Venice: The Masters in Boston

Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice

an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, March 15–August 16, 2009, and the Louvre, Paris, September 14, 2009–January 4, 2010
Catalog of the exhibition edited by Frederick Ilchman.
MFA Publications, 315 pp., $65.00; $40.00 (paper)

Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice

an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, March 15–August 16, 2009, and the Louvre, Paris, September 14, 2009–January 4, 2010
Catalog of the exhibition edited by Frederick Ilchman.
MFA Publications, 315 pp., $65.00; $40.00 (paper)
butterfield_1-071609.jpg
Museo di Capodimonte, Naples
Titian: Danaë, 1544–1546

On view now at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is the first group show ever organized in America about Venetian painting of the late sixteenth century. Moderate in scale, the exhibition does not attempt a comprehensive survey of the period. Rather, it pre-sents only the three most important Venetian painters of the time—Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese—and it focuses on a selection of their works that is meant to reveal their mutual influence and competition. The exhibition seeks to demonstrate that the rivalry of the three artists was a major force in the growth of Venetian art.

As Frederick Ilchman rightly observes in the excellent catalog of the show, such a rivalry could only have occurred in Venice, where the art market was fundamentally different than in other Italian Renaissance cities. Venice was a large mercantile republic whose considerable wealth was relatively widely distributed among its richer inhabitants. Private citizens, religious confraternities, and many governmental bodies, such as the senate and the treasury, had both the means and the desire to stand out in the patronage of the arts. Virtually the entire city was an arena of struggle among patrons trying to outdo one another; as a result, there were constant chances for artists to compete for work, as well as enough commissions to keep many excellent painters simultaneously employed.

In contrast, most other Italian cities were governed by a single lord or oligarchy, and the demand for art was usually sufficient to occupy only one dominant painter at a time. Besides Venice, the only exceptions to this rule in the sixteenth century were Florence and Rome, yet comparison with them again shows that the art market in the maritime republic was unique. In Florence many artists flourished under the dominion of the Medici, but this one family had nearly absolute control of prestigious commissions. In Rome the patronage of the arts changed with each new pope, about every ten years or so, and the scale of the most ambitious projects was extraordinarily large, requiring teams of painters and sculptors. These conditions encouraged artists to learn to collaborate rather than compete. Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese painted alongside one another in Venice for thirty years. No other sixteenth-century Italian city could attract and nourish a triumvirate of great painters, or for so long a time.

The three painters may have been rivals, but they were not equals: without question Titian was the apex of the triad. Born around 1488, he was a generation older than Tintoretto and Veronese, who were born about 1518 and 1528, respectively. Titian was recognized as the supreme artist in Venice before the other two were alive; and he was acknowledged to be the greatest painter in Europe before they had even begun their careers. By mid-century Titian painted regularly for the international market, and relatively little for local clients. While Tintoretto and Veronese had to compete for the patronage of Venetian confraternities and government officials, Titian …

This article is available to subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $94.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.