Venice Academy – Room XI – Sala Dei Bassano

MOST of the pictures in Sala dei Bassano, as the title of the room indicates, are by the three Bassani. As their characteristics and abilities have already been considered, it is not necessary to treat of these pictures in detail. They really speak for them-selves. Whether of such Scriptural subjects as the Incredulity of Thomas, the Entrance of the Animals into the Ark, the Adoration of the Shepherds, or Landscapes with a Flight into Egypt in the distance, or homely pastoral scenes, or mere portraits, in all are shown the clear, gemlike colour, the reality of faithfully depicted nature, the actual joy of the painters who use their brush as their one delight in life, their dearest plaything as well as their most necessary tool.

In Room 12 most of the works are of very minor interest and of even less real artistic value. They are principally by men of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and are either, as a rule, weak imitations of the masters of the sixteenth century or are puerile attempts to exploit some individual eccentricity of style or subject.

One of these men, Gregorio Lazzarini, had slightly more talent than the majority of the men of his time. Born in Venice in 1654, he has been called the Raphael of the Venetian school, an epithet more remarkable for its hyperbole than for its discrimination. He partakes in the coldness and lack of resonance in his colour rather of the Roman school than of the Venetian. His design and composition, contrary to usual Venetian rule, are superior to his colour. He is best remembered, perhaps, as a teacher of Tiepolo. His most satisfactory work here is probably the scene representing the Israelites being fed with manna.

Three pictures here by Sebastiano Ricci, the Rape of Europa, Diana at Her Bath, and Healing of the Man with Palsy, are fairly representative of the man who was a favourite at the courts of Austria, France, and England, and whose best works are still at Hampton Court, England. He was born at Belluno in 166o, and he modelled his style on many of the famous Venetian painters, imitating them, indeed, with such fidelity that many of his pictures passed for those of far more celebrated men. It is said that while he was in France he did not disdain selling some of his own panels as being the work of Veronese. On one occasion it is reported that he succeeded in deceiving La Fosse, the French painter, who revenged himself by advising him to paint ” no more Riccis ! ” He had a pleasing col-our, a facile brush, and, though his design was often lacking in symmetry and proportion, the gracefulness of the lines and the softness of colour made the crude construction less felt. Most of his colour has suffered badly from a blackening brought on by time. But where some bit has escaped this, it is seen to be fresh, clear, and transparent, with a silvery softness that counterbalances its coldness.

One picture here amid the crowd of mediocrities stands out unmistakably as the work of a man of undoubted genius. The Holy Family Appearing to St. Gaetano is not one of the greatest works of Tiepolo; indeed, it has been ascribed to his son, Domenico, because it does not seem worthy of the father. But it is so far ahead of most of the canvases here that it appears far more remarkable than it really is.

It is likely that Domenico at least helped in finishing this canvas, for he, as well as other assistants, was constantly at work with Tiepolo in his studio. It has much beauty of colour and light, joined to extremely realistic portraiture. The Mother and Joseph are extraordinarily actual and at the same time intensely modern in both type and treatment. There is nothing here except in the subject that reminds one of the spirit of the vanished Renaissance.

Leaning on the balustrade at the corner of a balcony is the saint in his black robe, hands on his breast, head lifted in profile, gazing at the vision which rests on the cloud that comes down and partly envelops him. St. Joseph is nearest Gaetano. He sits on the cloud as though it were a grassy bank, his bare arms and feet protruding from his brown robe, his worn, gray-bearded face bent over the Child whom he holds upright on his knees. At the right, slightly higher, is the Madonna, looking down at Gaetano with a cheerful tenderness of aspect, drawing his attention to the Child with a gesture of both hands. Behind her head two an-gels hold a white drapery, and over St. Joseph a gray-robed angel clasps a cloud-ringed cornice of the palace walls and holds in one hand a flowering staff. By the babe are two cherubic heads. This lovely baby form with its laughing eyes and face, the grandeur of the angel overhead, the troubled, awkward care of Joseph, are all rendered with that pithiness of which Tiepolo was past master. Not less capital is the thin, dreaming face of the devout monk below. As if to prove to his every-day senses the reality of the vision, a spray of lilies lies on the stone step at his feet.

Giovanni Battista. Tiepolo was born in Venice in 1696 and died in Madrid in 1770. As Titian influenced Velasquez, so Tiepolo is said to have influenced Goya, the last Spanish painter of importance. To Goya in his turn the modern French school owes much, so that it can be said without exaggeration that Tiepolo has greatly affected all painting of to-day. He for his part has been called the lineal descendant of the great Veronese, but with many and varying qualifications. His marvellous fecundity of ideas, his rapidity and ease of execution, his astonishing technical acquirements, — in an age when technique meant merely clever brush-work or a boudoir prettiness of handling, — his daring breadth of vision, his supreme unconsciousness of all recognized canons of art, his nonchalant egotism that allowed him every latitude of conception or execution, his wonderful power of composition that, upsetting often enough every hard and fast rule, was its own excuse for its iconoclasm, his theatricalness, his blatant posturing, and under and through all the vigour, the masculinity, and the originality as well as the inconsequence, the ugliness, and the dashing impudence, — these are the attributes of this eighteenth-century painter, which have been extolled or condemned according to the nature or point of view of the critic. But whether hailed as the last of the great painters of the Renaissance, or heralded as the first of the great moderns, or scourged as one of the most flagrant of the long line of offenders against the canons of pure and lofty art, Tiepolo at least deserves recognition and homage for his own inherent power at a time when art had sunk to the level of a Lazzarini.

There was nothing in contemporary Italian art to teach or uplift such a nature as his. The public was quite satisfied, it seemed, to admire the confectionery order of painting that was all the artistic descendants of the great powers of the Renaissance had to give. Only by his own innate appreciation could he have realized that something other than this was real art, — his own innate understanding aided by the daily visions of the glowing canvases of Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese, visions, however, that his brother painters appeared never to see. Different in spirit, in manifestation, as he is from these giants of the sixteenth century, he did have something of their power, their genius. And as such he must live, even as they live, though his plane lies far below their heights.