A Wind from the West

Il Rinascimento a Venezia e la pittura del Nord ai tempi di Bellini, Dürer, Tiziano [The Venetian Renaissance and Northern Painting in the Time of Bellini, Dürer, and Titian] 1999-January 9, 2000.

an exhibition at the Palazzo Grassi, Venice,September 5,, Catalog of the exhibition edited by Bernard Aikema, by Beverly Louise Brown
Milan: Bompiani, 703 pp., L100,000 (An English translation, Renaissance Venice and the North, will be published by Rizzoli in December.

The idea of dividing art into distinct “schools,” usually centered on a single city, such as Venice or Florence, or on a restricted geographical area, such as Flanders or Lombardy, goes back to the early seventeenth century and still survives to the present day. This approach has an obvious validity in that it is normally easy enough to recognize where a particular work was produced, but often much more difficult to decide who made it, because artists in each city or region tended to acquire stylistic characteristics from their teachers and then worked for patrons who often had rather fixed ideas about what they wanted. But even if not to the extent that this happens today, artists, patrons, and works of art themselves have often traveled, so no artistic school is ever entirely isolated.

The topic of artistic exchange has not been much explored in exhibitions of Renaissance art. By concentrating on the career of a single artist, or on the output of a single school over a restricted period, it is easier to tell a clear story in a coherent way. But the purpose of the exhibition now at the Palazzo Grassi, as its rather ponderous title implies, is to illustrate both the impact on Venice of the art of Flanders and southern Germany and that of Venetian art on these areas of Northern Europe from about 1470 to 1600. Within this large and diffuse theme, certain episodes are emphasized. The first is the adoption by the Venetians, in the second half of the fifteenth century, of the use of oil paint, a technique first perfected about fifty years earlier in Flanders. The second is the Venetian career of Albrecht Dürer, the most distinguished Northern artist to have worked in the city during the Renaissance. This is followed by sections designed to show parallels between portraiture in Venice and southern Germany and to explore developments in landscape painting north and south of the Alps. Finally the focus shifts to Northern artists active in Venice from the late 1530s onward and to the diffusion northward of Venetian paintings and Venetian artistic fashions.

The more than two hundred works on view include a notable number of paintings, drawings, and prints of the highest quality—such as Antonello da Messina’s Saint Jerome in his Study and Dürer’s Portrait of a Young Venetian Woman (see illustration on page 13)—particularly in the earlier sections, as well as many that will be unfamiliar to all but a few specialists. Because the idea was to juxtapose works that reveal artistic interchange or at least suggest parallels between Venice and Northern Europe, the paintings that have been selected are not necessarily typical of the artists who produced them. This often makes it dif-ficult for visitors to evaluate the significance of the comparisons that are being made. Unfortunately, the explanatory material is decidedly sparse, while the catalog, as is almost obligatory today, is far too large and heavy to be consulted in the exhibition it-self …

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