7.23.2009

Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese in Boston

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BOSTON: Some years ago in Venice, I found myself in the early evening in Piazza San Marco looking at a banner proclaiming an exhibition of paintings by Tiziano at the Palazzo Ducale, the Doge's Palace. I happened to be facing the Palazzo, and the ticket booth happened to be not more than 50 feet away. By some small miracle it had no line. The ticket seller explained that entry was by timed ticket and that if I wanted to enter then, I woud have the place pretty much to myself.

"Allora. Un biglietto, per favore." Well, then, one ticket, please," I said, my heart pounding.


Tiziano, Flora, 1516-18, oil on canvas


I have seen Tizianos in Venice at the Accademia, in Florence at the Uffizzi, in Napoli at the Capodimonte, in Madrid at the Prado, in New York City at the Met, and recently at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston at a wonderful show that's the subject of this post, but nothing came close to the experience of seeing his paintings the way the doge himself did.

Still Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice, the current exhibition in Boston, is quite fine and you get two more Venetian painters in the mix.

The premise of this exhibition is that the three powerhouses of Venetian painting, whose lives overlapped for four decades during the 16th Century, were spurred by rivalry to do their best work, often taking on the same sacred and secular subjects in the pursuit of acclaim in Venice, throughout Italy, and in the courts of Europe. Their rich palette and sensuous paint handling defined a Venetian sensibility. All three artists adopted the then-new technique of painting with oil on canvas, which resulted in brilliant color on larger paintings than panel allowed.

Portraits range from popes to the painters themselves, from Last Suppers to martial themes, and from sumptuously dressed figures to nudes. Of course it is the women—Danae and the Venuses—who are naked. (Yeah, they're mythological figures; I get it.) I find the red room where these nudes are installed a bit too "bordello" for my taste. But if I can put my politics aside for a moment, these are pictures about flesh and sex, and the hue suggests fertility and engorgement. Why beat around the bush?

Whatever your feeling about these zaftig objects of the male gaze, we're reminded how standards of beauty have changed.

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The naked and the dressed

Tiziano: Portrait of a Man (Tommaso Mosti?), about 1520, oil on canvas; Venus with a Mirror, 1555, oil on canvas (dimensions not available online)


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Tintoretto: Portrait of a Man Aged Twenty-Six, 1547, oil on canvas; Susannah and the Elders, 1555-56, oil on canvas


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Veronese: Portrait of a Man, 1551-53, oil on canvas; Venus with a Mirror (Venus at her Toilette), mid-1580s, oil on canvas

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I think what touched me most, however, were two Tintoretto self portraits, one made in 1546 when he was 28, a young man challenging your gaze (so unlike the self-absorbed fleshy beauties he and his compatriots painted) and another 42 years later, well dressed but pale and tired. For artists who spend so much time in the studio, time passes while we are alone in solitary pursuit. Who has not one day looked in the mirror and wondered where that young painter went?

Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti, 1518-94), son of a tintore, a fabric dyer: Self Portrait, about 1546, above, and Self Portrait, 1588, below; both oil on canvas



The Museum of Fine Arts website provides plenty of information. The exhibition is up through August 16. At $25 for adult entry, it's a pricy ticket—but not as pricy as getting to the next venue on the schedule: It will be at the Louvre in the fall.

By the way, you notice now all the portraits (as opposed to the narrative paintings) have one eye centered along the vertical axis of the canvas? Read more about it here in The Centered Eye, a post I wrote when this blog was in its infancy.

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5 comments:

Rebecca Harp said...

I personally get a kick out of noticing how particularly masculine the female forms were during the period of Renaissance artists, how the breasts appear often like two baseballs with an uncanny separation of flesh and breastbone between them, extraordinarily long toes, a piece of fabric thrown over the private part. I think most of the female nudes were painted from fantasy, rather than from direct experience and study :)
That said, they are absolute masters of painting, and I am glad Boston is highlighting them.

donna said...

I never appreciated Tintoretto until I spent some time in Italy. Seems like the Mannerists, including Tintoretto and Veronese, were often discussed in slightly condescending terms, as if they degraded the great style of the Renaissance. Seeing the paintings, especially fresco paintings, was a revelation.

By the way that centered eye thesis is fascinating!

Nancy Natale said...

I love the centered eye theory. Why didn't I "see" this before it was pointed out and became so obvious? Seeing what is really there is always a challenge. In general, I know that our eyes need to communicate more with our brains and lead the conversation for a change instead of letting smarty pants have its way all the time.

Joanne Mattera said...

Nancy,

I'm finally getting to your comment. Not only why didn't we see this ourselves, but why didn't we learn this in art school? I know I slept through a lot of art history (and if I had it to do over again, I would stay awake for every moment), but I never once heard this theory.

It makes so much sense though. What a visual, almost psychic, connection from the brain of the artist to the brain of the viewer.

retouching photos said...

Your mention that all the portraits have a centered eye make going to the exhibit even more attractive!