Art of The Berlin Galleries – Venetian Paintings Of The 15th Century

In the first one of these galleries we will find the works of the men of the so-called terra ferma, of Vicenza, Verona, Brescia. The next gallery contains the larger paintings of the Venetian school proper, with a few Veronese. The Cabinet 43 holds the smaller Venetian works of the Early Renaissance.

One of the early men of Brescia, who later went to Milan and was probably the founder of the Milanese school, was Vincenzo Foppa (about 1427-1502). In his “Lamentation of Christ ” (133. Plate VII) he shows himself a great master. It is considered his best work wherein we may observe his distinction for colour, which has pervasive silvery greys and subdued greens with shimmering effects. The expressions of sorrow are realistic and not as reserved as was still customary ; the dark rock on the right acts as soundingboard to these exclamations of woe. The painter’s fantasy is shown by portraying Jerusalem in the back-ground in the form of an Italian city. The picture proves to be the work of a progressive with sufficient energy to be a leader.

His pupil Ambrogio Borgognone (1450-1523) was somewhat influenced by Leonardo, and he introduced the cool, the silvery, the light-blue into Lombardy, whereof his two Madonnas, the one with angels (51) the other with saints (52), bear witness. While not conspicuous for particular excellence in form or movement or spacing, he has the most restrained, the most profound, the most refined pietistic feeling, which gave him the name of the Fra Angelico of Lombardy. His drawing especially of glimpses of streets, mural bits, and small figures has a synthetic abbreviation, differing from the plastic style then used, which makes it quite modern.

At Verona we find Francesco Morone (1473-1529) and Girolamo dai Libri (1474-1555), both living into the sixteenth century but more allied to the art of the fifteenth. The Madonnas (46, 46B) of Morane, and the large Sacra Conversazione (30) by Libri are merely of interest to study the transition from the Early to the High Renaissance.

Among all these sacred subjects we spy with interest a ” Betrothal ” (1175) by an unknown Veronese master of the neighbouring Ferrara. The work seems to have been done under the influence of Piero della Francesca. The exchange of rings takes place in the open, with a hilly landscape in the distance. Four friends accompany the bridegroom as they meet the bride, who with two young maidens has just come out of doors, The lovers are engrossed in the ceremony, while the exchange of glances between the others shows a division of interest. The straight up and down lines of the folds of the close fitting garments are not displeasing since these are relieved by the winding road in the distance. This profane Sposalizio is very refreshing among the usual religious compositions.

The only master of much note in Vicenza was Bartolommeo Montagna (1450-1523), a pupil of Mantegna, from whom he learned facility in drawing. Later he was influenced by the early Venetians and acquired a gentler, if not weaker manner of composing, but the Venetian colour-supremacy materially aided the beauty of his later work. The finest work in this room is his ” Noli me Tangere ” (44B). The forms of the Christ and the Magdalene are weak, but the colourtone is golden. The architectural constructions on the side, like cou-lisses, frame the saints who are present at the meeting. A larger altarpiece is a ” Madonna Enthroned ” (44) with saints and the donor, Bernardino da Feltre, in the robes of a Franciscan. Da Feltre was the founder of pawnshops in Italy, whereby he amassed a large fortune. He had this altarpiece painted for S. Marco in Lonigo. The round head of the Madonna with the heavy eyelids points directly to the Venetian Vivarini.

Marcello Fogolino (active 1520-1540), of Vicenza, is a much later man, although in his manner he still exhibits the earlier provincialism of the terra firma. His large “Madonna En-throned ” (47), with saints, formed part of the main altar in S. Francesco in Vicenza.

The last picture that occupies us in this gallery is one that introduces us to the next, for it is a Venetian work, though of minor quality. This ” Christ at Emmaus ” (1) is by Marco Marziale (active 1492-1507), who pictures four instead of the usual two men who sit at meat with the Master. Muther calls attention to the German elements in this painting, the square head of Christ, the Siavonic type of the youngest pilgrim and of an older one, who both remind of Lucas Cranach.

In the next room, Gallery 44, hang several large Venetian paintings.

The Venetians stand quite apart from the rest of the Italian schools. We know that art is an expression of a people’s character, conditions of life, and environment, and Venice differed from other Italian cities in almost every respect. The Venetians were merchants, growing opulent in trade, and concerning themselves little with the higher ideals of culture and philosophy. Their affluence bred in them a spirit of independence which did not brook political or ecclesiastical interference. Their trade with the far East educated their eyes to the rich colours the Mohammedan world produced in dyed stuffs, mosaics and marbles ; while their own island home of the lagunes, with its sunny skies and waters, developed their love for the brilliant, glowing, and opalescent.

All these conditions impressed themselves upon Venetian art. It acquired a worldly spirit, not one that cared for ascetic pietism, but even in its religious painting preferred the pride of the eye to the devotion of the soul. The splendour of lavish living called forth the sumptuous spirit in the compositions of the great masters of decorative art; while the intercourse with the East, as well as their natural surroundings, produced the gorgeous, scintillating colour-school of Venice. The right means were provided at the right time when the use of oil came from FIanders in the beginning not understood by Florence, but at once adopted by Venice, to change the flat, dull colours of distemper into the lustrous gloss of the new medium.

The earliest Venetian art was closely related to Byzantium, but without producing any great work-men died a natural death — there are no Primitives in the Venetian school. Not until the second half of the fifteenth century does the art of painting in Venice become of importance. Then two families of artists, the Vivarini and the Bellini, laid the foundation of the Venetian school.

The Bellinis we will meet later on. Here we find the large masterpiece of Luigi, called Alvise Vivarini (flourished 1461-1503), the last of the family whose home was in Murano, an out-lying Venetian island. This “Madonna with Six Saints” (38) is the most impressive composition among several important works in this gallery. The Venetians lived in narrow streets, there was not much room to spare, and their churches were usually small. Thus the chapel in which the Madonna is here enthroned, and which is completely filled by the six persons surrounding the throne, is rather diminutive ; and yet, by the architectonic lines and the general disposition, it gives the impression of an imposing, lofty, dignified sanctum. In a loggia with cupola and open arcades stands a beautifully sculptured, high marble throne to which four steps give access. On the lowest step stand two putti, one playing the lute, which the other accompanies with a flute. The Madonna is seated in stately dignity upon the purple cushions, holding the nude infant, who extends his right hand in blessing over St. Catharine, St. Peter and St. George, with St. Magdalene, St. Jerome and St. Sebastian, who are arranged in strong symmetrical order at both sides of the throne. They match each other in pairs, the two women with the same dress, hair-arrangement, gaze, gesture, lighting and colour; the sunken down head of Peter opposes the grey-beard of Jerome, both wrapped in flowing robes with many folds. The opposite of the harnessed St. George to the naked St. Sebastian is the more striking. All stand, in wrapt silence, listening to the putti’s serenade. This impression of stately, reverential quiet is emphasized by the upper-half of the picture with its grand architectural lines and the intarsia of the ceiling, all empty, lofty, echoing the sweet notes.

Another altarpiece by Alvise, only a little smaller, ” The Madonna and Four Saints ” (1165), excels in grand construction, depth of colouring, with a sharp side-light, strong characterization of the heads, and a free movement of the bodies.

Only a few pupils and followers of the Vivarini appeared before the Muranese were merged with the Venetians. Carlo Crivelli (1430-1493) is the only one of these of any note. We still detect Paduan echoes in his work, a mixture of grace with harsh, archaic severity. His ” St. Magdalene ” (1156. Plate VIII) is one of the finest of his single figures. It combines magnificent decorative detail with sweetness and delicacy in face and hands, excessive affectation in the drawing, and richest colour-play. The way the hands are drawn is almost a mannerism with Crivelli, seen with all his Madonnas, and also in the large altarpiece ” The Infant Christ giving the Keys to St. Peter (1156A), which hangs in the centre of the main wall. The wide distinction in which Crivelli juxtaposes his ideals of women against the barbaric harshness of his men had never been seen, even in the old Sienese school. The ineffable sweetness and grace of the Virgin — again with a right hand of thin, extraordinary curved fingers — surrounded by the most brutal and debased looking saints, who are almost smothered in gorgeous church raiment, is the height of contrast. The whole panel is loaded with gold, brocades, jewels and carvings. The reckless, elusive capriciousness of the composition is not an unmixed merit; yet it is not difficult to sift out from a mass of irrelevant, but still interesting detail, the passages which are worth while. This is regarded as the artist’s master-piece of his later period, when he inaugurated the idea to give the figures, not isolated in their separate panels, but united in a single composition in which each takes its proper place. From the beginning to the end of his career Crivelli always painted in distemper, to which he clung with a desperate fondness at a time when all painters were trying oils. He did not belong to a movement of progress, but in the stationary conservatism of his art he attained a height in which he rivals the greatest artists of all times and countries.

The first great follower of the Bellini in Venice was Vittore Carpaccio (about 1455-4525), a strikingly original man, who was an innovator with grandly elaborate compositions. His ” Consecration of St. Stephen ” (23) is thoroughly characteristic of his descriptive art. On a large square, in the background of which some Venetian buildings on the one side and on the other a queerly shaped mountain and a chapel are seen, are gathered various groups. One group in the left fore-ground consists of a number of Oriental dignitaries, with turbans and long robes, apparently discussing the ceremony which takes place on the right.

There we see on the steps of a palace the ‘apostle Peter, attended by one or two other apostles, investing Stephen, and a few other young clerics who kneel on the steps, with the diaconate. Several men and women in attractive national costumes are gathered around. The landscape, the perspective, the architecture of the buildings, the costumes, the colours attract us more, however, than the spiritual meaning of the occasion. The invention, the technical ability, the sumptuous appearance of the whole make Carpaccio a worthy forerunner of Paolo Veronese. His ” Preparation for the Burial ” (23A) is more bizarre, since the movements of the attendants are too pronounced, and disturb the solemn quiet which we should expect in a Christo Morte. Unusually fine is the perspective on the brightly lit heights, with a pair of musical angels on the cliff.

Carpaccio was a true child of Venice. He has opulent colouring, warmed by the rays of the Venetian sun and enlivened by that gaiety with, which the very air of the lagunes is impregnated. The spiritual significance of his religious works truly interprets Venetian devotion, “at once real and devoid of pietistic rapture.” He possessed grace and dignity, a certain romantic charm, and his wayward imagination, full of subtle and happy surprises, always gives a pleasing satisfaction.

Cima da Conegliano (1470-1518) was an equally lovable personality, perhaps with somewhat more refinement, more symmetry, and simpler grace. He is the delightful painter of Virgins who are still serious, but conscious of their own beauty, whose softly rounded forms are in strong contrast to the ascetic, bony frames of the Florentines. At times he reaches to Carpaccio’s height in grandeur of composing. This is seen in the panel which depicts a scene in the life of St. Marc, “The Healing of Anianus ” (15). One day St. Marc was passing over the marketplace of Alexandria when he saw a sidewalk cobbler, Anianus by name, who had cut himself with his awl to such an ex-tent that the hand would seem useless for further service. St. Marc stopped the bleeding and healed the hand. And the legend says that the cobbler left his last and followed the apostle, became a Christian, and succeeded St. Marc on the bishop-chair of Alexandria. The grouping of the heavily turbanned and robed Orientals who witness the miracle is very natural. One head reaching out of a groundfloor window is a perfect type, and a horseman, who looks like a present-day Cossack, has halted his horse and bends forward to see over the heads of the crowd what is going on. The architectural lines of the buildings surrounding the square are stately and well-proportioned.

But Cima was even more successful in his Conversazione pictures with their festive gaiety than in his few historical works. Thus his Ancona, ” Madonna and Child ” (2), has a supreme dignity in the statuesque saints that stand at the foot of the high throne, with studied correctness of drawing. The setting is much like the one we saw in Alvise Vivarini’s work (38, opposite wall). Best of all we find Cima in his half-length Ma-donnas, with a natural nobility in the heads, and picturesque landscape background. There is one of these here (7), in which the donor’s face and clasped hands appear. The charm and vitality in the faces and the deep autumnal colour of the mountainous landscape make this an exceptionally attractive little panel.

Three immediate pupils of the Bellinis in this gallery are but weak imitators. Francesco Bissolo (1464-1528) drove his imitation so far that many of his works are at first readily mistaken for those of Giambellini, but his colour is weak and warm, not brilliant, and his characters insignificant. We may note this in his “Resurrection of Christ ” (43). Francesco Zaganelli (active 1505-1527) was a painter from the Romagna, but also worked with the Bellini. His “Annunciation ” (164) is one of the earliest presentations of this subject in a grand, ceremonial manner, instead of the earlier surprise visit in Mary’s dormitory. Here we see the Virgin standing in a roomy, splendidly decorated hall, receiving the angel, while St. Anthony , of Padua kneels in adoration, and St. John the Baptist presents the donor. Marco Basaiti (active 1497-1527) was again a weak imitator. His ” St. Sebastian ” (37) is a sweet, nerveless conception.

Both the Veronese shown in this gallery are represented with the pictures of the same tortured saint. The ” St. Sebastian ” (46A) of Liberale da Verona (1451-1536) is the finest presentment. The style of drawing is formed somewhat on Mantegna’s work, while Venetian influences are seen in the colouring and background. This nude body tied against a tree has great animal beauty, without the usual languid emaciation wherewith Botticelli and other early men depicted the martyr, and revealing the deep sense for form and structure, and a certain poetical feeling as well, where-with Liberale was endowed. The features, turned heavenward, have a plaintive but not suffering expression. The vigorous youthfulness of the body, pierced by arrows, and soon to stiffen in death, is the contrasting key of the picture.

The same subject (46C), by Francesco Bon-signori (1453-1519), reveals also the Mantegna influence. Here the figure has a different pose and is somewhat more severe in outline but equally impressive.

In Cabinet 43 we find Venetian paintings of smaller size. One of the earliest works of Giovanni Bellini (1428-1516), of whom we will see other works further on, is a ” Mary with Child ” (1177), still entirely in the style of his father Jacopo, and before Mantegna’s influence was felt. There is still a lack of freedom and absence of grace in this half-figure, nor is the colour as melting as in his later famous half-figure Madonnas.

In one of the two portraits of young men, by Antonello da Messina (1444-1493), we can readily detect the Flemish feeling which he acquired while studying the process of painting in oil colours, which he introduced into Italy. This is a three-quarter face of a young man (18A), beardless, with red, fur-lined mantle and dark cap against a black background. The other portrait (18), one of the latest he painted, has less of this Flemish feeling, its manner of painting is exactly like that of a Bellini Madonna. The bust of a long-haired youth comes above the rail of a balustrade, an evening sky forms the background, dark overhead, and running into a bright sunset glow towards the horizon. The features are framed in reddish brown hair, and the collar of a dark shirt circles the neck. The face is full and well-modelled, and has a fine reflection of the light-effect. It is a portrait that can easily hold its own with those of later men.

The undoubted example in the Berlin Museum of Giorgione (1477-1511) is also the portrait of a youth (12A). Giorgione was one of the three greatest pupils of Giambellini, Titian and Tintoretto being the other two. He was one of the greatest of colourists, working mostly in fresco. He died young, it is said, from grief at the desertion of a fickle beauty, and but few of his easel-pictures — not a score in all — are in existence.

In this portrait of a youth who looks so steadily at the beholder we see finely marked, almost delicate features, framed in a wealth of long black hair which, parted in the middle, hangs down in heavy locks on his shoulders, covering the ears. A dull violet, padded doublet covers his breast as he stands behind a stone parapet. There is a fine blending .of skilful contrasts in colour and a voluptuous swell of line. Says Morelli : “In it we have one of those rare portraits such as only Giorgione and occasionally Titian were capable of producing, highly suggestive, and exercising over the spectator an irresistible fascination.”

Giorgione combined the refined feeling and poetry of Bellini with Carpaccio’s gaiety and love of colour, whereby his work shows the perfect reflex of the ripened Renaissance. His contemporaries were at a loss for terms in which to ex-press their admiration, and were driven to coin words which should convey some idea of the fulness of life and beauty that breathed from his canvases. Il fuoco Giorgionesco, ” the Giorgionesque fire,” and un certo fiammeggiar di colori, “a certain flamelike quality of colour,” became common phrases to apply to his creations. No wonder that the school of Giorgione numbers far more adherents than even the school of da Vinci, or the school of Raphael; not because of any direct teaching of the master, but because the ” Giorgionesque ” spirit was abroad, and the taste of the day required paintings like Giorgione’s to satisfy it.

We have already seen work of the next two men. The Museum Verein has contributed a small beach-scene (17A), by Cima de Conegliano, one of the first landscapes per se, in which the small figures of wrestling men are only accessories. It depicts a green bend in the shore of a lake which is enclosed in the far distance by blue mountains. A boat is drawn upon the smooth sand, and trees and verdure add to the beauty of the scene. The picture grasps the meaning of landscape in its entirety, and renders it with poetic significance.

The half-length ” Madonna and Child” (46), by Francesco Morone, is in the style of his example which we saw in Room 41.

Of greater interest is a ” Pieta” (4), by the so-called Pseudo Basaiti, an assistant of Gio. Bellini, whose work up to a short time ago was ascribed to Marco Basaiti. This unknown artist who, however, lately has been identified with Andrea Busati, of whom there is a signed painting in the Academy of Venice, was a far stronger man than the one who for so long received the credit of his work. In our picture of half-figures we see the nude body of the dead Christ supported on each side by Mary and John. The drawing of this body is remarkably plastic, the folds of the dresses worn by the mourners are natural, and their faces expressive of deep grief without exaggeration. The head of the Christ, fallen back-wards on Mary’s arm and slightly foreshortened, is one of the most beautifully painted heads, such as few Pietas may show.

Three Ferrarese painters are also shown here. Of Francesco Francia we have already seen a large work in Room 34. Here we find an attractive little “Holy Family ” (125), in half-figures, of his early time, which shows still the sharp drawing of his goldsmith’s art. The colour is rather cold and somewhat mixed, but the charming pose of the Child, standing on a stone breasting as Mary holds it, with Joseph at the other side, is very attractive.

The ” John the Baptist ” (112C), by Ercole Roberti (1455-1496), the ablest follower of Tura, looks rather haggard, well-nigh grotesque, among these Venetians, but is as glowing in colour as any of these. The emaciated form, girt about the loins, stands silhouetted against the sky studying the mystery of the cross. The homely face and shanky limbs remind of Pollaiuolo, but the feeling for the landscape is much further advanced. The saint stands on a platform that looks like the roof of a house, over the edge of which we see a lake from which many rocky eminences protrude, the ruins of a bridge here, a city and ships there, and mountains girdling the horizon, which runs below the middle of the painting. The upper half is filled with a glowing evening sky, brilliantly reflected in the waters of the lake, which gives the small panel a rare feeling of nature. His ” Mary with the Child ” (112D) is more restful in appearance. Roberti’s pupil, Francesco Maineri (flourished last half 15th century) has a ” Holy Family ” (1632) quite in the same manner.

Three portraits in this cabinet belong to the High Renaissance of the sixteenth century. Two of these are by Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556), both of young men. An early portrait (182) shows a youth with slightly bent head, half turned to the right and gazing straight at the onlooker. His black barette, black doublet and mantle, show well against a blue-green curtain. No. 320 is a mature work of the artist’s best period. The youth has short-cut hair and a pointed beard. The black barette and doublet come out against a red curtain, while to the right one sees the sea with a part of the Molo of Venice. Here the full power of portraiture is seen in the masterful handling.

In his portraits Lotto shows his independence. A pupil of Alvise Vivarini, as Berenson has clearly established, he had archaic leanings but was later influenced by Cima de Conegliano, Bellini, Crivelli, Raphael and others. But a distinctly individual note is struck and a delicate psychological insight shown when he presents the human document. Then he displays a power of catching and perpetuating transient emotions and delicate shades of feeling which distinguishes him from all other Venetian masters. Farther on we shall see one of his religious pictures, which are marked by an in-tense fervour; not so much of personal religiousness but of an exquisite sensitiveness to ecstatic feelings and unclutchable visions.

Another fine portrait here is by Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547). It represents a young Roman matron (259B), seated at a window, the dark wall at the side serving as background to her full-lighted face. She is sitting sideways, with her face turned towards the spectator, the lustrous bright eyes gazing at him coquettishly. The fur-lined red velvet mantle falls off her left shoulder and is held up to the breast by the right hand, and in the left she holds a small basket with fruit. Through the window is seen a charming hilly landscape with evening light. When this panel was in the Blenheim Collection of the Duke of Marl-borough it was called a Raphael, although Waagen declared it to be by Sebastiano. The portrait was painted in his early Roman period, about 1512, and has still much of his Venetian manner which he later lost when becoming a Papal court-painter. The type of face is not Roman, but rather shows a lady from North Italy residing at the Tiber. Few of the beauties which Raphael has produced can compare with the exquisite charm of these perfect, blooming features.

( Originally Published 1912 )

The Art of The Berlin Galleries:Rooms 41, 44, 43. Venetian Paintings Of The 15th CenturyRoom 42 – Venetian And Lombard Sculpture, And Venetian PaintingsRoom 39—collection James SimonRoom 45 – Florentine Paintings Of The 16th CenturyThe Spanish PaintingsThe French PaintingsThe English PaintingsThe German PaintingsThe Dutch And Flemish PaintingsThe Royal National GalleryRead More Articles About: The Art of The Berlin Galleries