Venetian Painting – Painters Of The Venetian Provinces

IT has become usual to include in the Venetian School those artists from the subject provinces on the mainland, who came down to try their luck at the fountain-head and to receive its hall-mark on their talent. The Friulan cities, Udine, Serravalle, and small neighbouring towns, had their own primitive schools and their scores of humble craftsmen. Their art wavered for some time in its expression between the German taste, which came so close to their gates, and the Italian, which was more truly their element.

Up to 1499 Friuli was invaded seven times in thirty years by the Turks. They poured in large numbers over the Bosnian borders, crossed the Isonzo and the Tagliamenta, and massacred and carried off the inhabitants. These terrible periods are marked by the cessation of work in the provinces, but hope always revived again. The break caused by such a visitation can be distinctly traced in the Church of S. Antonino, at the little town of San Daniele. Martine da Udine obtained the epithet of Pellegrino da San Daniele in 1494 when he returned from an early visit to Venice, where he had been apprenticed to Cima. He was appointed to decorate S. Antonino. His early work there is hard and coarse, ill-drawn, the figures unwieldy and shapeless, and the colour dusky and uniform ; but owing to the Turkish raid, he had to take flight, and it was many a year before the monks gained sufficient courage and saved enough money to continue the embellishment of their church. In the meantime, Pellegrino’s years had been spent partly in Venice and partly, perhaps, in Ferrara, for the reason Raphael gave for refusing to paint a Bacchus” for the Duke, was that the subject had already been painted by Pellegrino da San Daniele. When Pellegrino resumed his work, it demonstrated that he had studied the modern Venetians and had come under a finer, deeper influence. A St. George in armour suggests Giorgione’s S. Liberale at Castelfranco ; he specially shows an affinity with Pordenone, who was his pupil and who was to become a better painter than his old master. As Pellegrino goes on he improves consistently, and adopts the method, so peculiarly Venetian, of sacrificing form to a scheme of chiaroscuro. He even, to some extent, succeeds in his difficult task of applying to wall painting the system which the Venetians used almost exclusively for easel pictures. He was an ambitious, daring painter, and some of his church standards were for long attributed to Giorgione. The church of San Antonino remains his chief monument ; but for all his travels Pellegrino remains provincial in type, is unlucky in his selection, cares little for precision of form, and trusts to colour for effect.

The same transition in art was taking place in other provinces. Morto da Feltre, Pennacchi, and Girolamo da Treviso have all left work of a Giorgionesque type, and some painters who went far onward, began their career under such minor masters. Giovanni Antonio Licinio, who takes his name from his native town of Pordenone, in Friuli, was one of these. All the early part of his life was spent in painting frescoes in the small towns of the Friulan provinces. At first they bear signs of the tuition of Pellegrino, but it soon becomes evident that Pordenone has learned to imitate Giorgione and Palma. Quite early, however, one of his chief failings appears, and one which is all his own, the disparity in size between his various figures. The secondary personages, the Magi in a Nativity, the Saints standing round an altar, are larger and more athletic in build and often more animated in action than the principal actors in the scene. What pleased Pordenone’s con-temporaries was his daring perspective and his instinctive feeling for movement. He carried out great schemes in the hill-towns, till at length his reputation, which had long been ripe in his native province, reached Venice. In 1519 he was invited to Treviso to fresco the façade of a house for one of the Raviguino family. The painter, as payment, asked fifty scudi, and Titian was called in to adjudicate, but he admired the work so much that he hinted to Raviguino that he would be wise not to press him for a valuation. As a direct consequence of this piece of business, Pordenone was employed on the chapel at Treviso, in conjunction with Titian. At this time the Assumption and the Madonna of Casa Pesaro were just finished, and it is probable that Pordenone paid his first visit to Venice, hard by, and saw his great contemporary’s work. With his characteristic distaste for fresco, Titian undertook the altarpiece and painted the beautiful Annunciation which still holds its place, and Pordenone covered the dome with a foreshortened figure of the Eternal Father, surrounded by angels. Among the remaining frescoes in the Chapel, an Adoration of the Magi and a S. Liberale are from his brush. Fired by his success at Treviso, Pordenone offered his services to Mantua and Cremona, but the Mantovans, accustomed to the stately and restrained grace of Mantegna, would have nothing to say to what Crowe and Cavalcaselle call his ” large and colossal fable-painting.” He pursued his way to Cremona, and that he studied Mantegna as he passed through Mantua is evident from the first figures he painted in the cathedral. In Cremona every one admired him, and all the artists set to work to imitate his energetic foreshortening, vehement movement and huge proportions.

Pordenone, with his love for fresco, was all his life an itinerant painter. In 1521 he was back at Udine and wandered from place to place, painting a vast distemper for the organ doors at S. Maria at Spilimbergo, the façade of the Church of Valeriano, an imposing series at Travesio, and in 1525, the Story of the True Cross ” at Casara. At the last place he threw aside much of his exaggeration, and, ruined and restored as the frescoes are, they remain among his most dignified achievements. He may be studied best of all at Piacenza, in the Church of the Madonna di Campagna, where he divides his subjects between sacred and pagan, so that we turn from a ” Flight into Egypt ” or a ” Marriage of S. Catherine,” to the ” Rape of Europa ” or ” Venus and Adonis.” At Piacenza he shows himself the great painter he undoubtedly is, having achieved some mastery over form, while his colour has the true Venetian quality and almost equals oils in its luscious tones and vivid hues, which he lowers and enriches by such enveloping shadows as only one whose spirit was in touch with the art of Giorgione would have understood how to use. Very complete records remain of Pordenone’s life, full details of a quarrel with his brother over property left by his father in 1533, and accounts of the painter’s negotiations to obtain a knighthood, which he fancied would place him more on a par with Titian when he went to live in Venice. The coveted honour was secured, but from this time he seems to have been very jealous of Titian and to have aimed continually at rivalling him. Pordenone was a punctual and rapid decorator, and on being given the ceiling of the Sala di San Finio to decorate in the summer of 1536, he finished the whole by March 1538. We have seen how Titian annoyed the Signoria by his delays, how anxious they were to transfer his commission to Pordenone, and what a narrow escape the Venetian had of losing his Broker’s patent. Pordenone was engaged by the nuns of Murano to paint an Annunciation, after they had rejected one by Titian on account of its price, and though it seems hardly possible that any one could have compared the two men, yet no doubt the pleasure of getting an altarpiece quickly and punctually and for a moderate sum, often outweighed the honour of the possible painting by the great Titian.

No one has left so few easel-paintings as Pordenone ; fresco was so much better suited to his particular style. The canvas of the ” Madonna of Mercy ” in the Venice Academy, was painted about 1525 for a member of the house of Ottobono, and introduces seven members of the family. It is very free from his colossal, exaggerated manner ; the attendant saints are studied from nature, and in his journals the painter mentions that the St. Roch is a portrait of himself. The ” S. Lorenzo enthroned,” in the same gallery, shows both his virtues and failings. The saints have his enormous pro-portions. The Baptist is twisting round, to display the foreshortening which Pordenone particularly affects. The gestures are empty and inexpressive, but the colour is broad and fluid ; there is a large sense of decoration in the composition, and something simple and austere about the figure of S. Lorenzo. As is so often the case with Pordenone, the principal actor of the scene is smaller and more sincerely imagined than the attendant personages, who are crowded into the foreground, where they are used to display the master’s skill.

Pordenone died suddenly at Ferrara, where he had been summoned by its Duke to undertake one of his great schemes of decoration. He was said to have been poisoned, but though he had jealous rivals there seems no proof of the truth of the assertion, which was one very commonly made in those days. He is interesting as being the only distinguished member of the Venetian School whose frescoes have come down to us in any number, and as being the only one of the later masters with whom it was the chosen medium.

His kinsman, Bernardino Licinio, is represented in the National Gallery by a half-length of a young man in black, and at Hampton Court by a large family group and by another of three persons gathered round a spinet. His masterpiece is a Madonna and Saints in the Frari, which shows the influence of Palma. His flesh tints, striving to be rich, have a hot, red look, but his works have been constantly confounded with those of Giorgione and Paris Bordone.

A long list might be given of minor artists who were industriously turning out work on similar lines to one or other of these masters : Calderari, who imitates Paris Bordone as well as Pordenone ; Pomponio Amalteo, Pordenone’s son-in-law, a spirited painter in fresco ; Florigerio, who practised at Udine and Padua, and of whom an altarpiece remains in the Academy; Giovanni Battista Grassi, who helped Vasari to compile his notices of Friulan art, and many others only known by name.

At the close of the fifteenth century the revulsion against Paduan art extended as far as Brescia, and Girolamo Romanino was one of the first to acquire the trick of Venetian painting. He probably studied for a time under Friulan painters. Pellegrino is thought to have been at Brescia or Bergamo during the Friulan disturbances of i 1506 – 12, and about 1510 Romanino emerges, a skilled artist in Pellegrino’s Palmesque manner. His works at this time are dark and glowing, full of warm light and deep shadow; the scene is often laid under arches, after the manner of the Vivarini and Cima ; a gorgeous scheme of accessory is framed in noble architecture.

Brescia was an opulent city, second only to Milan among the towns of northern Italy, and Romanino obtained plenty of patronage ; but in 1511 the city fell a prey to the horrors of war, was taken and lost by Venice, and in 1512 was sacked by the French. Romanino fled to Padua, where he found a home among the Benedictines of S. Giustina. Here he was soon well employed on an altarpiece with life-size figures for the high altar, and a ” Last Supper ” for the refectory. It is also surmised that he helped in the series for the Scuola del Santo, for several of which Titian in 1511 had signed a receipt, and the ” Death of St. Anthony ” is pointed out as showing the Brescian characteristics of fine colour, but poor drawing.

Romanino returned to Brescia when the Venetians recovered it in 1516, but before doing so he went to Cremona and painted four subjects, which are among his most effective, in the choir of the Duomo.

He is not so daring a painter as Pordenone, from whom he sometimes borrows ideas, but he is quite a convert to the modern style of the day, setting his groups in large spaces and using the slashed doublets, the long hose, and plumed headgear which Giorgione had found so picturesque. Romanino is often very poor and empty, and fails most in selection and expression at the moments when he most needs to be great, but he is successful in the golden style he adopted after his closer contact with the Venetians, and his draperies and flesh tints are extremely brilliant. He is, indeed, inclined to be gaudy and careless in execution, and even the fine ” Nativity ” in the National Gallery gives the impression that size is more regarded than thought and feeling.

Moretto is perhaps the only painter from the mainland who, coming within the charmed circle of Venetian art and betraying the study of Palma and Titian and the influence of Pordenone, still keeps his own gamut of colour, and as he goes on, gets consistently cooler and more silvery in his tones. He can only be fully studied in Brescia itself, where literally dozens of altar-pieces and wall-paintings show him in every phase. His first connection was probably with Romanino, but he reminds us at one time of Titian by his serious realism, and finished, careful painting, at another of Raphael, by the grace and sentiment of his heads, and as time goes on he foreshadows the style of Veronese. In the ” Feast in the House of Simon ” in the organ-loft of the Church of the Pietà in Venice, the very name prepares us for the airy, colonnaded building, with vistas of blue sky and landscape, and the costly raiment and plenishing which might have been seen at any Venetian or Brescian banquet. In his portraits Moretto sometimes rivals Lotto. His personages are always dignified and expressive, with pale, high-bred faces, and exceedingly picturesque in dress and general arrangement. He loved to paint a great gentleman, like the Sciarra Martinengo in the National Gallery, and to endow him with an air of romantic interest.

One of those who entered so closely into the spirit of the Venetian School that he may almost be included within it, is Savoldo. His pictures are rare, and no gallery can show more than one or two examples. The Louvre has a portrait by him of Gaston de Foix, long thought to be by Giorgione. His native town can only show one altarpiece, an ” Adoration of Shepherds,” low in tone but intense in dusky shadow with fringes of light. He is grey and slaty in his shadows, and often rough and startling in effect, but at his best he produces very beautiful, rich, evening harmonies ; and a letter from Aretino bears witness to the estimation in which he was held.

It is not easy to say if Brescia or Vicenza has most claim to Bartolommeo Montagna, the early master of Cima. Born of Brescian parents, he settled early in Vicenza, and he is by far the most distinguished of , those Vicentine painters who drank at the Venetian fount. He must have gone early to Venice and worked with the Vivarini, for in his altarpiece in the Brera he has the vaulted porticoes in which Bartolommeo and Alvise Vivarini delighted. His ” Madonna enthroned ” in the gallery at Vicenza has many points of contact with that of Alvise at Berlin. Among these are the four saints, the cupola, and the raised throne, and he is specially attracted by the groups of music-making angels ; but Montagna has more moral greatness than Alvise, and his lines are stronger and more sinewy. He keeps faithful to the Alvisian feeling for calm and sweetness, but his personages have greater weight and gravity. He essays, too, a ” Pieta ” with saints, at Monte Berico, and shows both pathos and vehemence. He has evidently seen Bellini’s rendering, and attempts, if only with partial success, to contrast in the same way the indifference of death with the contemplation and anguish of the bereaved. Hard and angular as Montagna’s saints often are, they show power and austerity. His colour is brilliant and enamel-like ; he does not arrive at the Venetian depth, yet his altarpieces are very grand, and once more we are struck by the greatness of even the secondary painters who drew their inspiration from Padua and Venice.

Among the other Vicentines, Giovanni Speranza and Giovanni Buonconsiglio were imbued with characteristics of Mantegna. Speranza, in one of his few remaining works, almost reproduces the beautiful Assumption ” by Pizzolo, Mantegna’s young fellow-student, in the Chapel of the Eremitani. He employs Buonconsiglio as an assistant, and they imitate Montagna to such an extent that it is difficult to distinguish between their works. Buonconsiglio’s Pietà ” in the Vicenza gallery, is reminiscent of Montagna’s at Monte Berico. The types are lean and bony, the features are almost as rugged as Dürer’s, the flesh earthy and greenish. About 1497 Buonconsiglio was studying oils with Antonello da Messina ; he begins to reside in Venice, and a change comes over his manner. His colours show a brilliancy and depth acquired by studying Titian ; and then, again, his bright tints remind us of Lotto. His name was on the register of the Venetian Guild as late as 1530.

After Pisanello’s achievement and his marked effect on early Venetian art, Veronese painting fell for a time to a very low ebb ; but Mantegna’s influence was strongly felt here, and art revived in Liberale da Verona, Falconetto, Casoto, the Morone and Girolamo dai Libri, painters delightful in themselves, but having little connection with the school of Venice. Francesco Bonsignori, however, shook himself free from the narrow circle of Veronese art, where he had for a time followed Liberale, and grows more like the Vicentines, Montagna and Buonconsiglio. He is careful about his drawing, but his figures, like those of many of these provincial painters, are short, bony and vulgar, very unlike the slender, distinguished type of the great Paduan. Under the name of Francesco da Verona, Bonsignori works in the new palace of the Gonzagas, and several pictures painted for Mantua are now scattered in different collections. At Verona he has left four fine altarpieces. He went early to Venice, where he became the pupil of the Vivarini. His faces grow soft and oval, and the very careful outlines suggest the influence of Bellini.

Girolamo Mocetto was journeyman to Giovanni Bellini ; in fact, Vasari says that a ” Dead Christ ” in S. Francesco della Vigna, signed with Bellini’s name is from Mocetto’s hand. His short, broad figures have something of Bartolommeo Vivarini’s character.

Francesco Torbido went to Venice to study with Giorgione, and we can trace his master’s manner of turning half tones into deep shades; but he does not really understand the Giorgionesque treatment, in which shade was always rich and deep, but never dark, dirty and impenetrable, nor in the lights can he produce the clear glow of Giorgione. Another Veronese, Cavazzola, has left a masterpiece upon which any painter might be happy to rest his reputation; the ” Gattemalata with an Esquire ” in the Uffizi, a picture noble in feeling and in execution, and one which owes a great deal to Venetian portrait-painters.



Casara. Old Church : Frescoes, 1525.

Colatto. S. Salvatore : Frescoes (E.).

Cremona. Duomo : Frescoes ; Christ before Pilate ; Way to Golgotha ; Nailing to Cross ; Crucifixion, 1521 ; Madonna en-throned with Saints and Donor, 1522.

Murano. S. Maria d. Angeli ; Annunciation (L.).

Piacenza. Madonna in Campagna : Frescoes and Altarpiece, 1529-31.

Pordenone. Duomo : Madonna of Mercy, 1515 ; S. Mark enthroned with Saints, 15 35.

Municipio : SS. Gothard, Roch, and Sebastian, 1525.

Spilimbergo. Duomo : Assumption ; Conversion of S. Paul. Sensigana. Madonna and Saints.

Torre. Madonna and Saints.

Treviso. Duomo : Adoration of Magi ; Frescoes, 1520.

Venice. Academy : Portraits ; Madonna, Saints, and the Ottobono Family ; Saints.

S. Giovanni Elemosinario : Saints.

S. Rocco : Saints, 1528.


San Daniele. Frescoes in S. Antonio.

Cividale. S. Maria : Madonna with six Saints. Venice. Academy : Annunciation.


Bergamo. S. Alessandro in Colonna : Assumption.

Berlin. Madonna and Saints ; Pietà.

Brescia. Galleria Martinengo : Portrait ; Christ bearing Cross ; Nativity; Coronation.

Duomo : Sacristy ; Birth of Virgin ; Visitation. S. Francesco : Madonna and Saints ; Sposalizio. Cremona. Duomo : Frescoes.

London. Polyptych ; Portrait.

Padua. Last Supper ; Madonna and Saints.

Sato, Lago di Garda. Duomo : Saints and Donor.

Trent. Castello : Frescoes.

Verona. St. Jerome : S. Giorgio in Braids ; Organ shutters.


Bergamo. Lochis : Holy Family ; Christ bearing Cross ; Donor. Brescia. Galleria Martinengo : Nativity and Saints ; Madonna appearing to S. Francis ; Saints ; Madonna in Glory with Saints ; Christ at Emmaus ; Annunciation.

S. Clemente : High Altar and four other Altarpieces.

S. Francesco : Altarpiece.

S. Giovanni Evangelista : High Altar ; Third Altar. S. Maria in Catchera : Dead Christ and Saints Magdalen washing Feet of Christ.

S. Maria delle Grazie : High Altar.

SS. Nazzaro and Celso : Two Altarpieces ; Sacristy Nativity.

Seminario di S. Angel0 : High Altar.

London. Portrait of Count Sciarra Martinengo ; Portrait Madonna and Saints ; Two Angels.

Milan. Brera : Madonna and Saints ; Assumption.

Castello. Triptych ; Saints.

Rome. Vatican : Madonna enthroned with Saints.

Venice. S. Maria della Pietà : Christ in the House of Levi. Verona. S. Giorgio in Braida : Madonna and Saints.

Bartolommeo Montagna.

Bergamo. Lochis : Madonna and Saint, 1487.

Berlin. Madonna, Saints, and Donors, 1500.

Milan. Brera : Madonna, Saints, and Angels.

Padua. Scuola del Santo : Fresco ; Opening of S. Antony’s Tomb.

Pavia. Certosa : Madonna, Saints, and Angels.

Venice. Academy : Madonna and Saints ; Christ with Saints. Verona. SS. Nazzaro e Celso : Saints ; Pietà ; Frescoes, 1491-93.

Vicenza. Holy Family ; Madonna enthroned ; Two Madonnas with Saints ; Three Madonnas.

Duomo : Altarpiece ; Frescoes.

S. Corona : Madonna and Saints.

Monte Berico : Pietà, 1500 ; Fresco.