taken the place of Venice. But this glowing work is also remarkable for its rare and high poetical imagination.
295 Bonifazio I. The Judgment of Solomon ; an excellent (Magistracy) picture, which needs little comment. It enjoins Justice.
In the corner are several excellent portraits.
302. Palma Vecchio. St. Peter enthroned, with other saints. R., Paul, Justina of Padua, Augustine (more probably, St. Tiziano of Oderzo, whence the picture comes : ) L., John the Baptist, Mark, and perhaps Catharine ; in the absence of definite symbols these later saints are often difficult to determine. Spoilt by repainting.
Beyond it, several excellent pictures. After the apse,
308. Bonitazio II. Adoration of the Magi ; Our Lady sits between St. Mark and a sainted bishop, whose fleurs-de-lys show him to be almost certainly St. Louis of Toulouse. Doubtless the donor was named Alvise.
310. Palma Vecchio. Christ and the daughter of the Canaanitish Woman. The personages have ample figures, and serene faces : possibly portraits. Above it,
309. Bonifazio I. Christ and St. Philip ; " Philip, he that hath seen me," etc. A fine picture, very modern in conception.
315. Palma Vecchio. Assumption. It is worthy of notice in this picture that the Glory surrounding Our Lady still retains some faint memory of the old form of the mandorla. Not a first-rate specimen of its artist : probably an early work. Altar-piece of the suppressed church of Santa Maria Maggiore.
318. Bonifazio I. St. Mark.
400. Titian (his last work). Deposition from the Cross ; Our Lady sustains the dead Christ ; Joseph of Arimathea, R.; Mary Magdalen with pot of ointment, L. A noble and pathetic picture, which calls, however, for appreciation, not explanation. Titian painted it in his 99th year, but died before it was finished : Palma the younger finished it. It has been much injured by repainting. There is more real feeling in it than Titian often shows.
314. Titian. St. John the Baptist. Unworthy of him.
319. Bonifazio I. Massacre of the Innocents ; a good picture of this odious subject ; but the voluptuous figures and expressionless faces of the women wholly detract from the feeble attempt at pathos. A heartless work. Bonifazio thinks most of his choice of models and of his mode of posing them, very little of the horror and terror of the moment. Fine colour wasted.
320. Paris Bordone. The Doge and the Fisherman ; by far the most magnificent work of this painter. Before examining it, sit down and read the following account of its legendary subject : [On February 25th, 1394, (others say, 1345,) owing to the wickedness of a schoolmaster who committed suicide after selling himself to the devil, Venice was visited by a memorable tempest. While it raged, an aged fisherman made fast his boat to the Molo near St. Mark's. As he lay there, a grave old man came out of the church, accosted him, and offered him a large sum to be ferried over to San Giorgio Maggiore. The fisherman, after hesitating, on account of the high waves, accepted, and rowed him across. There, the stranger went in, and fetched out a young man of knightly aspect, who joined them ; the two then asked to be carried across to San Niccolo di Lido, outside, near the mouth of the harbour. After protest, the fisherman yielded, and rowed them with difficulty. At San Niccolo, both strangers landed, and returned with a third person, a venerable old man ; whereupon they demanded to be rowed between the forts which protected the harbour mouth into the open sea. When they reached the Adriatic, the fisherman beheld a boat manned by devils, which was coming with all speed to destroy Venice. The three strangers made the sign of the cross ; whereupon, the devils disappeared, and the storm ceased. At that, they rowed back, each to the place where he had embarked ; and the grave old man, who landed last at San Marco, being asked for the promised reward, made answer that he was the blessed Evangelist St. Mark, patron of Venice, and that the Doge himself would recompense the boatman. The other two passengers, he said, were the holy martyr St. George and the blessed bishop St. Nicholas ; (in order to understand the story it is necessary to remember that the bodies or relics of all three of these saints were pre-served at Venice, in these three churches.) The fisherman demurred, and pressed for payment ; but St. Mark, taking his ring from his finger, handed it to the man, bidding him show the Doge that, and ask for the promised money. The fisherman took it, and presented himself before the Doge next morning with the ring. The Procurators of St. Mark, looking for the ring, which was kept locked up in the sanctuary, found it missing, though the triple lock had not been tampered with. Thereupon they knew that this was a great miracle. The fisherman received a pension for life, and a Mass was solemnly said in St. Mark's in gratitude for the averted danger.]
Now, turn to the picture. Bordone envisages the scene as a great Venetian state ceremonial. To the R., the majestic Doge sits enthroned, in his cap and robe of office, under a noble (imaginary) loggia, amid magnificent Renaissance architecture. On high seats by his side, and with splendid carpets spread beneath their feet, we see ranged the dignified senators, splendid portraits of stately Venetian aristocrats, in gorgeous robes gloriously painted. The fisherman, escorted by a chamberlain, mounts the steps in his simple garments, with his limbs bare, and humbly presents to the Most Serene Prince the ring which is to prove the truth of his story. At the foot of the steps bows a second chamberlain. Behind stand a group of Venetian gentlemen. In the foreground, the fisherman's boy, a graceful and beautiful figure, lounges carelessly on the steps near his father's gondola. The background consists of magnificent ideal architecture, suggested by that of Sansovino's Libreria Vecchia. Every detail of this luminous and gracious work, the finest ceremonial picture ever painted, should be closely observed and noted ; it has poetry and romance as well as dignity and splendour. The decorative detail of the marble and tiles, and of the recesses behind the Doge's chair, is alone worth much study. The management of light and shade, by which the Doge's figure stands out so conspicuously against a dark ground, is very masterly. This fine work, representing so great and so late a miracle of St. Mark, was painted as one of the decorations for the Scuola di San Marco, which we shall visit later. (So, you will remember, were Tintoretto's St. Mark rescuing a tortured slave, and several others in this collection. Piece together your knowledge.)
After this feast of glory, it is a sad falling off to look at 322. Paradise, by the same painter,—a picture in type like one we have seen before, representing, at the top, the Coronation of the Virgin, and below, a confused assemblage of all the saints, many of them recognisable by their symbols. It was painted, as is usual with this class of subject, for a church of Ogni Santi (at Treviso). An unpleasant, turbid, crude-toned picture.
321. Pordenone. A Madonna della Misericordia, with little angels supporting her mantle, which falls over two beatified Carmelite Fathers and a group of Votaries of the Society of Carmel, (the Ottobon family, donors of the picture.) This is a somewhat unsuccessful and artificial attempt to adapt the old idea of Our Lady sheltering devotees under her cloak, to the conceptions of art in the great period.
316. Pordenone. His masterpiece ; altar-piece of San Lorenzo Giustiniani. In the centre the sainted bishop, first Patriarch of Venice (see No. 57o in Room XV.), stands under a characteristic Venetian chapel (like those of St. Mark's) attended by two acolytes in blue caps like his own. His features are finely ascetic—they suggest Cardinal Manning's. In the foreground are Franciscan saints ; St. Francis, kneeling ; St. Louis of Toulouse, erect, in bishop's robes and mitre, surmounted by a Franciscan cowl (so that there may be no mistake about him) ; and the familiar earnest saintly face of St. Bernardino of Siena. To the R., a huge St. John the Baptist (with his symbol, the Lamb of God) occupies a little too much of the picture. His anatomy is good, but he is positively gigantic. (Such disproportion is frequent with Pordenone.) This excellent if somewhat frigid work was an altar-piece on the altar of the saint in the Franciscan church of the Madonna dell' Orto. It is an admirable picture of its kind, aiming hard at an arrangement of the saints in natural attitudes. San Lorenzo's face is admirably reproduced from earlier portraits. If once the names and grouping of the characters are thoroughly understood, I do not think this fine composition is open to the criticisms often brought against it by those who misconceive its meaning.
328. Savoldo, a Brescian artist, whose works often strangely suggest quite modern painting. The two great Anchorites of the Theban desert, St. Antony Abbot and St. Paul the Hermit.
The end wall has two good single saints, by Moretto, 331 and 332, *Peter and John the Baptist ; and a Rocco Marconi, 334, Christ and the Woman taken in Adultery ; works requiring little comment.
The Long Corridor beyond this, known as the Loggia Palladiano, (because occupying part of Palladio's building,) contains chiefly modern works, or those of the 17th and 18th centuries, to which, unless your time is unlimited, you need not devote much attention. Among them are several good Dutch landscapes and poultry-pieces, by Hondekoeter, Fyt, and others, excellent in their way, but out of tone with Venice, and needing no comment.
The rooms to the R. of this Corridor have works by the Bassani and their successors, most of which are also of relatively little importance, though they afford materials for gauging the slow decline of Venetian art. They may likewise be left to the reader's own consideration.
The Corridor beyond, Branch L, contains a single once-famous picture, 516,—a huge murky canvas, long attributed to Giorgione, (it may once have been his in outline,) and still of much-debated authorship. It is at present officially set down to Palma Vecchio, (to whom Vasari attributed it :) but has been so much restored and muddled about by patchers that it is now of no artistic value. It represents the Storm at Sea already referred to in connection with Paris Bordone's magnificent picture of the Doge and the Fisherman. (Some authorities even attribute it to Bordone.) The shipload of devils are on their way to overwhelm Venice, some of them being detached in small boats, or riding very dubious and grotesque sea-monsters. To the R., a little in the background, ill-descried, and without their proper prominence in the composition, are the fisherman and his boatload of Venetian patrons—St. Mark, St. George, and St. Nicholas. The saints are peculiarly unimpressive. Though this picture now possesses very little interest as a work of art, (and can never have been first-rate,) it deserves to be looked at for its connection with the famous and glorious Bordone, to which it was a pendent. It comes, like that great work, from the Scuola di San Marco.
The Corridor beyond this again, Branch II., contains unimportant canvases of the Decadence, when the mannerism of later Venetian art had wholly destroyed its beauty and spontaneity. The windows here afford a good view of the Inner Court of the Carità, and, to the L., of Palladio's New Building.
Return often to the Academy, and remember always that many admirable pictures are omitted here for want of space. Those who desire more information about all these works can use Karl Károly's excellent Guide to The Pictures of Venice, which gives a bewildering variety of discordant opinions about each work from all the recognised critical authorities.