Further Walks Through Italian Painting And The High Renaissance, 1500-1600

THE VENETIAN SCHOOL: It was at Venice and with the Venetian painters of the sixteenth century that a new art-motive was finally and fully adopted. This art-motive was not religion. For though the religious subject was still largely used, the religious or pietistic belief was not with the Venetians any more than with Correggio. It was not a classic, antique, realistic, or naturalistic motive. The Venetians were interested in all phases of nature, and students of nature, but they were not students of truth for truth’s sake.

What they sought, primarily, was the light and shade on a nude shoulder, the delicate contours of a form, the flow and fall of silk or brocade, the richness of a robe, a scheme of color or of light, the character of a face, the majesty of a figure. They were seeking effects of line, light, color—mere sensuous and pictorial effects, in which religion and classicism played secondary parts. They believed in art for art’s sake ; that painting was a creation, not an illustration ; that it should exist by its pictorial beauties, not by its subject or story. No matter what their subjects, they invariably painted them so as to show the beauties they prized the highest. The Venetian conception was less austere, grand, intellectual, than pictorial, sensuous, concerning the beautiful as it appealed to the eye. And this was not a slight or unworthy conception. True it dealt with the fulness of material life, but regarded as it was by the Venetians—a thing full-rounded, complete, harmonious, splendid—it became a great ideal of existence.

In technical expression color was the note of all the school, with hardly an exception. This in itself would seem to imply a lightness of spirit, for color is somehow associated in the popular mind with decorative gayety; but nothing could be further removed from the Venetian school than triviality. Color was taken up with the greatest seriousness, and handled in such masses and with such dignified power that while it pleased it also awed the spectator. Without having quite the severity of line, some of the Venetian chromatic schemes rise in sublimity almost to the Sistine modellings of Michael Angelo. We do not feel this so much in Giovanni Bellini, fine in color as he was. He came too early for the full splendor, but he left many pupils who completed what he had inaugurated.

THE GREAT VENETIANS: The most positive in influence upon his contemporaries of all the great Venetians was Giorgione (1477 ?-1511). He died young, and what few pictures by him are left to us have been so torn to pieces by historical criticism that at times one begins to doubt if there ever was such a painter. His different styles have been confused, and his pictures in consequence thereof attributed to followers instead of to the master. Painters change their styles, but seldom their original bent of mind. With Giorgione there was a lyric feeling as shown in music. The voluptuous swell of line, the melting tone of color, the sharp dash of light, the undercurrent of atmosphere, all mingled for him into radiant melody. He sought pure pictorial beauty and found it in everything of nature. He had little grasp of the purely intellectual, and the religious was something he dealt with in no strong devotional way. The fete, the concert, the fable, the legend, with a landscape setting, made a stronger appeal to him. More of a recorder than a thinker he was not the less a leader showing the way into that new Arcadian grove of pleasure whose inhabitants thought not of creeds and faiths and histories and literatures, but were content to lead the life that was sweet in its glow and warmth of color, its light, its shadows, its bending trees, and arching skies. A strong full-blooded race, sober-minded, dignified, ration-ally happy with their lot, Giorgione portrayed them with an art infinite in variety and consummate in skill. Their Ieast features under his brush seemed to glow like jewels. The sheen of armor and rich robe, a bare forearm, a nude back, or loosened hair—mere morsels of color and light—all took on a new beauty. Even landscape with him became more significant. His master, Bellini, had been realistic enough in the details of trees and hills, but Giorgione grasped the meaning of landscape as an entirety, and rendered it with poetic breadth.

Technically he adopted the oil medium brought to Venice by Antonello da Messina, introducing scumbling and glazing to obtain brilliancy and depth of color. Of light-andshade he was a master, and in atmosphere excellent. He, in common with all the Venetians, is sometimes said to be lacking in drawing, but that is the result of a misunderstanding. The Venetians never cared to accent line, choosing rather to model in masses of light and shadow and color. Giorgione was a superior man with the brush, but not quite up to his contemporary Titian.

That is not surprising, for Titian (1477–1576) was the painter easily first in the whole range of Italian art. He was the first man in the history of painting to handle a brush with freedom, vigor, and gusto. And Titian’s brush-work was probably the least part of his genius. Calm in mood, dignified, and often majestic in conception, learned beyond all others in his craft, he mingled thought, feeling, color, brush-work into one grand and glowing whole. He emphasized nothing, yet elevated everything. In pure intellectual thought he was not so strong as Raphael. He never sought to make painting a vehicle for theological, literary, or classical ideas. His tale was largely of humanity under a religious or classical name, but a noble, majestic humanity. In his art dignified senators, stern doges, and solemn ecclesiastics mingle with open-eyed madonnas, winning Ariadnes, and youthful Bacchuses. Men and women they are truly, but the very noblest of the Italian race, the mountain race of the Cadore country—proud, active, glowing with life ; the sea race of Venice—worldly wise, full of character, luxurious in power.

In himself he was an epitome of all the excellences of painting. He was everything, the sum of Venetian skill, the crowning genius of Renaissance art. He had force, power, invention, imagination, point of view ; he had the infinite knowledge of nature and the infinite mastery of art. In addition, Fortune smiled upon him as upon a favorite child. Trained in mind and hand he lived for ninety-nine years and worked unceasingly up to a few months of his death. His genius was great and his accomplishment equally so. He was celebrated and independent at thirty-five, though before that he showed something of the influence of Giorgione. After the death of Giorgione and his master, Bellini, Titian was the leader in Venice to the end of his long life, and though having few scholars of importance his influence was spread through all North Italian painting.

Taking him for all in all, perhaps it is not too much to say that he was the greatest painter known to history. If it were possible to describe that greatness in one word, that word would be ” universality.” He saw and painted that which was universal in its truth. The local and particular, the small and the accidental, were passed over for those great truths which belong to all the world of life. In this respect he was a veritable Shakespeare, with all the calmness and repose of one who overlooked the world from a lofty height.

The restfulness and easy strength of Titian were not characteristics of his follower Tintoretto (1518-1592). He was violent, headlong, impulsive, more impetuous than Michael Angelo, and in some respects a strong reminder of him. He had not Michael Angelo’s austerity, and there was more clash and tumult and fire about him, but he had a command of line like the Florentine, and a way of hurling things, as seen in the Fall of the Damned, that reminds one of the Last Judgment of the Sistine. It was his aim to combine the line of Michael Angelo and the color of Titian ; but without reaching up to either of his models he produced a powerful amalgam of his own.

He was one of the very great artists of the world, and the most rapid workman in the whole Renaissance period. There are to-day, after centuries of decay, fire, theft, and repainting, yards upon yards of Tintoretto’s canvases rotting upon the walls of the Venetian churches. He produced an enormous amount of work, and, what is to be regretted, much of it was contract work or experimental sketching. This has given his art a rather bad name, but judged by his best works in the Ducal Palace and the Academy at Venice, he will not be found lacking. Even in his masterpiece (The Miracle of the Slave) he is “11 Furioso,” as they used to call him ; but his thunderbolt style is held in check by wonderful grace, strength of modelling, superb contrasts of light with shade, and a coloring of flesh and robes not unworthy of the very greatest. He was a man who worked in the white heat of passion, with much imagination and invention. As a technician he sought difficulties rather than avoided them. There is some antagonism between form and color, but Tintoretto tried to reconcile them. The result was some-times clashing, but no one could have done better with them than he did. He was a fine draughtsman, a good colorist, and a master of light. As a brushman he was a superior man, but not equal to Titian.

Paolo Veronese (1528-1588), the fourth great Venetian, did not follow the line direction set by Tintoretto, but carried out the original color-leaning of the school. He came a little later than Tintoretto, and his art was a reflection of the advancing Renaissance, wherein simplicity was des-tined to lose itself in complexity, grandeur, and display. Paolo came on the very crest of the Renaissance wave, when art, risen to its greatest height, was gleaming in that transparent splendor that precedes the fall.

The great bulk of his work had a large decorative motive behind it. Almost all of the late Venetian work was of that character. Hence it was brilliant in color, elaborate in subject, and grand in scale. Splendid robes, hangings, furniture, architecture, jewels, armor, appeared everywhere, and not in flat, lustreless hues, but with that brilliancy which they possess in nature. Drapery gave way to clothing, and texture-painting was introduced even in the largest canvases. Scenes from Scripture and legend turned into grand pageants of Venetian glory, and the facial expression of the characters rather passed out in favor of telling masses of color to be seen at a distance upon wall or ceiling. It was pomp and glory carried to the highest pitch, but with all seriousness of mood and truthfulness in art. It was beyond Titian in variety, richness, ornament, facility ; but it was perhaps below Titian in sentiment, sobriety, and depth of insight. Titian, with all his sensuous beauty, did appeal to the higher intelligence, while Paolo and his companions appealed more positively to the eye by luxurious color-setting and magnificence of invention. The decadence came after Paolo, but not with him. His art was the most gorgeous of the Venetian school, and by many is ranked the highest of all, but perhaps it is better to say it was the height. Those who came after brought about the decline by striving to imitate his splendor, and thereby falling into extravagance.

These are the four great Venetians—the men of first rank. Beside them and around them were many other painters, placed in the second rank, who in any other time or city would have held first place. Palma il Vecchio (1480?–1528) was so excellent in many ways that it seems unjust to speak of him as a secondary painter. He was not, however, a great original mind, though in many respects a perfect painter. He was influenced by Bellini at first, and then by Giorgione. In subject there was nothing dramatic about him, and he carries chiefly by his portrayal of quiet, dignified, and beautiful Venetians under the names of saints and holy families. The St. Barbara is an example of this, and one of the most majestic figures in all painting.

Palma’s friend and fellow-worker, Lorenzo Lotto (1480 ?–1556 ?) came from the school of the Bellini, and at different times was under the influence of several Venetian painters—Palma, Giorgione, Titian—without obliterating a sensitive individuality of his own. He was a somewhat mannered but very charming painter, and in portraits can hardly be classed below Titian. Rocco Marconi (fl. 1505–1520) was another Bellini-educated painter, showing the influence of Palma and even of Paris Bordone. In color and landscape he was excellent. Pordenone (1483–1540) rather followed after Giorgione, and unsuccessfully competed with Titian. He was inclined to exaggeration in dramatic composition, but was a painter of undeniable power. Bonifazio Veronese (?–1540), Bonifazio II. (?–i553), and Bonifazio III. (?–1570), came from a Veronese family and were closely related. Their styles are difficult to distinguish apart. The elder showed the influence of Palma, and all of them were rather deficient in drawing, though exceedingly brilliant and rich in coloring. This latter may be said for Paris Bordone (1495-1570), a painter of Titian’s school, gorgeous in color, but often lacking in truth of form. His portraits are very fine. Another painter family, the Bassani—there were six of them, of whom Jacopo Bassano (1510-1592) and his son Francesco Bassano (1550–1591), were the most noted—formed themselves after Venetian masters, and were rather remarkable for violent contrasts of light and dark, genre treatment of sacred subjects, and still-life and animal painting.

PAINTING IN VENETIAN TERRITORIES: Venetian painting was not confined to Venice, but extended through all the Venetian territories in Renaissance times, and those who lived away from the city were, in their art, decidedly Venetian, though possessing local characteristics.

At Brescia Savoldo (1480 ?–1548), a rather superficial painter, fond of weird lights and sheeny draperies, and Romanino (1485 ?–1566), a follower of Giorgione, good in composition but unequal and careless in execution, were the earliest of the High Renaissance men. Moretto (1498 ?–1555) was the strongest and most original, a man of individuality and power, remarkable technically for his delicacy and unity of color under a veil of “silvery tone.” In composition he was dignified and noble, and in brush-work simple and direct. One of the great painters of the time, he seemed to stand more apart from Venetian influence than any other on Venetian territory. He left one remark-able pupil, Moroni (fl. 1549-1578) whose portraits are to-day the gems of several galleries, and greatly admired for their modern spirit and treatment.

At Verona Caroto and Girolamo dai Libri (1474–1555), though living into the sixteenth century were more allied to the art of the fifteenth century. Torbido (1486 ?–1546 ?) was a vacillating painter, influenced by Liberale da Verona, Giorgione, Bonifazio Veronese, and later, even by Giulio Romano. Cavazzola (1486–1522) was more original, and a man of talent. There were numbers of other painters scattered all through the Venetian provinces at this time, but they were not of the first, or even the second rank, and hence call for no mention here.

PRINCIPAL WORKS: Giorgione, Fete Rustique Louvre, Sleeping Venus Dresden, altar -piece Casteifranco, Ordeal of Moses Judgment of Solomon Knight of Malta Uffizi ; Titian, Sacred and Profane Love Borghese, Tribute Money Dresden, Annunciation S. Rocco, Pesaro Ma-donna Frari Venice, Entombment Man with Glove Louvre, Bacchus Nat. Gal. Lon., Charles V. Madrid, Danae Naples, many other works in almost every European gallery ; Tintoretto, many works in Venetian churches, Salute SS. Giovanni e Paolo S. Maria dell’ Orto Scuola and Church of S. Rocco Ducal Palace Venice Acad. (best work Miracle of Slave) ; Paola Veronese, many Pictures in S. Sebastiano Ducal Pal-ace Academy Venice, Pitti, Uffizi, Brera, Capitoline and Borghese Galleries Rome, Turin, Dresden, Vienna, Louvre, Nat. Gal. Lon.; Palma il Vecchio, Jacob and Rachel Three Sisters Dresden, Barbara S. M. Formosa Venice, other altar-pieces Venice Acad., Colonna Palace Rome, Brera, Naples Mus., Vienna, Nat. Gal. Lon.; Lotto, Three Ages Pitti, Portraits Brera, Nat. Gal. Lon., altar-pieces SS. Giovanni e Paolo Venice and churches at Bergamo, Treviso, Recanti, also Uffizi, Vienna, Madrid Gals.; Marconi, Descent Venice Acad., altar-pieces S. Giorgio Maggiore SS. Giovanni e Paolo Venice; Pordenone, S. Lorenzo Madonna Venice Acad., Salome Doria St. George Quirinale Rome, other works Madrid, Dresden, St. Petersburg, Nat. Gal. Lon.; Bonifazio Veronese, St. John St. Joseph etc. Ambrosian Library Milan (attributed to Giorgione), Holy Family Colonna Pal. Rome, Ducal Pal., Pitti, Dresden Gals.; Bonifazio II., Supper at Emmaus Brera, other works Venice Acad., Pitti, Borghese, Dresden ; Bonifazio III., altar-pieces Venice Acad. (Follow Morelli for attributions in case of the Bonifazios) ; Paris Bordone, Fisherman and Doge, Venice Acad., Madonna Casa Tadini Lovere, portraits in Uffizi, Pitti, Louvre, Munich, Vienna, Nat. Gal. Lon., Brignola Pal. Genoa ; Jacopo Bassano, altar-pieces in Bassano churches, also Ducal Pal. Venice, Nat. Gal. Lon., Uffizi, Naples Mus.; Francesco Bassano, large pictures Ducal Pal., St. Catherine Pitti, Sabines Turin, Adoration and Christ in Temple Dresden, Adoration and Last Supper Madrid ; Savoldo, altar-pieces Brera, S. Niccolo Treviso, Uffizi, Turin Gal., S. Giobbe Venice, Nat. Gal. Lon.; Romanino, altar-pieces S. Francesco Brescia, Berlin Gal., S. Giovanni Evangelista Brescia, Duomo Cremona, Padua, and Nat. Gal. Lon.; Moretto, altar-pieces Brera, Staedel Mus., S. M. della Pieta Venice, Vienna, Berlin, Louvre, Pitti, Nat. Gal. Lon.; Moroni, portraits Bergamo Gal., Uffizi, Nat. Gal. Lon., Berlin, Dresden, Madrid ; Girolamo dai Libri, Madonna Berlin, Conception S. Paolo Verona, Virgin Verona Gal., S. Giorgio Maggiore Verona, Nat. Gal. Lon.; Torbido, frescos Duomo, altar-pieces S. Zeno and S. Eufemia Verona; Cavazzola, altar-pieces, Verona Gal. and Nat. Gal. Lon.